Sunday, November 22, 2009

November Program Review

An Evening for Leaders: Preparing Ourselves for the Future

On November 4, CASLIS had the pleasure of hosting a presentation by Vicki Whitmell on “Leadership, Skills and Knowledge: How We Can Prepare Ourselves and Our Staff for the Future.” The Executive Director of the Information Technology and Services Division, and Librarian at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, Vicki addressed leadership and information technology skills—two competencies acquiring increased importance in the library and information science (LIS) field.

The event took place at the Nicholas Hoare bookstore in Toronto, on a rainy evening. Surrounded by hundreds of books, elegant brown bookshelves, the interesting architectural features of an indoor balcony, and the pleasant company of attendees, Vicki’s presentation had the intimate quality of a mentor sharing useful tips with colleagues.

Vicki began by proposing that librarians are an aging population, while social and technological developments require a skill set that older librarians may be lacking. New LIS vacancies and opportunities for advancement often require knowledge of electronic content management; digitization; database development; and other competencies that may not have been part of the curriculum of older library programs.

For librarians, the future does not look bleak, but does require some changes. Quoting the document, “The Big Bang: Creating the New Library Universe,” Vicki emphasized that “No job will be unchanged; some things we have always done, we will no longer do.” Libraries will increasingly become user-centered, developing and organizing collections, and providing access that reflects a constituency’s changing information needs. Librarianship will require leaders to keep abreast of these changes and make decisions on these developments.

Identifying and grooming future LIS leaders will be an important part of our field’s evolution. iSchools and library programs that emphasize “the relationship between information, people and technology,” and encourage a broad understanding of diverse expertise within the information field, are good places where to begin the search. However, current librarians will need to acquire leadership skills themselves, before this process can take place. This is not a tall order, affirmed Vicki. There is a leader in all of us, and there are many opportunities to acquire these skills. Informal leadership, for example, can be developed as we build relationships with other colleagues, train new ones, and become role models to others.

Following the presentation, attendees had a chance to pose questions. One of the most interesting queries came from a gentleman who proposed that managers with an information technology (IT) background might not be the best choice to lead a library, and asked how librarians can demonstrate they are also capable of becoming CIOs. Vicki answered that IT professionals have actively sought leadership roles, and in the process have associated their expertise with “leadership.” Librarians must do the same, redefining “information science” more broadly to include LIS, seeking leadership roles, demonstrating competence as leaders, and acquiring the skills necessary to be able to efficiently manage IT workers.

The evening concluded with a chance to mingle and speak to Vicki one-to-one, before heading back out into the damp streets of Toronto.

Presentation slides for this event can be retrieved from

Yannet M. Lathrop
M.I. Candidate, 2011, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto

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