Leadership Programmes Working Group

Transforming Library Leadership: LIBER Journées 2017

Posted: 13-06-2017 Topics: Journées Leadership

Transforming Library Leadership: LIBER Journées 2017

From the perspective of the Chair of the LIBER Leadership and Workforce Development Working Group, the second LIBER Journées programme was a successful and enjoyable occasion.

Nineteen Library Directors were present from 13 different countries. Seven eminent speakers from Europe, USA and Asia presented and many of them took part in the whole three-day event. The location, Sciences Po, at the heart of Paris and resonating intellectual life, was ideal, easily accessible, welcoming and vibrant. The programme worked smoothly, thanks to the organising team, who also stayed and contributed to much of the event. Often there were as many as 30 library directors in the room engrossed in the transformation of research libraries and what that means for effective leadership.

Attendees, speakers and organisers of the 2017 LIBER Journées leadership programme.

A fundamental factor for success was the presence throughout of the Chair, Professor Norbert Lossau (Vice President, University of Gottingen). Norbert was both the ‘glue’ for the whole event and the inspiration for the discussion, debates and interaction following the presentations, constantly bringing the participants back to the theme of transformation and the qualities required of Library leaders in their institutions and their relationship with university senior management and research. His summaries and reflections all hit the mark.

A new departure for these second LIBER Journées was the presence of two facilitators, Elliott Shore (Executive Director, Association of Research Libraries) and Liisi Lembinen, (Development Director, University of Tartu Library, and a participant in the first LIBER Journées in 2015). Not only did they get on like a house on fire, they also ignited discussion and knowledge exchange on the key themes that participants had identified as hot topics in preparation for the LIBER Journées.  And then there was the Programme coordinator, Andreas Brandtner (University of Mainz), whose patience and perception brought the agenda and the speakers together; and of course there were Francois Cavalier (Director of Library Services, Sciences Po) and his colleague, Carine Labory, the perfect hosts, and Cecile Swiatek (Universite Pantheon-Assas, Paris 2), the ‘wonder librarian’ who organized it all, including the formidable dinner (in the French sense of the word) at the historic Le Procope restaurant.

The one glitch in the programme was the failure of one speaker to appear. This problem turned into an opportunity, enabling the facilitators and Chair to broaden out the discussion around key themes and enabling many more voices to be heard and ideas shared.

So what did we all get out of this? That we will find out through evaluation in due course. What I got out of it, I can convey now, with sincere apologies for any plagiarism and non-attribution to some speakers and participation for their thoughts and ideas. Sharing comes easily to librarians.

Key Takeaway Messages

From the 2015 LIBER Journées, participants took away Hans Geleijnse’s  ‘Ten commandments for library directors’. This time, in 2017, I took away the following thoughts and considerations, many of them obvious but do I live up to them?

  • Change is permanent in every aspect of our work: in what we collect; in how we manage collections; in our relationship with the research community. We need to develop new leadership skills to be effective.
  • Open science has changed the culture of all that we do. We need to define strategies to deal with this – scientific, political, technical and regulatory. The role of librarians is to address the new needs of users in a world, which, as quoted by Alain Beretz, is ‘as open as possible and as closed as necessary’.
  • Platforms control the context; news comes from the smartphone; mobile is platform (Bruno Patino). TV is for people over 60  – like me. Information is no longer the same for everybody; people live in different worlds; everything is at the personal level and this is a huge risk. If we lose the context and the platform, we lose the content.
  • As a space the library is a living space for students and reflects the symbolic power of universities. The focus has moved from books to users: the primary library is the online presence; building is the secondary presence.
  • Staff structures do not change quickly and this hampers room for innovation.
  • Librarians should be advocates to influence people who are the decision makers; it is less about what we have than what we do for and with people (Sarah Thomas).

Transforming Library Leadership

So, how do we address all this and transform our leadership?

  • Through working together and new models of collaborative collection development and through new digital scholarship services based on understanding user needs (Caroline Brazier);
  • Through raising awareness of what libraries do among university senior management, but doing this in the right way, not just sitting at the top table but through active participation, working in a coordinated way with IT and other services; gathering intelligence and knowing what the institution’s top priorities are, when the policy decisions are to be made and how to fit library issues into that larger agenda, and remembering that sometimes our voice can be better conveyed by others e.g. in research by senior academics. We need to be part of the game and get the messaging right;
  • Don’t be stereotypes; have an optimistic personality and connect closely with research and university leaders; talk in a way people can hear us and want to hear us;
  • Break out of the library and break into the larger world of research in the university; move from advocating for the library and advocate for the university in research, teaching and learning;
  • Make libraries part of the research process; be on scientific boards and committees but, more than that, get accepted in these roles by universities and researchers;
  • Get staff out from their operating units and into the teaching, learning and research process;
  • Ensure we have the right and new skill sets; hire the right people with the right skills; if we need a communications manager, appoint a communications manager and not a librarian;
  • Succession plan to create a culture of innovation; currently library services and the speed of transformation are out of sync: connectivity, data, tools run much faster (Wolfram Hortsmann); so think ahead about each and every position that is freed up; repurpose as necessary and plan ahead over the next 10-15 years, redefining new roles to set up new services;
  • Develop a healthy state of urgency (Peter Sidorko);
  • What is happening with news may happen with research: we can work together to find a legal solution on regulation but that will be tough to achieve; in the meantime deliver what is in our trusted DNA and what we are good at – basic information literacy, lifelong skills for everyone;
  • In our libraries, offer a wide range of services; change the culture before moving into a new building; move from blame to celebration; don’t get involved in legacy issues; focus on the big ideas;
  • We all need to reform – find ‘your’ why (Marc van den Berg);
  • Have role models – and there were several there in person at the second LIBER Journées.

John Tuck, Royal Holloway University Library and head of LIBER’s Working Group on Leadership and Workforce Development

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