National Dialogue on the Curriculum of Readiness for the 21 st Century Librarian

ALA Annual Conference - Chicago, Illinois - Tuesday June 28, 2005


Plenary Session I: Preparing Leaders for 21 st Century Library and Information Service

Rhea Brown Lawson:  Camila?

Camila Alire:  Thank you very much. Thank you Tracy and the organizing committee for the invitation and the opportunity to visit with you folks today.

As Mark has brought the perspective of LIS education and Greg the perspective from public libraries, I'm going to be sharing with you the perspective from academic libraries. I will get to the leadership skills that are necessary to lead in an academic library at various levels.

First, let me just share with you a little bit about where we're at with academic.

Libraries. There's always a term du jour, not just in academic institutions, but in other places. Our term du jour is called teaching, learning and research or, as we call it TLR. And, actually, the mission of the academic library is supporting teaching, learning and research by providing information and information services to do that.

So we provide information and services to support the curricular mission of the university, and that's the teaching part.

And then we provide information and services to help our students achieve academic success, and that's the learning part.

And then we provide information and services to the researchers who are involved in creating and sharing the new knowledge that they develop at the college or university level.

Now there is a growing shift in academic libraries and when I have talked with colleagues, I always say, "This has got to be the most exciting time, ever, to become a librarian -- at least an academic librarian." But I would say this across the board. In academic libraries we are now shifting from the management of physical resources -- that is, books and journals and things that you see and that you hold towards creating pathways and links to information and services that will allow us to support the TLR mission on our campus.

So, we're going from collection management to content, or what we also call knowledge, management. We're going from collecting only books and journals to literally offering direct access to information regardless of the format, regardless of the physical state, and regardless of where that information is being delivered. So, we are finding now, at least in academic libraries, that our services have got to be more focused on users and on user's wants and needs, and they have to become, actually, more personalized. I will tie that into the leadership skills, in a minute.

But, before I go into leadership skills, let me describe some of the types of duties and responsibilities that our academic librarians need to have now, that will position them to move into leadership roles.

The first thing, which is not surprising because everybody has alluded to this, is dealing with, what we call, "the digital library, " and really, dealing with technology. The use of technology...The librarians efforts need to be realigned into, what I call, growth areas. That would be: understanding and working with open-access possibilities to include institutional repositories, working with portals and designing portals, working on real-time online reference services, and these are just a few of the kinds of things that are tied to this digital library concept.

Another responsibility is the ability to form new alliances. I'm talking about the academic librarian, I'm not talking about the library dean or director or university librarian. But, being able to form new alliances and partnerships. Some examples that I can give you are: working with teaching faculty, in the T part of TLR, in terms of infusing information literacy and in terms of the learning communities.

Another example would be working in a consortial environment to help us better position the academic library and our resources by sharing with other libraries in that kind of environment, and also working with vendors.

The world has changed so dramatically in academic libraries. I've been in the field for 27 years and it's absolutely exciting.

Another thing, based on all of this -- and this is not surprising for any kind of.

Librariana have to be very IT proficient and they have to understand and be retrained as our technology changes.

Let me give you a couple of examples of what we've done at UNM. We now have an electronic resources coordinator. That person literally has been hired to provide leadership.

I'm telling you leadership, because this person has to be involved in team-building, in working with other academic libraries in the state of New Mexico, and developing and providing access to the library's electronic resources.

Then we just hired a digital library data and trends analyst. This one, again, leads, because this person has to work with all these different environments that I just mentioned.

This person leads the effort to collect, to analyze, and to interpret data to help our library be very strategic in understanding how the users actually use our services.

Let me talk about users' wants and needs. I've just talked about the how. Users' wants and needs have got to be done through marketing efforts, and so we are strongly looking at the marketing of libraries.

You market first and find out what your users want and need. You deal with that, and then you promote it. So, it's marketing and PR, and also in an advocacy role.

I feel very strongly about the advocacy role. Who better on campus to advocate with the students and faculty -- not the library dean, university librarian, or library director. It's really the folks working in the front lines that are best to be empowered to advocate for libraries.

Then, for those of you in the room, there's a difference for me in terms of being culturally sensitive and being culturally competent. For the people of color in this room, to be culturally competent is to understand to use our heritage, our life experiences, and the resources and insights that we have grown up with.

It's to help people in terms of understanding the culture of others on campus and the role of our changing demographics and how that affects academic libraries, public libraries, school libraries, and even special libraries.

What kinds of leadership skills are necessary to lead in an academic library? First I'm going to make an assumption that when folks come to us, they already have the philosophical and theoretical underpinnings of library and information science.

If you remember those attributes that I described, it's absolutely strong interpersonal skills. Understand that when I say that, I don't mean you have to be an extrovert.

I think of E.J. Josey, Elizabeth Martinez, Carla Hayden, and a lot of people who are leaders in their own right, and who aren't necessarily extroverts.  I always refer to myself as an "obnoxious extrovert".

You don't have to be an extrovert to be a leader. You have to have those strong interpersonal skills, and then excellent communication skills. How well are you going to communicate if you're our data trends analyst when you're working with all kinds of people within the library?

How well do you communicate when you're working as the electronic resources coordinator? How well do you communicate if you're a reference librarian and instructional librarian involved in the learning communities?

You need to be extremely collaborative. Our whole business now is collaboration. We're no longer in an ivory tower in academic libraries. You need to be able to advocate for change. You have to be a risk takers and encourage risk taking.

The way you encourage risk taking is to empower people and allow them to have setbacks. You have to be motivating.

The other thing is that there's this concept of being able to outline where you want your committee, task force, department, library, or whatever your organization is, to be in the future.

That's what vision is all about. I was always intimidated by vision or being a visionary. But you have to be innovative, adaptable, flexible and nimble, it.

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