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PLA Leadership Development Programs Offer Lessons for a Lifetime

by on May 23, 2019

About the Authors MARY ANNE BOWMAN is Deputy Director, St. Mary’s County (MD) Library. RENEE DI PILATO is Deputy Director, Alexandria (VA) Library. KIMBERLY B. KNIGHT is Central Area Manager, Prince George’s County (MD) Memorial Library. DENISE LYONS is Deputy Director of Statewide Development, South Carolina State Library. DONNA WALKER is Executive Director, Jefferson County (CO) Public Library.

Contact Renee at rdipilato@alexlibraryva.org. Contact Mary Anne at mabowman@stmalib.org. Contact Kimberly at kimberly.knight@pgcmls.info. Contact Denise at dlyons@statelibrary.sc.gov. Contact Donna at donna.walker@jeffcolibrary.org.

PLA strives to provide library professionals with the skills needed to be successful, innovative change agents in their work. In 2006 the association established a Leadership Development Task Force to plan and implement leadership programming. One of the avenues explored was executive leadership programs offered by top-notch universities such as Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Evans School of Management at the University of Washington. PLA supported a select group of librarians to participate in these programs and this became known as the PLA Leadership Fellows Scholarship Program. Eight PLA Fellows were selected over the course of two years (2009-10) from among many applicants. Each attended one of the programs and report- ed back to PLA, sharing their experiences with the Task Force and a wider audience through presentations at conference, articles in Public Libraries, and in some cases presenting webinars.

PLA continued to refine its approach to Leadership Development training and, in 2009, the Task Force convened an invitational leadership brainstorming session facilitated by Dr. Adam Goodman, Director of Leadership Development at Northwestern University. The goal of the session was to identify the key issues and challenges facing our members in their libraries and the leadership abilities that our members would need to successfully meet the challenges.

This PLA Leadership Model was introduced in 2010 via several trainings over the next few years. PLA’s first Leadership Academy was held in 2013, and again in 2015 and 2017. The program was developed with support from an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant and in partnership with the International City/County Management Association (ICMA). The event offers intensive, empowering leadership education for public librarians who want to increase their capacity to lead not only within the library, but also in the community. It includes a three-and-a-half-day, in-person educational/networking event; a professional coach program with experienced public library leaders and city managers; and development of real-world projects to implement at attendees’ libraries.

In 2018, PLA released a new model for its Leadership and Professional Development Initiative. The model was developed by twenty-one select library leaders, with guidance from Goodman. In alignment with the association’s Strategic Goals of Transformation and Leadership, this model both advances public libraries’ shift from an organizational focus to a community focus and supports leadership that reflects the needs of the community. The PLA Leadership Model describes the work, methods, and core values of leadership in a public library context. It describes library leaders’ core areas of responsibility as learning and literacy; and stewardship and integrity. Under the model, library leaders are also encour- aged to practice the paired values of respect and civility; inclusion and equity; service and privacy; and information and truth, while embracing a spirit of caring, integrity, and optimism. The model envisions these leaders helping individuals, neighborhoods, and communities to thrive by making the library a trusted, helpful resource to all people.

PLA Leadership Model

Library leaders work to:

  • Help Individuals, neighborhoods, and communities thrive.
  • Become a trusted resource that allows everyone to have their voices heard and to contribute to a healthy and engaged society. To carry out this work, library leaders commit to:

• Inclusion and equity.
• Service and privacy.
• Information and truth.

While never losing sight or the core responsibilities of:

• Learning and literacy.
• Stewardship and integrity.

After nearly a decade of work in this field, PLA continues to highlight the importance of leadership development for the profession; while past-participants are continuing to have an impact on the profession. The current PLA Leadership Development Committee hopes you enjoy learning where some Leadership program- ming past-participants are now, and the effect PLA’s Leadership Development trainings have had on their library careers.

Stephanie Chase
Chase is currently the Director of Hillsboro (OR) Public Library. She serves on PLA’s Board of Directors, is the division’s representative on ALA Council, and was a founding member of the nonprofit LibraryReads. She is a PLA Leadership Fellows Scholarship Recipient.

How did participating in the PLA Fellowship affect you?
I think it would not be an overstatement to say it changed my life—personally and professionally. Imagine having your eyes opened to a way of thinking that emphasizes strengths over weaknesses, collaboration over competition, caring over strict adherence to rules . . . ten years ago, these all felt like revolutionary ideas in management and municipal government, in particular, and provided me with a totally new framework on which to hang my growth. I also appreciated the opportunity to have these conversations outside of a library and government environment, which helped me gain perspective on how the private and public sectors can learn from one another. I felt like I was a leader before, but I knew I was when I finished, and I felt as though I had amazing tools to carry with me into the future.

