Paul Anderson, Assistant Director for Administration at the University of Delaware, was interviewed as part of the "Interviews with Library Leaders" this spring. His involvement and service to ALA and specifically the Library Administration and Management Association (LAMA) has been notable. Most recently, he has served as LAMA President in 2003-2004. The interview focuses on library leadership, mentoring new librarians, and his opinions of the importance of ALA involvement.
What do you think are the most important skills to develop for anyone who wants to lead and manage people?
Interpersonal and group dynamics skills are really important. Communication skills are also critical to effective management and leadership. A key component in effective communication is active listening.
The right attitudes are just as important as skills. Possessing a positive attitude and approach to people and problems is vital. It is important to believe that you can improve a situation or solve a problem and communicate this. To the extent that you can make incremental improvements, solve problems, and forge effective working relationships you will succeed as a manager. To my mind leadership requires one additional skill, vision, and one additional attitude, the willingness to take risks.
As past president of LAMA, your professional association involvement is very evident. Has your ALA involvement enhanced your leadership skills in your present library organization?
I think what you learn through work experience helps you be effective in professional organizations, and vice-versa. I have learned a great deal through activity in ALA that has assisted me in my professional responsibilities at work. Certainly the networking offered by involvement in ALA has helped me be more informed and more confident in approaching problems. Professional associations offer a wonderful opportunity to work with people who are really dedicated to promoting libraries and information services. This work will remind you why you wanted to become a librarian and offer you the chance to work with accomplished and knowledgeable people from whom you will learn a great deal.
Professional organizations offer important opportunities to practice leadership. I have also found work in professional associations to be renewing. I go to conferences thinking at the detail level about how to solve problems and manage change, and return thinking more globally and considering how I might lead some of that change. Whatever your position at the moment in an organization, you can exercise leadership by including global thinking into your approach to projects and problems. The infusion of ideas, energy, and practical experience offered to us through professional association work is an important complement to our work experience, and an essential part of our development as managers, leaders, and librarians.
Please describe the role of mentoring in your career, both as a mentor and as person being mentored. How important has mentoring been in your development at a library leader?
Mentoring is a very important activity. I think we have all benefited by someone offering assistance or advice related to planning our careers or helping us decide which professional organizations we can participate. I always try to listen actively when talking to someone who has accomplished a lot either on a work project or in leading a group. You can learn a lot from listening, and even more from asking questions. I think the people that are best at mentoring are willing to answer your questions. To be really effective, mentoring should be tailored to the needs of the person being mentored. I have been very lucky and worked with a lot of wonderful, productive and dedicated people. My supervisors have been great. I have learned a lot from peers, and of course from those I have supervised and with whom I work. Improvement is about gathering information and sharpening your skills. Most people in our profession are very willing to assist others.
When someone at your library comes to you with a new idea for a program or a service, or wants to do something different, how do you encourage them?
I would encourage the person to develop the idea into a proposal. The critical thinking process that goes into such development will identify strengths and weakness and ultimately will enhance the chances of the idea being supported by others. I also would encourage the person to identify people that can offer criticism and advice. This approach insures that many opinions will be considered in fine tuning the proposal and also builds interest in the idea.
What advice do you have for the current and up-and-coming professionals who want to take on more of a leadership library role in their library?
Showing initiative is the key. Managers, committee chairs and officers in professional organizations are always looking for someone willing to assume responsibility for projects. Volunteer and try to do more than is being asked. Showing commitment is a good way to assure that your participation will be sought out by others. To this advice, I would add getting involved in ALA or another professional organization. Professional involvement demonstrates that you are committed to the profession of library and information services, and that you are seeking ways to learn and develop skills.
How do you encourage your co-workers to trust you as a leader?
Certainly trust is a key component in leadership. I think trust is based to a large extent on people’s observation that a leader is committed to an organization’s mission, and [the leader] will dedicated him or herself to strategies that will achieve that mission. Things that establish that you are able to lead will build trust among your peers. Being organized and prepared is critical, and will establish trust and your leadership credentials whether you are attending an ALA committee meeting or a departmental meeting at your library. A collaborative style of management is probably a key to building trust because it is a style of management that values the opinions and contributions of others.
How should library students and new librarians prepare themselves for a career in academic institutions?
I recommend that library students and early-career librarians participate actively in professional organizations. ALA offers some wonderful opportunities. Find a round table or division that deals with an area of interest to you. NMRT is great choice for many reasons. First, you will find a lot of people in the early- to mid-point of their careers. Second, NMRT has always been noted for helping people to obtain committee appointments, and is recognized for the excellent products that their committees produce. The networking opportunities are really important for widening your experience, and the committee work will sharpen leadership and organizational skills, which will help jump- start your career.