It’s not as if there’s no attention paid to developing academic library leaders. There are a few notable programs. ACRL offers a week-long Leadership Institute at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to provide leadership training for academic libray directors. ARL offers an 18-month long program, the Library Leadership Fellows Program, that is designed to shape the future leaders of research libraries. Along with these programs geared to those already in higher level leadership roles, ALA has created the Emerging Leaders Program for those at an early stage of their career. Other individual institutions create fellowships or internships to provide opportunities to those same early career academic librarians who want to gain administrative experience. These programs reach far fewer potential leaders. With our most notable leadership programs designed primarily for those who are already on the leadership track, a question arises. Are we doing enough to generate interest in leadership among the much larger population of academic librarians?
I think there is a subtle difference between refining the leadership skills of those already on the track, and developing programs to entice more academic librarians to get on the track. Ask newer members of the profession if they plan to seek an administrative position and too often the answer is “no”. Are there good models this profession could follow for developing its future leaders? The world of business may offer some possibilities. A recent issue of Fortune featured leadership as its cover story. The article profiles several companies that have distinguished themselves as having generated many leaders, both those who have risen within the corporation and those whose past employees are leaders elsewhere. For example, Procter & Gamble has produced notable leaders such as Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, eBay CEO Meg Whitman, Intuit founder Scott Cook, AOL founder Steve Case, and even General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt. General Electric alumni run scores of companies, such as Boeing , Home Depot and Honeywell.
Do we have academic libraries that are particularly well known for the leaders they turn out? Do we have a program that helps individual libraries to identify prospective future leaders and develop them within the organization? I would certainly be interested to know if there is an academic library that has a particularly strong tradition of preparing and then migrating front-line workers into administrative positions, and then bidding those same individuals farewell as they acquire leadership positions elsewhere. If such organizations exist within our profession then they certainly get little attention for their accomplishments.
So might there be a better approach for this profession? It may be unfair to point to the corporate world as a model for developing future leaders. Few libraries or library organizations have the necessary resources to create the sort of leadership training programs and development centers (like the famous one created by General Electric at Crotonville, NY) found in business. But the Fortune article offers some ideas that may be of interest. For example, identify promising leaders early on. Some companies begin evaluating their employee’s leadership potential on day one. Re-think the way new staff are assigned to positions. We hire new librarians for specific positions, but why not put new librarians into departmental rotations that include time in the administrative suite. Then other suggestions touch on the need to develop leaders in-house, provide mentoring, develop teams and indivdiduals, and make leadership development a part of the organizational culture.
As the article suggests, a good deal of work goes into preparing future leaders. But then again, a great deal is at stake. What more can we do both as individual libraries and in associations to promote the development of our future academic libraries?