“Get in the goddamn wagon” – the future of leadership in the academic library

I’ve just read Peter Brantley’s recent post on how, despite current senior academic library administrators moving rapidly towards retirement, it’s difficult for the “late boomer” and GenX librarians to move into these vacating senior positions.

Take a look:

It’s time for younger librarians to claim the future.

I was intrigued when I saw an announcement for an ARL-CNI meeting, “Achieving Strategic Change in Research Libraries”, to be held in mid October, because Lord knows this is a good time for strategic change. Yet when I clicked through to the program, I was sorely disappointed. The program is oriented toward library directors talking amongst themselves. In the growing string of strategy meetings and whitepaper collections coming from research library organizations, I see many familiar names. While I find these individuals to be brilliant, thoughtful people, I don’t believe much will come out of their talking amongst each other for another day. Library leadership has been discussing emergent roles for libraries for over a decade.

(N.B.: In libraries, the senior executive usually has the title “University Librarian”, and their immediate junior staff, “Associate University Librarian”; these are abbreviated as UL and AUL respectively.)

The current leadership of many of the leading research libraries belongs to a cohort that has held senior management positions for several decades; they have exceeded, or are near, retirement age. The generation beneath them, the late boomers and the Gen X’ers, have often been unable to fully advance in their careers because of the overhanging cliff edge above them. In libraries, archives, and museums – all organizations with astounding levels of commitment and loyalty – theirs will be a Lost Generation. They are not likely to steer these institutions for any long length of time. Instead, Gen X has led – is leading – a Long March.

Even in conversations with the existing leadership, there is wide acknowledgment that the greatest sea change of vision and perspective among librarians, museum and archive staff, rests primarily among those (more or less) in their 20s, into their early to mid 30s. This generation has completely different expectations for information management, privacy, direct access to data and people, interaction with services, and organizational behavior.

It is perhaps in the expectations for organizational conduct that the need for change is greatest, and most immediately wanting. Libraries are supremely hierarchical organizations, not given to matrix management or effective team based project management. Many young librarians do not have any effective means to make substantive comment on change in their institutions; even when their voices are heard, no engagement is offered.

I encourage everyone to read the entire post. Then, let me know what you think by posting a comment.