Dear Everyday Librarians,
I don’t have the MLIS and I can’t afford to go back to school right now, how do I contribute and take on leadership roles?
From, Hopeful MLIS Student.
Dear Hopeful MLIS Student,
Let’s first dispel with the myth that an MLIS grants one superpowers. No one gives you a scepter and a megaphone when you get that degree. Leadership can happen from anyone, anywhere, and libraries are stronger organizations when people in leadership roles have diverse backgrounds including diverse educational backgrounds. While the Everyday Librarians appreciate and value our library degrees, we urge you: don’t go into debt just because it might help you be a leader. We need all kinds of leaders.
Ask yourself, “why do I want to lead?” If you begin here, the roles you seek for yourself will be more rewarding and probably more successful. Are you looking for career advancement? Do you feel you have really great ideas for making the library a better place, but don’t have a place to land those ideas right now? Are you already a person who others turn to for advice and guidance? Are you seeking the affirmation and praise that leadership can bring? Figuring out what you want out of leadership will help you find the right fit.
Once you’ve considered your motivations, ask “what are the leadership roles in my library?” Perhaps department heads all hold degrees, but does the liaison to the Friends of the Library? Does the person responsible for training new pages? Does the chair of the staff development committee? The union leadership? The person who runs the library’s Instagram? Find the places outside of rigid departmental structures where you can flex your leadership muscles, identify the people who can help put you in those places, and make your case.
Leadership can also happen in less formal, more personal ways. Think about your specific skills and interests. Are you passionate about an annual event that needs a boost? Have you seen a clever interactive display idea that you’d like to try? Are you connected with an underrepresented community that you could champion? Do you have a keen eye for detail? Are you a social media maven? All of these are qualities that could present great leadership opportunities at your library. Put yourself out there and offer to take the reins on a specific project with a defined endpoint. Prove yourself in a small way and you’ll start to create a track record as someone who can be counted on to rally staff, pull in patron interest, and work to get the job done.
If your library structure is resistant to this kind of work, look outside the walls of your building. Does you local library have a Friends group that you could get involved in? Might you consider running for library trustee? Could you write book reviews or program tips for a blog or a journal?
As you build this portfolio of leadership roles, document your successes and struggles. At review time, present them to your supervisor and ask for feedback. How were these projects perceived? How can you build on these in the next year? How else can you share your talents and interests with the library?
Leading at your library without an MLIS may look different than it looks for a degreed librarian, but it can happen, it does happen, it is happening. Keep your ear to ideas from the library world and your eyes on the task ahead.
The Everyday Librarians
P.S. Degree or no, we’d like to call you a librarian. Is that cool?