Leadership in health libraries

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Last Update

  • Updated.jpg 25 August 2016


See also 100 quotations on leadership‎ | Human resources | Managing health libraries | Top Information Sources in Biomedical Reference, 2014

"...leaders in the digital age are those that bring in new information, ideas, and opinions, then disseminate them down to the masses, and thus influence the opinions and decisions of others by a fashion of word of mouth. Opinion leaders capture the most representative opinions in the social network, and consequently are important for understanding the massive and complex blogosphere." — Song et al, 2008

Leadership in health libraries is a widely-discussed and debated concept both in the journal literature, such as the Journal of the Medical Library Association and UK's Health Information and Libraries Journal, but also among practitioners. In Canada, there are many published articles on leadership in the JCHLA/JABSC. According to Scott, leadership is defined as "....anyone regardless of position or power whose moral bearings, relational skills, breadth of awareness, and decision-making practices are admired and emulated by others. Someone who occupies a position of leadership or power, but who lacks these qualities, may have subordinates who comply and peers who cower, but they will not be able to cultivate a sustained commitment to the course they set." In addition, health librarians are recommended to supplement their understanding of leadership in the digital age by consulting the business and management literature.

From the many studies in the literature we know that strong leadership is difficult to define. Leadership requires intelligence and experience but also human qualities of empathy and kindness that transcend typical authority control. There is some emphasis in the literature on emotional intelligence and using empathic forms of management to lead others. Emotional intelligence may involve an intersection of leadership and management; the idea is that one or the other may require toughness and sticking to rules of meeting roles and responsibilities. Most forms of leadership require healthy doses of empathy, caring about others and emotional intelligence. Strictly speaking, there are differences in managing vs. leading. Library managers, for example, oversee day-to-day operations of libraries whereas library leaders at the top build a coherent vision and lead libraries (and librarians) into a strategic future.

Connecting leadership & employee satisfaction

According to a 2004 study, there are about seventy-five components that comprise employee satisfaction in their leaders (Lamb, McKee, 2004):

  • trust and confidence in top leadership was the single most reliable predictor of morale within an organization
  • effective communication by leadership in three critical areas was the key to winning organizational trust and confidence
  • helping employees understand the company's overall strategic directions
  • helping employees understand how they contribute to achieving key objectives
  • sharing information with employees on both how the company is doing and how an employee's own division is doing (relative to strategic objectives)

In summary, leaders are expect to be trustworthy and communicate a vision of where a library organization should go. This is effective, positive leadership. On the other hand, toxic leadership may be defined as having responsibility over groups of librarians and library assistants within an organization; someone who abuses relationships and trust by leaving the organization in a worse-off condition than when he/she first found them.

Roles for library leaders

The goal of library leaders is to plan for the provision of services while enabling library staff to carry out the important work in serving patrons. It should be said that library services do not magically happen without the considered deployment of human resources by skilled, caring library leaders and managers. The leading of competent people involves attracting skilled personnel and providing ways for them to reach their professional goals. One of the difficulties for library leaders is to strike a balance between disciplined management of teams with strategic mentoring for new leaders. Some organizations fall into the trap of balancing the bottom line above improving workers. Other library organizations are pressured to do what library boards and administration wants, often at the expense of morale. This is a short-sighted view of libraries since they are ultimately about providing services and serving people. Without proper stewardship of people, libraries are empty sterile places with little sense of community or a shared future.

In 2011, Sutton and Booth penned an article that described an interesting study about types of leadership in health libraries. They include a helpful training needs analysis for both health library and information managers. They found that many health library leaders considered themselves to have strengths in influencing, negotiating, managing change and delivering presentations to decision-makers. They expressed significant development needs in communicating with stakeholders, conflict resolution, using body language and being assertive. Most of these library leaders adopted collaborative styles such as the "strategic collaborator" or "opportunistic collaborator".

In the library literature

Hernon (2006) has written extensively on emotional intelligence for leaders. With Rossiter, Hernon carried out research about emotional intelligence and its linkage to leadership in the library profession. Using a mixed model of emotional intelligence along five domains (self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skill), Hernon and Rossiter set out to examine advertisements for academic library directors. As a result, they surveyed a number of Association of Research Libraries (ARL) library directors to determine which of these qualities were most desirable or sought out during recruitment and selection committee processes. Eight (8) ARL directors were interviewed for indepth information and input into the subject. The analysis of advertisements revealed a few aspects of emotional intelligence that seemed to be required for leadership but the language of the ads required interpretation to reach that determination.

Key websites

  • executive leadership program sponsored by ARL offering opportunity for development of future leaders in research libraries
  • the AAHSL program is intended to address the preparation of academic health sciences library directors
  • to acknowledge contributions of a librarian in early years of health librarianship career in Canada
  • the curriculum addresses planning, organizational strategy and change, and transformational learning with an overarching goal of increasing your leadership and management capacity
  • develop leadership potential to lead Canada’s libraries or information service organizations into 21st century

Using social media for leaders

Social networking through the use of Internet-based and other web media is fundamentally changing the way that health administrators manage services, patient and donor relations, marketing and promotion. The use of Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs and other social media can empower organizations to build stronger relationships with their communities. Social media provides ways to engage in global conversations about health care, revealing emerging issues of importance and health threats such as H1N1 (Human Swine Flu). Increasingly, businesses and governmental organizations use social media as business support tools for increased brand development and recognition, low-cost promotional programs and marketing opportunities. These business objectives are enabled by a strategic blend of reputation-building, knowledge sharing and presence- building affordances (among others) of social media (Kietzmann et al., 2011). Song (2007) has written about the value of identifying opinion leaders in web 2.0 spaces.


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