Career Strategies for Librarians
Lead the Way:  Practical Leadership Skills for Librarians
by Valerie Nye

Leadership in libraries can have many different faces and does not require that you supervise people in
your paid position.  Leadership roles can be found throughout the library, from the paraprofessional at
the circulation desk to the new library school graduate working at the reference desk.  Leadership
opportunities can include working with small groups or committees within a library, becoming involved in
local and/or regional library associations, and presenting papers at local or national conferences.

Leadership, and the definition of leadership, can be elusive.  A leader might be defined as someone
who moves a group or a project from the status quo to a new a different place or might simply be defined
as someone who has power.  Regardless of the definition, leadership is nearly always a process of
learning skills and having the opportunity to test new skills in various situations.  Leadership is rarely a
quality that an individual instantly understands and can control with certainty.   

Whether you consider yourself a successful leader or are at the beginning stages of developing your
leadership skills, there are some key qualities we all can acquire and improve in order to increase our
leadership success.

Organize – One of the most valuable skills we posses as librarians is our ability to organize information.  
When leading, organization becomes a valuable tool, especially when working with groups.  When
having meetings, make sure the group knows why the meeting is being held and what they are expected
to contribute.  Prepare an agenda that is distributed beforehand and have a set of outcomes that are
expected from the meeting.

Communicate – Communication is key for any relationship, but leaders must communicate
continuously.  Securing trust is one of the most critical aspects of being a successful leader, a process
that begins with good communication.  Positive communication includes actively listening to contributors
and providing feedback when appropriate.  Leaders also need to encourage communication from all
individuals involved in a group in order to create an environment where consensus is possible.

Be Hopeful – One of the qualities groups value most in successful leaders is optimism.  While a
process may be difficult and filled with disappointment, groups need to know from leaders that a positive
outcome is attainable.

Praise and Celebrate – Acknowledge individual contributions and group success and milestones.  
Celebrations recognize when hard work has been completed and energizes groups as new projects

About the Author:

Valerie Nye currently works as a public library consultant for the New Mexico State Library.  She recently
attended the Mountain Plains Library Association (MPLA) Leadership Institute, and encourages
librarians living in the MPLA region to attend next year’s institute.  For information on MPLA’s Leadership
Institute visit:  Applications for next year’s institute will be accepted
beginning in February.  

Article published Jan 2004

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