Where are you now?

I was a director in a small, rural library in Vermont when I participated in the PLA Fellows program. Since that time, I moved west, working at the Multnomah County Library, the Seattle Public Library, where I served as the Director of Library Programs and Services, then with the vendor Biblio- Commons, and now I am director of the Hillsboro Public Library, west of Portland.

How does the PLA Fellowship influence your role as a leader today?
I had the amazing good fortune to learn from Bob Quinn at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business as part of my Fellowship. The work of the Ross School, and his work, transformed my thinking about how to celebrate and capitalize on strengths and bring a positive perspective to a work environment. I was just reread- ing an article in the Harvard Business Review about the importance of culture (“The Culture Factor,” from the Jan./Feb. 2018 issue), and he was mentioned as a foundational researcher in culture frame- works that emphasize flexibility. I prize this, and I believe it is why I have been able to successfully lead culture change in the past three organizations I have been a part of. Quinn has a famous quote (and book) about “building the bridge as you walk on it,” and this has been my mantra since the moment I heard it from him: if you know where you are aiming for, you can start getting there by building the step in front of you, and then the next, and the next—it allows us to be nimble, and responsive, and dedicated to strategy over being a slave to process.

Listening is also important. Leading isn’t about getting done what you want
to; it’s not your chance to suddenly check off everything on your to-do list. For me, leaders need to be able to pull together the strengths, interests, and ideas of a broad group and bring those together into a coherent strategy to take action. If you love that, you’ll be happy, but you can’t get there without really observing and listen- ing to the people who surround you!

Chase’s advice for a new leader:

Building a network is essential, as is dedication to continuous learning. When you dedicate time to developing yourself, your expertise, and your tools, you become a better leader. Having a network of people to call on is so important as well— as a sounding board, as a way to work through an idea, or just to chat. I’m still in touch with one of the Fellows from my year, who participated in a different pro- gram; even if we may only see each other in person at ALA, we ping things back and forth to each other with regularity, and I am always happy to see her. It’s a connection I may have not made otherwise!

Engaging all community stake- holders in contributing to the well-being of the community. Convening to allow meeting, learning, and knowing between community members.

Sharing to communicate for a common understanding. Collaborating to work towards achieving common goals. Advocating to use the library’s trusted position to further community goals.

This work is carried out with concern for: Respect and civility.

Dedication to continuous learning. When you dedicate time to developing yourself, your expertise, and your tools, you be- come a better leader. Having a network of people to call on is so important as well— as a sounding board, as a way to work through an idea, or just to chat. I’m still in touch with one of the Fellows from my year, who participated in a different program; even if we may only see each other in person at ALA, we ping things back and forth to each other with regularity, and I am always happy to see her. It’s a connection I may have not made otherwise!

Chang Liu

Liu is the director of the Loudon County (VA) Public Library. She previously held positions with the District of Columbia and Arlington County Public Libraries. She was recently named the 2018 winner of ALA’s Ernest A. DiMattia Award for Innovative Service to Community and Profession. She is a PLA Leadership Fellows Scholarship Recipient.

How did participating in the PLA Fellowship affect you?
It has had a profound and lasting impact on my leadership style, philosophical approach, and the clarity of my thinking, both at my routine work and under critical and crisis circumstances. I have become a more self-aware, deliberative leader and now I see more of the nuances in inter- personal relationships. I have also taken more of the long view on things, becom- ing more strategic as a leader because of my experience at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Senior Executives in Local and State Government Program. The fellowship I developed with the rest of the cohort has been very rewarding too. I feel that I have a group of highly talented, experienced, and thoughtful professionals that I can turn to for confidential advice and counsel.

Where are you now?

After finishing the program, I took the Director job at Loudoun County Public Library in 2011, in one of the fastest growing, most affluent, technology-savvy counties in the country. Under my leadership, Loudoun County Public Library has opened two new libraries, dramatically increased the number and attendance of library programs, and implemented many innovative services such as book-printing, comprehensive maker programs, and STEAM programs for all ages. We have also streamlined many internal processes to engage, empower, and inspire staff at all levels. I’m proud to serve as the Library Director of Loudoun County.

How does the PLA Fellowship influence your role as a leader today?
I think about my experience at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government daily. It was truly an enriching experience. It recharged my passion for public service and elevated my thinking about leader- ship. It gave me a more expansive view on the core issues of leadership: ethics, goals, interpersonal relationships, community building, politics, respect, and honesty.

Liu’s advice for a new leader:
Leadership is about heart and passion. To be a great leader, you have to put your heart and mind into your work, the people you work with, and the community you work in. Leading ethically must be a habit and an instinct, so that people will respect you as a person and a leader, even if they may not agree with your decisions.

