LACUNY Institute Explores The Next Generation Of Library Leadership

Editor’s Note: Here we share a report from the 2009 LACUNY Institute authored by guest poster Sarah Laleman Ward, Outreach Librarian at Hunter College Libraries. We greatly appreciate Sarah’s contribution to ACRLog in which she shares with our readers the highlights from the Institute.

The 2009 LACUNY Institute was held October 23, 2009 in New York. The Institute theme was “Library Leadership: The Next Generation”, and the program included a keynote speaker, two panel discussions, and a poster session. The overarching themes I took away from the institute were those of collaboration, communication, mentoring, and flexibility.

Stanley Wilder delivered the keynote address, entitled: “Demographic change in a turbulent era: technologists and the humble subject liaison.” Wilder is no stranger to the topic of demographic change in libraries, having recently posted on this blog about the prophesied but as yet unfulfilled librarian shortage. Wilder’s most salient points were those related to collaboration, flexibility and willingness to adapt. He referenced Jim Neal’s 2006 Library Journal article, saying that with the increasingly technological needs of libraries, so-called “feral professionals,” who may have different backgrounds and training than traditional or “domesticated” librarians and are less likely to hold an MLS degree, are entering the profession at a higher rate. These new professionals are not necessarily young, but they bring a different set of values and skills to librarianship, and will continue to grow in numbers and influence. Wilder encouraged librarians to view this as an opportunity to stop apologizing and start leveraging ourselves. What he calls the “Holy Grail” for academic libraries is the fact that we are already closely aligned with the core academic mission of our institutions. Wilder suggested we collaborate more with other campus units, such as instructional technologists and computing staff, inviting them to work with us to form a broader network engaged with the institutions core academic mission. His final point was that ultimately, we should not have to choose between librarians and technologists, because both are necessary for the future of libraries.

These themes carried throughout the panel discussions, which were both moderated by Marie Radford. The first panel, “The Graying of the Profession: Intergenerational Collaboration and Succession Planning” was ostensibly composed of two “Gen-X” librarians (Jenna Freedman and Erik Sean Estep) and one “Boomer” (Shelly Warwick). The second panel “Issues in Next Generation Librarianship” included panelists Erin Dorney (a “Millennial”), Emily Drabinski, and Jason Kucsma (both “Gen-X”). I reluctantly use these designations because everyone seemed understandably uncomfortable with generational labels. However, since the panelists were clearly chosen to represent differing generational viewpoints I thought it was appropriate to mention. Several of the panelists agreed that generational labels are artificial and that the real issue is communicating with people as individuals: genuine interpersonal communication can trump the generational divide. Both panels discussed the necessity of mentoring; not just “mentoring down” (veterans to newbies), but “mentoring up” as well. Radford mentioned that often, the trouble comes not from the aging of the older generation but from the marginalization of the younger. The first panel agreed that what they would like to see in newer professionals is a focus on service. The second panel focused on collaboration and flexibility as well as the “next gen” influence on 21st century libraries resulting in organizations with flatter, more team-based structures and cross-institutional collaboration. The newer generation’s willingness to move around and change jobs may be perceived as disloyalty by managers and this way of thinking needs to change, since turnover is vital to keeping organizations alive. Staying in one place for one’s entire career was mentioned as an older (or, “Boomer”) ideal, and that newer professionals will stay in places that respect them and their work. All the panelists emphasized the importance of remaining flexible, adapting, changing and trying new things while respecting professional core values.

My complete notes from the Institute are posted online here, and there is more information about all of the speakers on the 2009 LACUNY Institute website.