Friday, 5 August 2011

Library leadership

There has been a running theme in my recent blogs, and the SINTO AGM & Members' Day, about Library Leadership and the question of whether librarians should be 'political'. Both terms need to be defined. Library leaders can either mean the senior professional librarians who manage the service or the elected members and senior officers who have ultimate responsibility and control of finances. In this context we are talking about the professional leaders.

Politics also needs to be defined. It can mean the broad view a person has about how society should be organised and governed e.g. "If a man is not a socialist in his youth, he has no heart. If he is not a conservative by the time he is 30 he has no head". However it can be used in the phrase 'playing politics' to mean the horse-trading, wheeler-dealing, and compromise that takes place in order to reach a decision.

On the whole I define politics as the art of the achievable. To achieve the goal of providing a good library service you have to engage with the decision making process in your organisation. There is no point in assuming that the Power people will automatically know what you are doing or appreciate the value of your service. They are faced with many conflicting demands and their goal is to make choices that in their eyes generate the greatest benefits for the smallest cost. They are subject to all sorts of pressures and most of those pressures will direct resources away from the library. Library leaders need to be inside the chamber where the decisions are being made and they need to understand what motivates the decision makers. (One is reminded of the observation that Michael Heseltine was able to find the clitoris of the Tory party!).

That is never easy! There are formal channels of input to the decision making process but there are also I suspect informal channels. In the good old days Chief Librarians probably influenced decision makers by being members of "the club" - in some cases, literally, of the golf club or even, I suspect, the local Masonic Lodge. Today it is in theory all above board and professional but I suspect that library leaders find themselves on the fringes of the real decision making process. However, we must seek out, recognise and seize upon any opportunity we can. We must have the appropriate performance and impact indicators at our fingertips. We must have our "elevator pitches" ready and waiting - and recognise that it could be worthwhile riding the elevator up and down all day waiting for the opportunity! We must collect the stories that will appeal directly to the hearts of the most dedicated bean-counter. We must have a clear policy for advocacy and the confidence to put it into practice.

I have discussed the ethical issues about library staff campaigning against cuts elsewhere. Library leaders need to bear this in mind but they do have a right, indeed an obligation, to make a strong case for libraries.

SINTO is running workshops to help librarians make this case. Two workshops on advocacy will give you the basic and advanced skills for raising the profile of your library. The workshop on community engagement will help root your service in the needs of your community which in turn greatly strengthens your hand when dealing with the decision makers. Leaders, as much as those they lead, need to develop their knowledge and skills. The SINTO training programme will help you achieve this.

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