Michelle Jeske

Jeske is city librarian for Denver Public Library (DPL), where she has held several positions since 2001. She participated in the first Leadership Academy
cohort in 2013 and was appointed to her current position shortly after in 2015. She was previously named a
Library Journal Mover & Shaker and currently serves on PLA’s Board of Directors. She is a PLA Leadership Academy Participant.

How did participating in PLA’s Leadership Academy affect you?

Profoundly! The Academy was a week of investment in myself that I hadn’t had an opportunity to do before. It was an opportunity to learn about myself—an actual whole week is a big gift of time. Coming out of that, I knew a lot more about my strengths and felt invigorated about getting into the community. What I learned gave me an opportunity to explore community engagement in a new way. This experience led directly to doing work outside of the “box,” which was a big box!

One of the things I loved was the ses- sion on Asset Based Community Devel- opment, which was some of the most significant learning for me. Based on my experience in the Academy, I chose to create a map of teen assets in the com- munity. It took about eighteen months and concluded with a report that was a set of recommendations about teen services. From this report came a substantial change in the organization with respect to how we served teens. I also made some new relationships in the community, which really helped me and DPL, and through the process I learned more about the library’s niche in the community for serving teens.

Where are you now?
The Academy helped me turn outward toward the community even more. It helped me grow and, in some ways, directed my path to becoming Denver’s city librarian. Throughout my time at DPL, my supervisor gave me every opportunity to learn and grow. I was fortunate to have Shirley Amore as a role model—she helped me learn how to be the kind of leader who provides others with opportunities to expand their skills.

How does the Leadership Academy influence your role as a leader today?
One important area was the Strengths- finder assessment. I still reference that work and try to capitalize on those strengths I identified. I also introduced this philosophy to DPL. Any time you can learn more about yourself and your colleagues, how can there be anything wrong with that? In addition, understanding people’s strengths helps to round out a team, and at DPL we use it as a way to make better hiring decisions for balancing individuals’ strengths with the needs of the organization. Second was learning about asset mapping: What are the positive things happening in the community? What are the community’s deficiencies? Where does the library fit in to help the community be a richer place?

Jeske’s advice for a new leader:

What is a new leader? You can lead from anywhere. Really know who you are. Don’t try to be someone else. Under- stand who you are and be an authentic leader from that place. Continue to learn. Constantly challenge yourself. Surround yourself with people who aren’t like you. Take risks—and that can include going for a job you’re not sure you’re ready for.

Penny Hummel

Hummel is currently principal for her own firm, Penny Hummel Consulting, in Oregon. Prior to becoming a librarian, she worked in nonprofit organizations
throughout Oregon. After serving as Multnomah County’s marketing and communications manager, she earned her MLIS from San José State University. She was the director of the Canby (OR) Public Library from 2009-13. As a consultant, Hummel works with libraries throughout the country to develop facility plans, marketing and communications strategies, and fundraising campaigns. She is a PLA Leadership Academy Participant.

How did participating in PLA’s Leadership Academy affect you?
I applied to the Academy because of the situation I was in at the time. The Academy is great for the individual, but it also brings assets to the community and library when leaders have this kind of opportunity. The Academy added on to the base of knowl- edge I already had. It was empowering and I very much appreciated the opportunity to participate. There were a lot of real leaders in the library community that I got to meet and know. It was a rich experience. By participating in the Leadership Academy, I made one really close friend in libraryland, which was an added bonus.

Where are you now?
I was in the first cohort in 2013, and at the time I was a library director in a challenging situation in a challenging community. Being in the cohort helped me make the decision to move on to something differ- ent. I had done consulting before I was a librarian, so the Academy helped me decide to hang out my shingle once again. When I decided to make this leap, I focused on abundance and then found my niche. It has been an amazing adventure! I still work for public libraries, but as a consultant. I focus on organizational development, facility planning, marketing, strategic planning, and fundraising. I love my job and what I do, though I sometimes miss the day- to-day work of being in a library. I’m in a continuous learning environment due to the variety of projects I undertake. When a library brings in a consultant, it helps them put a different frame around a situation, and I like facilitating that discovery.

How does the Leadership Academy influence your role as a leader today?
When I attended the Leadership Academy, I was farther along in my career than some others. I worked for a nonprofit before librarianship, which meant I came into the profession with a different set of strengths. The Academy was validation that I was on the right path. I also learned that I had the tools I needed to succeed, while learning new things too. Through the Strengths- finder assessment, I learned that I was on point with understanding what my strengths were. It uncovered the importance of owning what each person has to contribute. When you are a consultant, you have to speak with a clear voice. By learning about my strengths I began to trust my judgment and have more confidence. The Leadership Academy helped me to own my personal sense of power, which is the purpose of the Academy for librarians— own your personal sense of power.

