Editorial: Citius, altius, library leader

Leadership is needed to enable an organization to get where it wants to go. Although the duties are the same, leadership has, however, changed in libraries in recent years and decades. The library is one of the largest organizations among public institutions, there are numerous staff members to supervise who are more heterogeneous than before and many of whom do more independent work than before.

The goals are higher and the infrastructure is more confined. The rate of change in the operational environment is quick. Specialist work and the demand for related innovations necessitate the staff ’s independence and self-guidance; financiers demand efficiency and performance. Coordinating all of this requires leadership in a specialist organization.

Change management is not always enough when you are dealing with a new type of organization: municipal mergers, organizational mergers or, as in Denmark, the formation of a new unit from two previously separate functions: the library and civil service.

Courage to delegate and supervise

Different processes require skills, but not necessarily the same skills in the same proportion. Furthermore, it is no longer enough to be able to supervise your own staff and work together with the decisionmakers of the skeleton organization; rather, leadership must take into consideration patrons, volunteers and partners. As Ann Poulsen states in her article, the more patrons are heard, the more explicit the library’s priorities must be to them.

A single leader at the top of the organization cannot do this alone, and, indeed, leadership in libraries takes place on many levels and among many participants. The chief librarian is not the only leader. The teams need leaders, activities supervised – the same is true for communication, marketing and even information. The leader must have the courage to delegate activities to others.

As a leader in middle management of a local library, Solveig Storbom’s experiences in leadership in a local library in Helsinki depict the situation of many leaders in the Nordic countries. The immediate supervisor, who listens and stands behind his/her subordinates makes things happen in the everyday work routine.

Motivation of staff 

The leader is at the disposal of the staff. “In all processes of change, the employees are most concerned about themselves and their future, and in these circum stances the immediate supervisor has an immense responsibility to ensure the staff can cope well and stays motivated.”

In small organizations, the leader may not always have a supervisor supporting him/her, and in this case the peer support of colleagues may be helpful. This type of community emerged in the further training offered to leaders in libraries.

Replace control with trust

Leaders must support and encourage their staff, justify the need for resources and convince decision-makers. Satisfied patrons should be offered the same services as before, and new patron groups something all-new. There are many types of demands: develop the library, establish maker space, offer the community its own space, empower patrons, remember partners.

One thing is true for all leaders – you have to be able to create an atmosphere of trust and you have to be able to communicate. Most importantly, you have to be interested in people. As it is stated elsewhere in this magazine, “give up the control and replace it with trust.”

Freelance Library Specialist