Leadership and Advocacy

7 09 2007

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about how important it is for libraries to court library advocates. Library advocates include anyone who’s willing to proselytize on behalf of libraries. Someone who goes out of their way to point out how a library can solve the problem at hand.

This is one of the most effective forms of advertising…we trust our friends and people we know far more than we do any marketer. If my friend Sharon tells me that her shoes are killing her, and I tell her about these new Brand X shoes I just got that feel like I’m walking on clouds all day… well, that certainly holds a lot more weight than if Sharon just saw an ad for Brand X.

What I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about is how consumer advocates are made. Why, for example, do so many people drink the Kool-Aid over at Apple? A great deal of it is about consumer advocacy, but where does it originate? I know I personally advocate for Mac computers every time I hear a friend or relative complain about the poor usability of Windows boxes. And yesterday, I did what many Mac users did… I watched Steve Jobs’ keynote. In fact, I make a point of watching every single keynote that Steve Jobs puts out. Even if it’s for a product I don’t personally use or plan to use.

No doubt about it, Steve Jobs is a phenomenal entrepreneur. But he’s also a very savvy leader. There’s something in the way you feel when watching a Kool-Aide Convention that makes you even more excited about the company than ever before — something about that unassuming personage up there, with the faded jeans, black turtleneck, and white sneakers — that makes you want to buy whatever it is he’s selling.

Steve Jobs excels at turning people’s natural reaction of “what’s in it for me?” to “what can I do to get in on this action?” Those of you versed in management will recognize this switch… the switch from “quid-pro-quo, replacing it with belief in a higher cause”*. That, my friends, is called Transformational Leadership (for more on this theory, pick up a copy of Kouzes and Posner’s The Leadership Challenge)

How can we turn librarians, and library workers, and ultimately our patrons into proselytizers of library services? If a patron’s sister is trying to figure out how to pay for her daughter’s college education, how can we get him to say “I bet they have something on that at the library?”

I hear all the time how librarians need work on our management skills, but management is not the same thing as leadership. Every librarian needs to be on board the leadership train!

Things Librarians should keep in mind when contemplating leadership:

  • Leaders may be born, but they can also be made. It is possible to train yourself to practice good leadership skills – those skills that empower your colleagues and patrons to “buy in” to the mission of the library
  • Leaders do not have to be in a position of authority – they can lead from within. Successful leaders inspire others, empowering them to do their part in the “quest for achievement of [a shared] vision.” *

Hey, if you want to learn more about leadership, I hear there’s this great place called a Library where you can check things out for free!
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*Both these quotes are from “Authentic, Compassionate, and Empowering (ACE) Leadership: Transforming Labor and Restoring Leisure,” a paper by my Leadership for Community Change professor, David W. Springer, PhD, written for the UT Austin Humanities Institute 2006-2007.





Community Outreach

4 09 2007

Whenever I mention to a colleague I don’t know very well that I’m taking a course in Nonprofit Strategy and Entrepreneurship, along with another called Leadership for Community Change, I always get the same reaction: Do you want to start a nonprofit?

The question behind the question is: What do nonprofits have to do with library school?

Quite a lot, in fact. I’m particularly interested in the nonprofit as a representation of a segment of our communities… ie: a patron with clearly defined information needs (it’s in their mission statements!). Nonprofits exist in a community, particularly the small scrappy ones, because they have identified a need within that community – they see a segment of the population who are being underserved, mistreated, or generally not getting a fair shake. Doing something about that is their mission in life. Helping them fulfill that mission is my mission in life.  I want to help give them the information tools that their segment of society needs.  Going beyond the reference desk… not waiting for someone to be bold enough to come up and ask me a question… but going out there into the community and answering the questions that are being asked all the time.

Beyond that, I decided to participate in the Nonprofit Studies program because I am so keenly aware that Library School often does not do enough to teach librarians how to be managers, or how to be leaders.   In the NP program, I can take courses in marketing for NPs, management, leadership… all the things I have a passion for. And everything I learn applies to libraries! We’re so very much closer to nonprofits than we may realize. Certainly libraries are often government organizations… particularly academic and public libraries. But funding is slipping all the time… we seek out private and corporate sponsorship. We have boards and volunteers… we operate successfully in large part due to the tremendous public trust in libraries. We also both rely heavily on public support, and advocacy/marketing/grassroots support (whatever you’d like to call it) must be a part of our plans for the future.

In this time of change and growth for libraries, I am particularly interested in seeing how the future leaders and CEOs of nonprofits seek out public support. My classmates are inspirations to me… each and every one will help build public support for a cause they believe in. And so will I. So can you… Keep your eye on nonprofits. They know where they’re going, and they have a good idea of how to get there.