Hummel’s advice for a new leader:
Seek out and be open to opportunities like the Leadership Academy that enhance your self knowledge and your strengths.

Find ways to make connections with peo- ple. Connecting resources with people is a giving process as much as a taking process. Be willing to try new things. Taking risks and trying new things help you construct a vision of how you want to be as a librarian. The Leadership Academy provides a foun- dation for helping you know what you’re good at—your sweet spot of maximum effectiveness in the world. Finding out what that is makes everything easier. Be adventurous, explore things, learn, grow.

Libby Holtmann

Holtmann is director of the Plano (TX) Public Li- brary (PPL), where she has spent her career. She held positions in Youth Services and as a library manager before being named director in 2016. Prior to completing the Leadership Academy, Holtmann attended TALL Texans, a leadership development program sponsored by the Texas Library Association. She is currently chair of ALA’s Training, Orienta- tion, and Leadership Development Com- mittee. She is a PLA Leadership Academy Participant.

How did participating in PLA’s Leadership Academy affect you?
It was clear having listened to all of the Academy participants that we all have the same issues and challenges and we can support each other. It gave me a boost of confidence. The cohort and mentors became a positive space for sharing concerns and answering questions about taking on leadership opportunities. Listening to the realities of leadership from so many perspectives and hearing others say, “You CAN do this!” was impactful. The mentor piece was critical in providing perspective and guiding conversations. The crucible activity was invaluable as a tool to reflect on an experience and learn from it.

Where are you now?
I went from the first floor of the building to the basement! (Editor’s note: During the Leadership Academy, Holtmann was a manager for PPL; she is now the director.)

How does the Leadership Academy influence your role as a leader today? The network and relationships built during the Academy still influence me. The higher up in the organization you go, the less people you have to talk to. The Leader- ship Academy network makes me a better leader because I can talk to people and work my way through a challenge with colleagues from the Academy. The connec- tions made during the Academy are a “cohort of trust.” We still meet up at confer- ences and call on one another when we are looking for expertise. Also, the Asset Based Community Development piece continues to influence and guide library processes.

Holtmann’s advice for a new leader:

Know yourself really well. Know your faults and your strengths. Be humble, ask questions, and listen to what others have to say. We need to make ourselves uncomfortable while continually learning and developing as leaders.

Martha Hutzel

Hutzel is library director for the Central Rappah- annock Regional Library (CRRL) in Virginia.

She held numerous management positions with CRRL before her appointment to director in 2016. She was the 2015-16 president of the Virginia Library Association and served as Virginia’s state coordinator for National Library Legislative Day for several years. She is a PLA Leadership Academy Participant.

How did participating in PLA’s Leadership Academy affect you?
For me, it was life and career changing! I found out about the Leadership Academy when I was a branch manager. I requested approval from my director to apply and attend, and I was ecstatic when I was accepted. I came into the library profession in my late thirties and had a great support system in my library, but not a great deal of contacts outside my library and my state. At the time I was on our state library association council, and complet- ing the Academy helped me gain the courage and confidence to run and get elected to the position of Virginia Library Association president. The Leadership Academy opened new worlds to me and I met amazing people that I’ve stayed in touch with.

Where are you now?

I’m currently the library director at Central Rappahannock Regional Library, a system I have worked in and been regularly promoted in for almost thirty years. During my interview for the position of director, the interview committee was very impressed with the Leadership Academy Fellow designation on my résumé, and I feel certain that it helped me land the job. To be successful as a library director anywhere you must have some leader- ship training and skill; the Academy was a great step for me to take on that journey.

How does the Leadership Academy influence your role as a leader today? Having come up through the ranks in the same library system I currently run, I knew having some wider experience in the profession would help me and the library overall. It has given me a broader view of the needs of the profession, helped me see that there are other ways to do things, and given me professional contacts that I can bounce ideas off of. It has helped me avoid being insular within my library system, and becoming insular is an easy thing to do if you have worked in the same system for many years.

Hutzel’s advice for a new leader:

Remember that leadership is a learned process—it takes time and effort and is a long journey, but a very rewarding one. Good leadership matters greatly for the success of any organization; bad leadership can do a great deal of harm to any organization, and may take years to recognize and correct. In the meantime, you will lose good people under bad leadership and the reputation of your organization or your team will suffer. I also advise new leaders to accept the fact that they will have to make some tough decisions. Also, start building your personal brand as soon as you are working in your profession. It will help you tremendously in the future if you have a reputation filled with leadership skills and opportunities.



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