Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa
Te Rau Herenga O Aotearoa

Identifying Leadership Potential

Library Life Article: 16 Jul 13

Feature article by Cath Sheard RLIANZA

An interview with Senga White - Looking at Leadership in New Zealand Libraries

This is the fifth in a series of articles on leadership from Cath Sheard on behalf of the Emerging Leaders Working Group – Editor

First interview: Hidden in plain sight – with Sally Pewhairangi
Second interview: Encouraged to lead – with Fiona Kerr
Third interview: Responsible for our own learning - with Sarah Gallagher
Fourth interview: Leading in a secondary school library – with Bridget Schaumann

Image of Senga WhiteSenga White is Research and Learning Coordinator and Head of Library Services at Southland Boys' High School in Invercargill and has worked in school libraries since 2000.  She has been the schools' representative on the EPIC Governance Group since 2007 and is also a member of LIANZA's Profession Registration Board.  Senga served seven years on the SLANZA National Executive, including a term as president between 2009 and 2011 and has presented at a number of conferences, including the IASL (International Association of School Libraries) Conference in Brisbane in 2010 and the LILAC (Librarian Information Literacy Annual Conference) in Glasgow in 2012.  She blogs and shares resources at Senga's Space -

Who do you look up to as a leader and why?
As I started to compile a list of names in answer to this question it struck me just what a diverse group I was putting together. Some are librarians, some are teachers, others are university professors and some are a combination of several of those professions; some are from my local area, some are working at a national level in New Zealand and others work in countries covering the globe; but their commonality is that they are all forging their own way through innovation, making a difference through working in their passion with vision and energy. 

I think we instinctively recognise leadership when we see it, but characterising what it is that makes a person a good leader can be somewhat nebulous. Reflecting on my list of names made me consider what key attributes I believe makes them inspirational leaders. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Passion will always top my list.  Without passion there is no fire to begin anything

  • Vision coupled with planning closely follows, as passion might get you started but it won’t draw the roadmap to get you to where you want to end up

  • Effective communication provides the means to share, collaborate, brainstorm and build with others while active listening grows a team beyond measure

  • Showing genuine interest in and respect for others will allow leaders to recognise and encourage strengths and skills in others

  • Commitment, determination and confidence along with a positive attitude will help to steer through the inevitable rocky, dry patches

  • Experience is a great teacher, providing you take time to take stock


Tell me about your own growing leadership skills
I don’t think about myself as a leader and may never have taken on any leadership roles if not for the encouragement, support and a bit of gentle nudging by others.

Through the opportunities offered while working as part of the SLANZA National Executive over a period of seven years and being able to represent the interests of school library teams on the EPIC Governance Group, the Strategic Advisory Forum and most recently as a member of the LIANZA Profession Registration Board I have been privileged to work with and experience in action some of our country’s most passionate and able leaders across all sectors.

Now, while I continue to be involved at a national level as a part of the EGG and the LIANZA Profession Registration Board, I have recently taken on the very exciting challenge of becoming the leader in my new school in the spheres of research, multi-disciplinary literacy and digital learning, including responsibility for the library services to staff, students and our parent community.  I hope to be able to emulate some of the attributes I have identified and witnessed in leaders I admire and respect.

What’s your view on personal versus organisational responsibility for Professional Development?
There are two forces at work here.  Organisations need to be providing relevant professional development opportunities for their staff or members.  We will be unable to grow the profession without this component.  Managers and decision-makers need to be investing in their current “business” while securing the future of that business by encouraging and supporting growth.  This is why advocacy of the diverse roles within our libraries in New Zealand is crucial.

That being said, I also believe we all need to take responsibility for our own career and professional learning.  Not everything costs money.  People who are serious about their jobs or careers should be taking advantage of opportunities such as the current ANZ 23 Mobile Things, a great joint initiative from ALIA’s New Generation Advisory Committee in Australia and the New Professionals Network in New Zealand.  Another example is the 2013 offerings from the Reality Librarianship team of Sally Pewhairangi and Megan Ingle.  If you have access to the internet you have a range of opportunities at your fingertips.  I’m currently attempting to teach myself how to use the InDesign programme by watching some instructional videos through YouTube.  All it costs is my own time and energy.

It is unfair and unrealistic to expect our employers to solely provide our PD opportunities.  We must take responsibility for our own learning. It also demonstrates to our employers our commitment to on-going learning so that we have a stronger case when applying for PD that does require monetary input from them.

Do you think it’s hard to lead in NZ libraries without being a manager?
I think this is determined by the culture and environment we are working in. If our current leaders are serious about ensuring not just the development and growth but the sustainability of our profession then it is crucial they recognise and support the next crop of leaders and be consciously identifying that potential when they are recruiting.  My first job in libraries in 2000 was part-time, 18 hours a week, with no previous experience.  I wasn’t employed to do the job I was ultimately performing a decade later. My own growth as a practitioner and leader developed organically and wasn’t just supported but actively encouraged by the management staff surrounding me which led to the development of a role beyond anyone’s expectations.

How do you think we can encourage people to become leaders?
On the whole, we’re a humble lot in New Zealand.  We don’t push ourselves to the forefront and we don’t necessarily relish being shining lights or identified as different. But when we can see that our leaders, mentors, bosses put great store by initiative, create an environment where doors are always open and discussion is welcomed, ideas outside the box are considered and high quality work is recognised publicly as well as privately, then we are setting the framework for growing our next generation of leaders, willing and able to navigate into the unknown dimension of libraries in our near future.


Feature article by Cath Sheard RLIANZA
Member of the Emerging Leaders Working Group

Share this on