From Essential Librarian to Essential Leader: An Ongoing Experience of A Mid-Career Librarian
by Elise Y. Wong
Professional development, continuing education, and scholarship are my long term goals towards becoming an all-rounded librarian. Someone once told me in library school: to become a librarian is to become a leader. As I am approaching my 7th year in the profession, I can attest to that remark as I continue my journey from an essential librarian to an essential leader at Saint Mary’s College of California Library.
I first learned of the phrase “essential librarian” from Breanne Kirsch’s essay “How to become an essential librarian”. Since I became a newly minted librarian at Saint Mary’s in December 2009, I have followed Breanne Kirsch’s advice to “find a mentor, read the literature, collaborate, adapt, become a leader, and be persistent.” At Saint Mary’s College, an essential librarian “must have the ability to perform at a high professional level in areas which contribute to the educational mission of the institution.” As a newbie, I knew that I had much to learn in order to become an all-round and essential librarian who excels in professional development, continuing education, and scholarship. While my position title is Cataloging and Reference Librarian, my academic assignments also cover Collection/Resources Development and Instruction. My colleagues are more than willing to mentor me in my learning process. Courses and workshops are part of my continuing education, in order for me to become proficient at my various responsibilities. Because my background was primarily in Cataloging, I was eager to improve my expertise beyond Technical Services. I took advantage of every available professional development opportunity, networked with other librarians, and shared some of the fruits of my learning through conferences, committee work and research activities.
Once I have met the expectations of accomplishing my professional assignments and thus qualified as an essential librarian, my next step is to become an essential leader. While I was serving as an officer at local, regional, and nationwide library committees, (e.g. Northern California Technical Processes Group, California Library Association, and Association for Library Collections & Technical Services), not only did I learn a great deal about program planning, mentoring, and teamwork, but I also came to understand what it takes for someone to become an essential leader. Although I have not come across a lot of literature on essential leadership per se, there is a lot of discussion pertaining to the qualities of an essential leader. For me, the definition of an essential leader is a leader who possesses flexible and relevant leadership qualities at the point of need.
Many authors and researchers on leadership have defined leadership in their own way but the essential qualities of a leader remain the same. I was particularly inspired by the attributes of leadership described by Annie McKee, Daniel Coleman, Joseph Janes and Steven Bell in their respective works. McKee’s “resonant leader” is one who “develops emotional intelligence, renews relationships, and sustains effectiveness”; Daniel Coleman’s “focused leader” is another who focuses on strategies, expands awareness, and builds relationships. While Joseph Janes’s “effective leader” is a mover and shaker who leads from the middle, Steven Bell’s “grassroot leader” is someone who accepts challenges to lead from the bottom-up. I would like to follow in the footsteps of these experts and become an essential leader who knows when to act during pertinent situations and to respond with which appropriate actions. The ACRL ULS Committee on the Future of University Libraries listed five traits that describe successful library reorganizations: set priorities, create efficiencies, follow aspirations, overcome constraints, and take advantage of opportunities. I think these traits could be adapted into the qualities of an essential leader. My ultimate goal is to become an essential leader who is proficient in the art of communicating, interacting, and influencing people at work.
To be an essential leader in an academic library is to align one’s behaviors and actions with the mission of the library and the college. Saint Mary’s College Library’s mission to foster excellence in teaching and learning, intellectual discovery, respect for inquiry and diverse points of view, as well as dedication to service, are consistent with the College’s Strategic Plan (as spelled out in themes 1, 2, 3, and 4 below). As a Lasallian educator, I need to know how my future responsibilities and ambitions reflect the Strategic Plan.
I hope to continue to reposition my responsibilities beyond Cataloging and become a technical expert in institutional repositories, open access, and digital scholarship. For the Strategic Plan theme 1 “Discovery in Dialogue”: I would like to further develop my administrative role as the project starter for the College’s institutional repository, which aims to further enhance the College’s academic distinction among our peer institutions. For theme 2 “Access to Success”: I want to be more proficient in using discipline-specific databases so that graduate students as well as faculty could benefit from expert research assistance. For theme 3 “Expanding Responsibility for Lasallian Higher Education”: I welcome any opportunities to participate in campus initiatives that promote dialogues on sustainability and building an inclusive community. For theme 4 “Defining our ‘Place’ “: As the library is known for our upgraded infrastructure and 24/7 hours during finals, I would not hesitate to undertake additional responsibilities to ensure that the library is an accessible, safe, and respectful place to study and learn at all times.
Leadership is listed as one of the top ten academic library issues for 2015. The journey from essential librarian to essential leader is an ongoing process. I will no doubt continue to cultivate my leadership qualities, focusing my service and contribution to the library profession and distinctive excellence of the College. My challenge is to become an inclusive, adaptive, and empowering leader who makes a difference in changing lives.