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Modern Day Library Leadership

by on May 10, 2016

Deanna Marcum, managing director of consulting firm Ithaka S+R, has many thoughts on library leadership. At 2016’s annual meeting of the National Federation of Advanced Information Systems Marcum delivered a lecture on how leadership is changing as libraries move towards a more digital environment. She had many different ideas, but some of her biggest takeaways were as follows:

  • Focus on digital strategy. Marcum is very clear: “We are no longer waiting for the digital revolution to happen. It is here.”[1] She suggests that organizations cease viewing digital services as being a new addition to a library’s existing blueprint. Instead, management should focus on embedding digital initiatives and literacy across the organization as a whole (e.g., web services and programs are no longer “add-ons” in most libraries; they are essential services).
  • Evaluate new ways of customer engagement. Good library leaders figure out their patrons’ needs and come up with the best ways their organization can meet them. In today’s fast-paced, increasingly digital world, Marcum stresses that librarians can no longer dictate what they think their users should want. We need to meet them where they are.
  • Accommodate differences in how people go online. Some public libraries serve bigger communities than others; in any case, there is often much diversity in how an organization’s users access the Internet. Managers should see to it that their libraries’ services are varied enough to meet this diversity. For example, community members likely possess wildly varying degrees of comfort with technology.
  • Sharpen analytical skills. Twenty-first-century library leaders must leverage data to understand patron behavior and translate this into services that meet their wants and needs.
  • Think about user experience. We hear about user experience very often from a design point of view, but this carries through to all aspects of library services. Successful leaders must take user experience into account in order to keep their patrons happy and their services relevant. For example, a simpler layout in the library or slightly different hours may make the lives of a library’s users much easier.

Other qualities of strong, modern library leaders include an understanding of their organization’s culture—particularly in regards to hiring—and learning from staff. What do you think is most important in managing today’s libraries?


[1] Deanna Marcum, “Library Leadership for the Digital Age,” Ithaka S+R Issue Brief, March 28, 2016.

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