Training leaders in small libraries

Peer support and networking. Those were by far the most important benefits of a year-long training aimed at library directors, according to the participants.

In February 2013, 21 library directors from small and middle-sized municipalities gathered for their first two-day meeting with staff from Turku University of Applied Sciences who had put together the training programme running a whole year. While some of the group members knew each other from conferences or work circles, others had never met faceto- face before.

Any initial doubts or hesitation seemed to vanish during the first sessions, and by the second meeting conversation was flowing freely. As the coordinator of the course, I’ve had the privilege of seeing the development of the group dynamics – which has put a smile on my face more than once.

Practical and pragmatic leadership

Competence management, leading change, human resources management, information architecture as well as customer relations and project and process management were part of the training. Some of the topics covered during the ten meetings held in different parts of the country – mostly in regional libraries – provoked more discussion than others.

The reality in a town with a population of 5,000 is very different from that of 100,000 inhabitants. The participants were able to relate to the problems and issues facing the other library directors, coming from fairly similar circumstances.

The whole contents were anchored in practice with teachers from universities of applied sciences and specialists from the library field.

“I was hoping the presenters would question the obvious, and even propose radical opinions to get me out of a rut, and many did,” one participant said.

Feedback and self-reflection

Apart from meeting every month, the participants made use of Facebook and the e-learning environment provided by Turku University of Applied Sciences.

They were required to take part in online discussions and to complete written assignments, draft out strategies and look at the library processes, always with the option of the other group members giving comments and support. Feedback was also offered by the instructors.

A blog was set up for the course and used as a platform to inform a wider audience of the discussions but also as an open learning environment for self-reflection. Guest bloggers from different libraries provided their insights into library leadership. As one of the participants put it: “In addition to the networking aspect, the over all picture of leadership is clearer now.” Another participant added: “I have so many ideas for development I’m sure my staff are going to think it’s too much!”

During the second quartile of the program, each participant chose a topic for their diploma, a pragmatic paper to be completed by the end of the year.

Networking day and night

In their feedback, every single participant brought up the importance of networking and peer support.

“Even if it can be difficult to arrange, the fact that you’re away from your everyday life and the office is a plus,” one participant said.

Another participant said that to be able to concentrate on the subject at hand and talk to your colleagues for two whole days had almost felt like a luxury.

At times the networking went on well into the small hours. “Discussing the theoretical framework of our diplomas” was one of the late-night tweets I, the coordinator, received one Thursday.

While all the workshops and lectures were appreciated, it is clear that any organizer is well advised to do their best to create an atmosphere of trust and collaboration for such a long and demanding programme to succeed.

In this case, the group made it easy for themselves by bonding, sparring and encouraging one another. With that in place, the job of the instructors and facilitators is fairly simple.

Freelance Library Specialist
  • A training programme tailor-made for library directors in small and middlesized municipalities.
  • 21 participants selected by senior library advisors in regional government – municipalities with 1,700 to 30,000 inhabitants; number of staff ranging from 1 to 25, opening hours from 1,380 to 7,260.
  • Financed by Centers for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment.
  • Designed and organized by Turku University of Applied Sciences; 20 credit points.
  • Running from February until December 2013 with ten two-day sessions.
  • A similar programme for 30 Swedish speaking library directors runs from October 2013 until the end of 2014. Financed by Regional State Administrative Agencies and offered by the Centre for Continuing Education at Åbo Akademi University, it combines face-to-face meetings with online learning, like its Finnish-language counterpart.