Around the world, higher education institutions are experiencing multiple forms of transformation and organizational restructuring. This is the direct result of the internationalization and trans-nationalization of higher education, which have inevitably led to new forms of competition and reforms, as well as strategies of change within universities and colleges at regional, national, and international levels.
Transformational leadership carried out by effective and competent leaders unarguably provides vision, direction, motivation and inspiration for academic libraries—and, most importantly, a better chance of survival during turbulent times. Yet the current literature has not fully addressed the characteristics, management styles, roles and responsibilities of academic library directors. We need more evidence-based research and analysis on academic library leadership and management, especially from cross-cultural and global perspectives.
Furthermore, academic libraries are incredibly varied when it comes to collection sizes, available types of printed and digital resources, services, staffing structures, etc. Regardless of their differences, they all have the same core mission: to support the teaching, learning and research activities of their college or university community.
Countless books and articles feature interviews with CEO, world leaders, politicians, filmmakers, opera stars, educators, Nobel Prize winners and even CIA operatives. But despite the fact that directors of major academic libraries play such influential roles in shaping learning practices and the access to information for universities and the research community, books that feature top-level library managers discussing their philosophy, ideology and leadership styles are almost nonexistent.
Conversations with Leading Academic and Research Library Directors brings a cross-cultural, global perspective to top-level leaders of libraries for the world’s leading institutions of higher education. As a response to the rapidly shifting professional and information landscape—and the opportunities and challenges it brings—this book investigates these library directors’ approaches to managing their institutions. Several library directors candidly share personal anecdotes about their professional experiences, as well as valuable insights into the contemporary demands on library leadership. Among them are library directors from Harvard University, Yale University, University of California Los Angeles, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University, University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, Peking University and Free University of Berlin. Book reviews are available online from the Library Journal and the C&RL journal.
Dr. Gregory Eow, Associate Director for Collections, MIT Libraries, is one of the leaders featured in the book. According to Dr. Eow, “In a leadership position, work is accomplished through others and empowering them to succeed. It is about listening and learning. It means hiring fabulous, talented, creative, and engaged people, and giving them the tools and creating the context and organizational culture in which they can be successful. It means providing a vision for where collections are going, and then building an appreciation for how everyone’s work is playing a role and realizing that vision. That is my view on leadership and, by extension, that is why mentoring is so important. If leadership is about empowering others and that you get work done through others being successful, mentorship is a critical part of that.”
A majority of the library directors featured in this book consider transformational leadership to be a major factor in enhancing communication and building mutual trust and respect within their organizations. This, in turn, has the potential to foster a motivating and creative work environment that ensures personal and collective success and institutional advancement in the long run. Many believe that transformational leadership also contributes to an ability to adapt to a rapidly changing academic environment and promote sustained organization performance.
Sarah Thomas, Vice President for the Harvard Library, University Librarian and Roy E. Larsen Librarian of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University. Sarah Thomas candidly discusses the rewards and challenges of being Harvard’s library director as well as her experiences in being the first woman and non-British citizen to serve as the Librarian at the University of Oxford.
Greg Eow, Associate Director for Collections, MIT Libraries. Greg Eow discusses the changing and yet indispensable roles of a bibliographer in the context of collection development, as well as the values of diversity and inclusion in staff recruitment in academic librarianship—a profession that is increasingly driven by technological developments in a global context.
Susan Gibbons, University Librarian and Deputy Provost for Collections and Scholarly Communication, Yale University. Susan Gibbons shares how the current information landscape is reshaping service provision by the Yale University Library, as well as the kinds of qualities that they look for in young recruits who wish to join the Yale University Library team.
Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian, University of Oxford. Richard Ovenden discusses the “organic” organizational structure of this ancient library system, as well as his unique perspectives on the distinctive pedagogical approaches between the US and UK undergraduate students that have shaped the way libraries deliver their services.
Qiang Zhu, Director, Peking University Library. Qiang Zhu discusses his career journey from his humble beginnings after the Cultural Revolution to becoming a professional librarian in China. He offers his personal views and insight into the growth of the profession of librarianship in China, and upcoming challenges that academic libraries in China will face.
Gulcin Cribb, University Librarian, Singapore Management University. Gulcin Cribb shares with the readers the new and changing roles of academic librarians in the information age, as well as why she continues to write and publish even after she has already reached the peak of her career in the field of librarianship.
Peter Sidorko, University Librarian, the University of Hong Kong. Peter Sidorko discusses the ways in which he uses his participative management style to work closely with staff and faculty in supporting the unique academic environment at HKU. He speaks about the deep collaboration with other university libraries in Hong Kong and discusses the current challenges facing the field.
Philip Kent, University Librarian, University of Melbourne. Philip Kent shares his insights drawing on his experience leading the Library at the University of Melbourne, which consistently appears as the highest-scoring Australian university in international rankings. He also outlines the unique challenges for the library in serving a research-intensive university in the 21st century.
Howard Amos, University Librarian, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. Howard Amos shares his unparalleled expertise in managing organizational change, that is including the transition to the fully digital library, the implementation of international benchmarking activities, and the development of quality frameworks for libraries.
If you liked this article, you may be interested in reading an article from Allen Cho, one of the co-editors of the book. The article, The Learning Gardens at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, is based on his tour of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Learning Garden, an award-winning inspirational collaborative learning and study space.
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