Open Conference Systems at Dalhousie, International Association of University Libraries, 2016 Conference

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Giving Leadership Away
Gerald Beasley

Last modified: 2016-03-09


The aim of this illustrated presentation will be twofold. Firstly, it will seek to counteract the vast amount of guff currently being produced about leadership.  In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the volume of discourse on techniques, styles, models and philosophies of leadership. Taken as a whole its sheer bulk is very intimidating and therefore risks having a chilling effect on those information professionals who are interested in the field.

Secondly, the presentation will seek to defend library leadership from leadership philosophies imported from other fields. Contrary to various opinion pieces in recent library literature, the presenter will claim that “library leadership” exists as quite distinct from other forms of leadership. He will argue that we should advance our thinking about it just as we would our thinking about library spaces or library services.

Since the whole idea of library leadership is relatively recent, this would of course involve continuing to value ideas that had matured in other domains, such as servant leadership, or introspective leadership. However, it would also acknowledge that leadership in libraries had a unique contribution to make to a field far too dominated by military, political, sporting and other domains.

The presenter will further suggest that in this “sea of change” the capacity to give leadership away may, somewhat paradoxically, be one aspect of this unique contribution. In other words, for the library to be an effective laboratory or incubator at a time of rapid change, directors and others in leadership positions will want to get their egos out of the way of the many good ideas brought to them by their more capable and specialized colleagues. This is not an abdication of duty:  accountability is unchanged, leadership has to be given away wisely, and there will still be plenty of it left to do.

The presenter will use his own experiences at Concordia University, the University of Alberta and elsewhere to illustrate his proposal.