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Collaboration is the New Leadership: When to Lean in and When to Lean Back

Below is a short excerpt from my forthcoming chapter in Millennial Leadership in Libraries, which is being compiled and edited by the incomporable Ashley Krenelka-Chase. Look for the book to be published in early 2017 by Hein.

“In the 21st century, the digital revolution shows no signs of slowing down. To remain relevant, any institution, including one as established as libraries, must evaluate its place in a world increasingly lived online,” posits Hendrix in a 2010 report for the American Library Association on the future of libraries.[i] The library is and will continue to be a hot bed of disruptive technology and transformation. As millennial librarians confront the very natural stress of early and mid-career, they can find natural allies, mentors, and friends among colleagues who, while perhaps transformation-fatigued, are also transformation-tested. In reminding our coworkers of this shared legacy, librarians of any generation can find a common ground to discuss past and future practices and how together we can manage the changes and transformations to come in the ever-evolving work of librarianship.

One role for millennial librarians may be to remind intergenerational colleagues that these changes and transformations have affected the functional practice of librarianship for more than fifty years. In published articles and studies that belabor the point of “existential crisis”[ii] and the “threat” of “digital revolution”[iii] we find that anxiety has become a part of professional life for many of our colleagues. Instead of participating or engaging in this anxiety around change, millennial librarians can pivot and embrace change. There is opportunity in owning transformation, reassuring anxious colleagues, and advocating for less fear in libraries. As we lean in to support our peers, we can remind them that they can lean back in some aspects of the work where we are experts. In these efforts, the natural give and take of relationship-based management may prove useful.

Librarianship is a field full of legacies including historic commitment to insuring access, to serving diverse user groups, and to supporting research. This is not to say that all legacy practices or workflows in a given institution can be viewed as positive. Rather, it is a reminder that we need to consider the ongoing impact of our work and how we enhance and shift these legacies through commitment to relationship building and leaning in where change and transformation are necessary. Of legacies and leaning in, Sheryl Sandberg notes, “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence, and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”[iv]

[i] Jennifer Hendrix, Checking Out the Future: Perspectives from the Library Community on Information Technology and 21st Century Libraries (Washington D.C., American Library Association, 2010).

[ii] Bihn P. Le, “Academic Library Leadership in the Digital Age,” Library Management, 2015. 314

[iii] Ibid.

[iv][iv] Sheryl Sandberg, Lean in: women, work, and the will to lead (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2013).





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