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Three C’s of library leadership in the Pacific Rim: culture, context, change

Interview with Irene Herold, University Librarian, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa | Feb 22, 2016

Irene Herold, University Librarian, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa (UH Mānoa) is the flagship campus of the UH System and one of a handful of universities nationwide to hold the distinction of being a land, sea, and space grant institution. The National Science Foundation ranks UH Mānoa in the top 50 US public universities for research expenditures. Its diverse student population is 36.2% Asian, 22.6% Caucasian, 16.7% Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, and 24.5% other. UH Mānoa Library Services has two physical locations and 134 faculty and staff, not including students.


Interview highlights:

  • A partner in preserving cultural heritage and access
  • Change is endemic to the heart and principle of the work we do
  • It’s not just about library value, it’s the value of higher education
  • Beyond headcount to the human side of leadership



How is the library’s role different at UH Mānoa than at other places you have worked? 


UH Mānoa is the major research university of the Pacific Island region, so everything we do is grounded in being a Hawaiian place of learning. We support the curriculum and research of our faculty and students, and we support access to and preservation of information for our sister institutions in the Pacific Islands and Asia. 


We are members of the Pacific Rim Research Libraries Alliance (PRRLA), which includes universities from Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore, among others. It’s been eye opening to see the challenges some of my colleagues face in dealing with government hierarchy and organizational structure to make artifacts available or, in other cases, simply due to a lack of equipment. 


A recent example of working with other libraries in the region involved our rare, pre-1945 Okinawan collection, which is the largest outside of Japan. We provided access to a scanner and 600 items to the University of the Ryukyus in Japan, and they sent the personnel to digitize the items and draft the metadata in English and Japanese. We introduced different ways to think about the metadata and formulate the schema to ensure the items would be discoverable. Finally Tokiko Bazzell, our Japan Studies librarian, and I attended a one-day symposium in Okinawa, where we discussed the importance of the project, not just to researchers and scholars, but also to the people of Okinawa. These were cultural treasures that would have remained hidden and inaccessible without the combined work of our libraries.


Irene Herold speaking at the Okinawa symposium (photo credit: Tokiko Bazzell)


Where do you see the biggest potential for change in libraries?


As information professionals, we know that change is endemic to the heart and principle of the work we do. Libraries have evolved from 19th-century storehouses to 20th-century access points to a 21st-century model that incorporates resources, access and knowledge creation. Tools and resources have changed over time, but the application and end goals are pretty consistent.


My dissertation was historical in nature, and I recall reading old journal articles that described librarians’ consternation over having to use a typewriter to create catalog cards instead of handwriting them. We need continuous improvement in our skills and abilities to work with new tools, but I don’t know how that’s really different from how it’s been in the past 100 years. 


Our library spaces are also evolving to accommodate the shifting needs of the institution. At our Sinclair Library, we have repurposed space to house the Honors Program, Student Success Center, Institutional Research Services, Advising, the Outreach College (continuing education) and a grant-funded K-12 initiative. Our library-specific space has shrunk, yet the synergies of these partnerships have created excitement for the 21st-century learning models within the library. Educational concepts such as high-impact practices, flipped classrooms, engaged learning and student success have been incorporated more actively and openly. 


So the library is becoming more integral — and adding more value — to the institution?


We always have been integral to the life of the university; we are just getting noticed more!


Within the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL), we have been thinking in terms of not just the value of the library, but in broader strokes about the value of higher education and the creation of an engaged, educated workforce. This thinking has driven some of the ACRL conversation around the decision to embrace a constellation of documents that now includes the information literacy framework. This gives guidance for the campuses to assess student learning and puts library value in context of student success. ACRL has positioned itself as a higher education association, not just a library association.


This resonates with me, as I started out as a public school teacher. It never occurred to me that as a librarian I would not be an educator. Of course that is not necessarily a view all librarians have held or embraced. But it seems that people are now catching up with a view I have always held to be true.



If change is always part of the landscape, how can library leaders prepare their staff?


I am a big proponent of the eight-step process that John Kotter outlines in his book, Leading Change, which advocates that we need to not just manage change, but create the environment in which the change can be successful. When entering a new situation, you don’t know what you don’t know until you get there. In every place I have worked, there is a different environment; as a leader you need to be open to and considerate of the culture.


As library leaders, we need to think about how we help our workforce evolve and develop. It’s easy to get wrapped up in things like planning a new space — from the lighting to the wear count on the furniture. We need to think more about the human side, and not just about the headcount and the associated budget. 


Change always feels uncomfortable. If you are not uncomfortable, you are not going beyond the box you set up for yourself. I advocate for helping staff to push past those limits. If we demonstrate emotional intelligence then our staff will feel empowered to change, understanding that they have our support. By acting with emotional intelligence we instill confidence in those we are leading and achieve alignment with the vision and way forward.  



As the university librarian, what is your role in setting institutional priorities?


Everywhere I have worked as head librarian, I have sat on the executive team that sets the direction for the institution. The head librarian can offer a global institutional perspective. I’m not just advocating for my school or my particular areas of subject expertise; this is sometimes a surprise to my colleagues at that level, but it’s a view that is valued. As a dean, for example, it is easy to get immersed in thinking that the only value is in the numbers: of graduates, of credit hours, instructor ratios. But as we parse out resources or think about planning or value, we need to consider the institution’s larger leadership role. 


As the university librarian, I am also an advocate with our state government — meeting with legislators, participating in hearings, showing we value their support, and helping them understand where we need support.



Where do you turn for professional development and engagement?


The different associations, including ACRL, PRRLA, the Greater Western Library Alliance, and the Association of Research Libraries, are extremely valuable to me. I keep up-to-date with their white papers, toolkits and other initiatives. I’m also privileged that my leadership role at ACRL requires me to read all the committee reports, which keeps me in touch with the landscape.


For quick pointers to good information, I use Twitter and Facebook. And I have my own research and writing with a focus on leadership. (See Irene’s contributor profile for more on her work.)