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iSchool Students Work with PNLA to Establish Leadership Institute
By Katy Shaw
February 23, 2003

It's not difficult to conjure up an image of the stereotypical librarian. Needless to say, "leadership" is probably not the first quality that jumps to mind-and that is something that today's librarians are working hard to change.

Following the lead of library organizations across the country, the Pacific Northwest Library Association is currently in the process of creating a leadership institute for librarians in the Pacific Northwest. Since the PNLA spans five states and two provinces, creating an institute from the ground up poses its own special challenges. In order to help meet those challenges, the PNLA contacted the iSchool for help.

A small group of students formed and volunteered to research ten similar institutes that have been established in other parts of the U.S. and Canada. Led by Lisa Fraser, the student group looked into programs such as the Northern Exposure to Leadership at the University of Alberta and the TALL Texans Leadership Development Institute to see how they varied in length, cost and curriculum. Despite their differences, all 10 programs strived for the same goal: to empower librarians to be strong leaders in their communities, local libraries and in library associations.

Lisa admitted that she was somewhat surprised by the results of the research. "I was surprised by the number of new leadership programs that have started in the past five years," she said. "Library associations all over the U.S. are realizing that there is a critical shortage of leadership within the profession".

A major factor contributing to this lack of leadership is the "graying" of librarianship-which has been a subject of growing concern among librarians during the last few decades. The number of librarians nearing retirement versus the number of MLIS graduates coming into librarianship is a source of worry to many in the industry. Promoting leadership within the profession is one of the ways in which librarians hope to combat this problem.

Teaching leadership skills also has other benefits. "I think it's important to promote leadership for librarians because many people think only directors can act as leaders," Lisa said. "…there are librarians at all levels and in all specialties who are in positions of leadership. Providing an opportunity for those people to learn skills that will make them more effective and happier leaders will benefit the whole profession."

On February 21, three iSchool students traveled to Federal Way to present the results of their findings in person at a PNLA Leadership Institute planning meeting. Sandy Carlson, past president of the PNLA, chaired the small committee which included delegates from Alberta, Oregon, Montana and Washington.

The meeting began with Lisa Fraser's presentation of the research conducted by students at the iSchool. After her presentation, the iSchool students were surprised to find themselves actively participating in the meeting as the committee discussed what should be done next. Where will the institute be held? Who will provide funding to pay for it? Who will be eligible to attend? Questions such as these kept the committee busy for the remainder of the day.

By the end of the meeting, it was decided that the first institute should be a five-day conference to take place in the summer of 2004. It was also decided that the target attendees will be librarians with 5-15 years of experience-either with a MLIS degree or without.

The work of the committee is far from over, though. After deciding on this format, each member of the committee will now go back to the boards of their state library associations to ask for approval before the committee can move forward.

Sandy Carlson hopes that the Leadership Institute will help to develop the leadership skills of mid-career librarians-especially those that were never planning on being in leadership positions in the first place. "Part of what makes a good leader is a person who believes that they can lead," she said

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