Career Strategies for Librarians
Leading as a Follower
by Ellyssa Kroski

During my last year of library school I worked as a library assistant at a technical college for a minimal
salary.  Only a couple of months after graduation, my boss accepted another position and I was offered
the position of Library Director at more than double my salary.  Although I accepted another position, it
was gratifying to know that those in my organization had such confidence in my leadership abilities.

One thing that I learned during my first library job is that it’s not necessary to be in a management
position to become a leader within your organization.  Anyone who is self-motivated and takes the
initiative in his or her position can take on a leadership role.  A leader is not necessarily an expert, but
she is someone who is willing to work hard and take the time to learn how to accomplish her goals.

Ask Others

A leader knows that she is not always going to know how things are supposed to be done.  After all, no
one can know everything.  A leader is someone who isn’t afraid to ask for and take advice from others.  A
good idea for anyone who wants to take on a leadership role in her library is to talk to other librarians
and visit other libraries to find out what other libraries and librarians do.  While fresh, new ideas are
essential and will come after you’re familiar with your new position, why reinvent the wheel?

The school in which I worked was largely fashion-oriented, so I took a tour of the library at the Fashion
Institute of Technology.  I saw how their library was organized, listened to what their librarians had to say,
and acquired some helpful printed materials to take back to my boss.

Challenge Yourself

Leaders are not afraid to feel uncomfortable and are willing to push themselves in order to learn new
things.  Being open to trying new things and taking risks is an essential quality of someone who wants
to have a leadership role.  Those who play it safe all the time don’t lead.  While it’s probably not a good
idea to run around willy-nilly, taking unnecessary risks, putting yourself outside of your comfort zone
every once in a while can result in significant growth.

My boss told me that she wished that our library had an instructional PowerPoint presentation detailing
the Cornell method of note taking, but she just didn’t have the time to create one.  I had never used
PowerPoint before, but I checked out a book from the library and was soon able to present my boss and
our students with an appealing instructional presentation.

Go the Extra Mile

Every library has downtime.  It’s up to you whether you want to use that time maintaining the status quo
or designing a new program or procedure for your library.   People who take the initiative to create a
project during a slow period make themselves more visible as leaders and are apt to be recognized as

Our students needed to do a lot of Internet-based research for an upcoming research paper and our
print bibliographies just weren’t going to cut it.  In response to this need, I created course-specific web
pages and acquired web hosting for the library’s site.

Think Outside the Box

This is something that we, as librarians, are very good at doing.  Because we are predisposed to
organizing information, it’s natural for us to develop new ideas for the organization and dissemination of
information.  A leader will utilize these organizational skills to invent new solutions to problems and
unique ideas for change and growth within her organization.

Our school subscribes to an extensive list of fashion magazines that the students use for research and
inspiration.  I developed a seasonal “trend” report which indexes the magazines according to the
prevalent trends for the season.

Take Part in Professional Development

Participating actively in professional development activities can only increase your chances of becoming
a leader in the workplace.  Keeping up to date with new developments in librarianship and learning new
technologies and methodologies can help you gain considerable leadership skills.  There are many
ways to take part in professional development, including reading library journals and blogs, taking
seminars and workshops, joining relevant listservs, seeking a mentor, joining professional
associations, volunteering for committee positions and attending conferences.

I participate actively in professional development activities and have gained not only knowledge but the
confidence to take on a leadership role.  I belong to several library listservs, read library journals and
online blogs, attend professional seminars and belong to library associations.

A Final Note

Leadership is more about the skills and qualities you possess and what you do with them than it is
about your job title.  If you have the initiative and the drive, the leader in you will shine through no matter
what your position.

About the Author:

Ellyssa Kroski is the Supervisor of the Science and Technology Library at the New York Hall of Science.  
You can visit her online portfolio at  

Article published August 2004

Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.