Most of the research and writings on library management have focused on academic libraries and only recently has there been more interest in the administration of public libraries. The skill and style of public library managers – the directors, branch managers, and department and service managers who are leading these institutions – strongly affects the culture of a public library.
Library staff looks to these managers to help them navigate through the rapid changes that are occurring in public libraries as these changes in technology, roles, and user expectations strongly alter their daily routines of public service. Contemporary library managers need a wider array of skills and attributes than their earlier and more traditional counterparts and will need to seek continual professional development to remain effective as public libraries transition into the twenty-first century.
These managers will also need to distinguish between management and leadership skills and learn to identify and mentor leaders within their staff who can assist in the transition. This paper is a brief scan of the literature currently available on managing libraries and includes information on academic as well as public libraries due to the above-mentioned lack of public library material. Weiner reviewed the literature extant on leadership in academic libraries and surveyed materials on “recruitment, leadership potential identification, career development, roles and responsibilities, and characteristics and management style” (2003, p. ).
Since she chose to focus on leadership as well as management attributes, her review encompasses materials on library directors as well as university librarians. A discussion of the changes and trends affecting academic libraries is valuable as it provides the context of the article and helps to enlighten readers who might not be familiar with the academic environment. Research studies and models, other literature reviews, and books and articles written are discussed and an extensive bibliography leads the readers to further study.
Hernon and Rossiter (2006) studied the emotional intelligence concepts that are relevant to university library directors. Their research involved two different activities for gathering information. They analyzed all of the job advertisements for library directors in College & Research Libraries News from 2000 to 2004 and looked for any mention of leadership skills. Then they interviewed university library directors to compare their career experiences with the information taken from the advertisements.
By comparing the expectations of search committees with the actual experiences of the directors, they suggest which emotional intelligence traits are most useful in academic library management. The authors conclude that identifying these traits and helping to “cultivate the ones deemed most critical” (p. 274) is important for the development of future leaders. Mullins and Linehan (2006) provided a public library context for leadership and management in their study of thirty public library managers in Ireland, Britain, and the United States.
Their focus was on whether or not these managers understand and utilize the differing concepts of leadership and management. According to their findings, eighty percent of the respondents did not comprehend the difference in these concepts and focused on administration and management over leadership skills to accomplish their work. Public librarians who exhibit an aptitude for leadership should be encouraged to develop and apply their talents in their field of influence.
Sager’s (2001) writings on identifying the skills and attributes needed in library administration derive from his work as a library executive recruiter. He has conversed with many library administrators, board members and trustees, search committees, and job candidates and proposes that successful managers need not only the traditional skills that have defined a library manager’s role, but also many newer skills as well. Sager believes that there is “much greater complexity in managing today’s libraries” (p. 263).
Although his work is based on experience and not research, there is value in his discussion of what he believes are the most important skills and attributes because it is based on his extensive interaction with the groups listed above. Throughout the article “Evolving Virtues,” he also creates his own list of traits that he believes will emerge in the future and ends the article by listing some methods for library managers to develop these newer skills. Hernon, Powell, and Young (2003) conducted research in academic and public libraries to assess the qualities that library directors need in order to be uccessful in their careers and have written an effective book on the results of their work.
The Next Library Leadership: Attributes of Academic and Public library Directors discusses in great detail the leadership qualities and styles, managerial qualities, personal qualities, and knowledge areas that are desirable for a library director in either a public or academic setting. A Delphi study was used to gather data from public library directors via email to identify and rank leadership attributes and the results of their research are defined through narratives as well as in tabular form.
Results from the study helped the authors to rank the most beneficial managerial attributes as the ability to work effectively with library boards and staff and to advocate for library in the community. Desirable personal attributes included integrity, vision, and effective oral, written, and interpersonal communication skills. Directors must also possess knowledge of trends, innovations, and current library best practices and be able to plan effectively for the future.
Although little management and leadership research exists that identifies specifically the skills and attributes needed by public library managers, it is possible to transfer knowledge from the academic library field. However, researchers with an interest in the future of public libraries should note the dearth of information and work to increase the available knowledge. Public library administrators and leaders, as well as schools of library and information studies should also note the missing literature and contribute to the process.
The field is in dire need of further study that can be incorporated into the practices of public library administrators to benefit library users and their communities.
Hernon, P. , Powell, R. R. , & Young, A. P. (2003). The next library leadership: Attributes of academic and public library directors. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited. Hernon, P. & Rossiter, N. (2006).
Emotional intelligence: Which traits are most prized? [Electronic version]. College & Research Libraries, 67(3), 260-275. Retrieved on September 22, 2007 from Wilson Library Literature Full-Text database (200612103837008). Mullins, J. & Linehan, M. (2006).
Are public libraries led or managed? [Electronic version]. Library Review, 55(3/4), 237. Retrieved on September 22, 2007 from ProQuest Research Library database (1048982301). Sager, D. (2001).
Evolving virtues: Library administrative skills. [Electronic version]. Public Libraries, 40(5), 268-272. Retrieved on September 22, 2007 from Wilson Library Literature Full-Text database (200124401051003). Weiner, S. G. (2003).
Leadership of academic libraries: A literature review. [Electronic version]. Education Libraries, 26(2), 5-18. Retrieved on September 22, 2007 from Wilson Library Literature Full-Text database (200334903472001).
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