This quote by American writer on business management Tom Peters has been a guiding principle (and caution) throughout my career as a school librarian. I firmly believe that all school librarians can/must/will/should aspire to leadership in their schools—and in the profession. Through instructional partnerships, curriculum design, collection development, resource curation, and participation in our national association, there are limitless opportunities for leading.
When I taught at Texas Woman’s University, graduate students who participated in a course called “Librarians as Instructional Partners” developed a Web 2.0 portrait of themselves as a collaborator. As an exercise in getting to know their styles, students took the Jung typology test (Myers-Briggs). They also took the (Gary) Hartzell Needs Assessment that focuses on the relative strength of one’s need for achievement, affiliation, and power.
I taught 12 sections of the course over a period of 7 years. In all but one section of this course, the “introverts” far outnumbered the “extroverts.” In terms of percentages, 60 to 80% of the students taking this course identified as “introverts.” Barbara Shultz-Jones, associate professor at the University of North Texas, and I compared notes on this phenomenon more than once. Likewise, she found that a majority of her students also identified as introverts.
Yes! to introverts. I married one; my son is one… And I don’t believe those designations are black and white. People who are introverted in some situations may behave as extroverts in other situations and vice versa. The same can be true of risk-takers, innovators, and leaders, too.
Long-time school librarian, librarian educator, and leader Hilda Weisburg titled her hot-off-the-presses book Leading for School Librarians: There is No Other Option (ALA Editions 2017). I am in total agreement with Hilda. As she notes, school librarians’ “ultimate survival rests on their ability to be recognized as a leader in their building” (xvi). There is NO other option.
Can introverts be leaders?
Absolutely! Rather than can they, the question may actually be will they. Will the members of a predominantly introverted profession connect their passions for literacy, literature, and libraries in such a way as to step out of their comfort zones to lead? I believe they can and will, and as Hilda says, I believe they must.
In October, 2016, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) released a study conducted by KRC Research: “AASL Member and Stakeholder Consultation Process on the Learning Standards and Program Guides” (2016). The study involved 1,919 respondents involved in school librarianship who took an online survey. Approximately 40 people participated in six focus groups conducted at the 2015 AASL conference, and 110 participated in focus groups held around the country at state conferences.
Of the core values most frequently mentioned by participants in the focus groups, fostering “leadership and collaboration” was 9th out of ten values (9).
For me, this was an uncomfortable finding. Since “leader” was one of the five roles identified by AASL in Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs (2009), I would have expected (hoped?) to see leadership (and collaboration?) closer to the top of the list. In fact, when prioritizing the roles, some (including Hilda and me) would have listed leader as role #1…
A recent Forbes blog post by Ekaterina Walter may well be worth reading for all school librarians. In her post, Ms. Walter identified and dispelled five myths of leadership:
1. Leaders work smarter, not harder.
2. Leaders have all of the answers.
3. Great leaders are always in the spotlight.
4. Leaders are always “on.”
5. Leaders are born, not made (Walter).
Now is an important time in the history of our profession to marshal our courage to lead. Yes, we will need to work hard. Yes, it’s a relief to know that we don’t have to have all of the answers, be always in the spotlight, or always be “on.” And most importantly of all, leaders can be made. We can become the leaders our students, colleagues, and profession need to be instrumental in transforming teaching and learning. We can be future ready librarian leaders serving our learning communities through future ready school libraries.
And through collaboration, we can help create leaders among our students, colleagues, and in the larger school librarian and education communities!
Since I began this post with a quote, I will end it with another that resonates with me. This one is by Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu. “A leader is best when people barely know he (she) exists, when his (her) work is done, his (her) aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”
With special thanks to Ekaterina Walter for reminding me of these two quotes. (Side note: Hilda also includes this quote from Tom Peters in her book.)
American Association of School Librarians. “AASL Member and Stakeholder Consultation Process on the Learning Standards and Program Guides.” American Library Association, Oct. 2016, http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/guidelinesandstandards/AASL_SG_ResearchFindings_ExecSummary_FINAL_101116.pdf Accessed 24 Mar. 2017.
_____. Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs. Chicago: AASL, 2009.
Walter, Ekaterina. “5 Myths Of Leadership.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 8 Oct. 2013, www.forbes.com/sites/ekaterinawalter/2013/10/08/5-myths-of-leadership/#ddeb989314ed. Accessed 24 Mar. 2017.
Weisburg, Hilda K. Leading for School Librarians: There Is No Other Option. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2017.
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