Leadership is a journey. You start small and grow as you go. And, no matter how much you grow, the journey doesn’t end. It’s a lifelong pursuit. For librarians, leadership is not an option. AASL’s Vision puts it succinctly, “Every school librarian is a leader; every learner has a school librarian.”
We cannot forget that until every librarian is a leader, not every learner will have a school librarian. Too many non-leader librarians have seen their positions and libraries disappear. Yes, leaders have been eliminated, but it’s those who haven’t stepped out lead who have been the most likely to have lost their jobs.
We do face a challenge, because librarians don’t have a title, such as principal or superintendent, that implies leadership. We are the ones who define and develop what our leadership is and what it means. Fortunately, we have colleagues who have marked the path. Develop your PLN. Use social media to connect to library leaders. Observe how leaders in your state association assert their leadership and take the profession (and their library) forward. Seek out someone you admire and ask if they would be your mentor.
Mark your own leadership path. Art Petty delineates 3 Big Moments That Can Define Your Leadership Career.
The Moment You Decide to Lead – Making this active decision is key. You must decide, then pursue. Petty recommends some self-reflection questions including, “Am I motivated to help others?” He follows that with “Am I willing to put their needs ahead of mine?” Think about the ways in which your work supports the goals of students, teachers, and administrators and make that your priority as you craft your goals. By becoming and being a leader, you are positioned to give students and teachers the information and resources they need for success.
The Moment You Decide the Type of Leader You Aspire to Become – Petty writes: Deciding to invest yourself in the work of leadership is essential. Defining the leader you aspire to become is priceless. There are many models of leadership and not all of them work for school librarians. A style known as “servant leadership” works best for librarians. This style focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belon is the style most frequently showed by library leaders. They are empathetic and active listeners; leaders who empower others.
A variation is collaborative leadership. Here the leader enrolls others and works with them. They value the skills and expertise of their colleagues as they take their library program and students forward. Servant and/or collaborative leaders in our state and national associations make our profession and value known to an increasingly larger audience.
The Moment(s) When You Make a Stand – In the current book-banning climate, there have been several school library leaders who have taken public stands in the face of hostility and even personal danger. It takes courage to stand up for your core values and professional ethics. While there are reasons some are afraid or have reasons for not doing so, these Warrior Librarians are to be admired. Hopefully, their courage will encourage others to do the same.
Making a stand is not always as earth-shaking as those situations. Sometimes, it’s showing up at a Board of Education meeting and talking about the importance to students and teachers of school libraries. It could be making an argument to your principal about the use of your time.
Your leadership journey will have many “moments.” No matter when, you need to become more active in our profession. The first step will require you to get out of your comfort zone. Subsequent steps will hopefully be a little easier (although stretching yourself will always be part of the process). First, step up to leadership at your state level. From there look to serve on the national level. If you serve on an AASL Committee, look for a leadership position. Be ready to be part of ALA. The same is true for other professional associations/
What type of leader are you or do you want to be? How are you making that happen? The journey never ends.