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

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


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

Mark Winston:  Good morning, my friends. How are you?

[audience responds]

It's difficult to follow Louise Robbins as an educator. Always, in many, many ways. It certainly is wonderful to have a program that brings together LIS educators and practitioners. And certainly, I see a number of my education colleagues, Mike Havener and Louise Robbins and so on.

We are often the educators are on panels with practitioners. But I should also say, certainly in my case, and I'm sure in theirs, my comments will relate to my work in libraries as a practitioner prior to becoming an educator, and also my consulting and so on.

So I don't know if any of us will stick neatly within the categories to which we have been connected initially.

I'd say, just to speak briefly, as we were preparing before the program began, our group of speakers were conferring at our table. We all commented on the twelve minute limit. So we're all very aware of that. Tracie makes that very clear to anyone who's speaking on her programs. And I'm well aware of that.

I want to spend just a little bit of time talking about some of the organizational challenges that I see in the field, some of the organizational responses.

And then, some of the more broad professional issues and challenges related to our need for professional development, educational preparation, and leadership development in particular, as they relate to our discussion about a curriculum for readiness.

These changes really are pretty wide-spread and sweeping, including issues like increased accountability. And this is, certainly, an issue that comes up, not only with regard to our funding agency, that is our primary sources of funding, but also a range of other stakesholders.

The issue of limited resources also is quite pervasive and effects all of the organizations of which we are a part. There are also issues of enhanced competition that affect libraries, but also other information services providers as well.

There are issues in regard to our user populations, which are technologically savvy, and increasingly demanding in many ways, as well.

There are also issues of changing organizational structures, including greater use of teams, proliferation of technology, and in this regard I refer to both information and communication technology as well. And some associated issues related to scholarly communication, particularly, and the policy issues in this regard.

These circumstances create a need for leadership. And one of the other challenges we see, is the need to recruit the most well-prepared graduates for employment in these organizations facing these challenges.

There have been a number of organizational responses to these issues, including an enhanced focus on evaluation of library services and operations, including the evaluation of information services as a public good, and the evaluation of libraries and their contribution to the learning of students, particularly in academic and school libraries.

There is an increased attention on managing diversity as well. Certainly I'm not on the diversity panel, but those of you who know my research know it would be impossible for me to not mention the issue of diversity during my 12 minutes, and to say at least one thing that our focus is certain, representation.

But it's also the focus on perspectives represented in the decision-making in our organizations so that we make sound, informed decisions representing a range of perspectives, but so that we're also better able to target the needs of our changing user populations.

There's also, as a leadership challenge, a focus on increased fund raising development as a part of securing and managing our financial resources. And I mentioned earlier the issue of changing organizational structures, team-based decision-making, which is a particular issue because it means that we must foster leadership at all levels in our organizations.

Within the profession, though, the issue of leadership is a relatively recent phenomenon evidenced by a number of manifestations, including the fact that, as of 1990 or so, there were a relatively small number of leadership development programs.

There has been an increasing number since that time. They have grown not only in number, but in terms of program content, approaches to learning, and also moving from national programs to programs in a number of other countries, including Australia and Canada and statewide programs as well.

Also, with regard to the fact that leadership is a relatively new area of focus in the field, there is still a relatively small body of literature, and certainly a small body of research-based literature related to leadership. It is also the case that less than 10% of our yearly accredited programs offer coursework in leadership.

So, the nature of our curricula tends to reflect what we value as important in the field. One of the things we have indicated, which is a bit of a disconnect is that the mission statements of almost all of our accredited programs indicate that one of our primary goals is preparing individuals for roles of leadership in the field.

One thing that doesn't appear to be happening is that our curriculum does not appear to reflect this priority that we've indicated.

It's also the case that the research shows that among new graduates, two areas in which they indicate the need for greater academic preparation related to leadership, are the areas of management and budget management, financial management.

Certainly with regard to leadership issues in the field as has been mentioned already, there's the issue of the pending retirements in the field. LIS is a discipline, that is those of us on the teaching side, as well as the profession, is older than the average of professions.

And research shows that the retirements are particularly acute among those in managerial and administrative positions.

The recruitment is particularly acute for a number of reasons. The research also shows an apprehension among those who are in assistant and associate director positions to pursue director-level positions. We certainly know that anecdotally and the research is showing that as well.

The research also shows that individuals in line librarian positions are apprehensive about pursuing management positions at all.

With regard to our thinking about the needs of the profession, there's been research on leadership competencies, both in private sector research, also in the LIS research, as well.

The focus on leadership competencies, which defines the nature of successful leadership, also helps us to define leadership education, leadership development, as well as other professional developments.

Certainly one of the most comprehensive studies in this regard was the research done by Hernan, Powell and Young.

I mentioned that there have been an increasing number of leadership development programs.

The challenge with leadership development, although there are more programs, a relatively small percentage of librarians ultimately participate in leadership development, either as a result of self-selection or not being nominated for such programs that can only accommodate a certain number of individuals.

Graduate education, on the other hand, really is intended to reach a larger base of individuals. It also provides the opportunity for context, that is, discussing library issues in context. It's also the case that LIS education can present these issues as supported by both research and theory.

We really shouldn't dismiss the issue of theory, because theory defines the nature of a true profession.

Certainly, if we indicate that we are, and in many ways we focus, often, on gaining the respect that we should have in our field, defining ourselves as a true profession is quite critical.

The third area of our opportunity to develop leadership, in addition to LIS education, Leadership Development and Professional Development, relates to the work of practitioners. That is mentoring. Your work as internship supervisors, your work advising, serving on advisory boards for LIS educational programs.

Your work in consulting with us in ensuring that our curricular reflects the needs of your organizations.

In summary, there are a number of challenges facing individual LIS organizations, and certainly facing the profession at large. It is certainly the case that as we define our leadership development programs, as we define our curricula, and as we define the ways in which you can work with individuals who are entering the field that we do so in an informed way.

That reflects the fact that we have to be dynamic as a field, but there are significant needs in the field that we need to address as well.

Thank you.


Rhea Brown Lawson:  Thank you, Mark.