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Responsible For Our Own Learning

Library Life Article: 17 May 13

Feature article by; Cath Sheard RLIANZA

An interview with Sarah Gallagher – Looking at Leadership in New Zealand Libraries.

This is the third 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
Fourth interview Leading In A Secondary School Library - with Bridget Schaumann

Image of Sarah GallagherSarah Gallagher is an Academic Liaison Librarian at the University of Otago Health Sciences Library where she’s been since moving south from Christchurch in 2011. Sarah has worked in a number of information based roles in NZ, the UK and Ireland. Teaching, creating, research and discovery are core aspects of this job that she loves. Outside of work, Sarah’s involved in a school library redevelopment, the Think Differently Book Exchange (CHCH) and the Community Lovers Guide to the Universe Library book.

Who do you look up to as a leader and why?
I admire people who have ideas, act on them, get stuff done and make a tangible difference, be it big or small. I’m really inspired by a variety of people from different backgrounds and in different sectors:

Amanda Palmer - for her innovative use of social media to promote her art.

Brene Brown - for making me see that strength comes from vulnerability and self-knowledge.

Caitlin Moran - for feminism, for honesty, for her writing and her support of libraries.

Coralie Winn & Ryan Reynold from Gap Filler for seeing a need in the Christchurch community and making it possible to people to make creative use of spaces.

Donna Robertson - for her communication and content curation on a public library website.

Lin Klenner, Gilder - an inspiring business woman and crafts person in the NZ cultural sector.

Nat Torkington - innovation in a crisis - not waiting for permission, just getting stuff done.

Sally Pewhairangi - for her role in creating a library community in NZ, and her daily alert, I love it.

Erik Boekesteijn from DOK - for putting libraries out there and showcasing some really excellent work being done around the world (eg This Week in Libraries, Shanachie Tour).

Tell me about your own growing leadership skills and your ambitions
Thanks for inviting me to take part in this interview - I hadn’t seen myself as a leader. I’m not a manager, but do have a bunch of beliefs, skills and interests that I’m happy to share. I guess I’m ambitious in that I have personal goals, but they’re not so much about having a top level job. Work life balance is really important to me - I take my job seriously but I also want to have fun with it - part of the challenge for me is continually learning, experimenting, and trying things out ideas.  I’m lucky to be part of a team that allows room for this to happen. I guess continuing curiosity is important to keep developing professionally and personally. Other projects I’m involved in either personal (Dunedin Flat Names Project) or collaborative (Gap Filler Book Exchange and Community Lovers Guide to the Universe) allow me to extend myself in other areas.

It’s not easy sharing or putting an idea out there. Some time ago I decided to stop sitting on my ideas and to try to make them happen. It didn’t matter if it failed, but I figured I’d never know success if I didn’t give it a go, and in some instances I wouldn’t know success if I didn’t go that step further, take a deep breath, and share my idea with others.

Sarah, it’s interesting that you talk about continuing curiosity. The Emerging Leaders Working Group has been talking about the need for people to take at least some of the responsibility for their on-going professional development. What’s your view on personal versus organisational responsibility for PD?
I think we're ultimately responsible for our own learning but the organisation has a responsibility to ensure there is scope for everyone to take part in PD. Their challenge is to facilitate the process and make it equitable to all staff, and keep an open mind about how to make it possible.  

I think if you're interested and actively involved in your PD you'll get more out of it - that might be as simple as following a particular blog, keeping up to date with literature via RSS, or joining in on regular tweet chats. It doesn’t have to cost money.

It's great to have opportunities to attend seminars, conferences, and workshops and its wonderful when it's supported by your workplace, but often there isn't money available or the opportunities aren't available in your location. Sometimes the area you need or want to develop is outside the perceived scope of your job. Employers could perhaps consider allowing time in the working week for staff to set aside for PD, or even time away from work even if it the PD is self-funded.

We're really lucky to work in such a diverse industry. What I'm growing to understand is that we don't need to be experts to share our knowledge, and what we share doesn't have to be the "definitive guide" or the "final version". Our changing world and our evolving role in librarianship means we need to always be ready to write the revised edition of what we do, to be prepared to adapt and learn.

Do you think it’s hard to lead in NZ libraries without being a manager?
It can sometimes be hard to lead without being a manager. There can be a perception (right or wrong) that you need to be a manager to hold responsibility for decision making within a job. I don’t believe all managers are good leaders, and not all leaders are good managers however the combo platter is great! What helps is great communication and someone to champion ideas, and getting a chance to try out those ideas. I’m an ideas person, and I like experimenting and trying out ideas - getting my hands dirty. I would always want that to be part of my job.

Why can it be hard to lead without being a manager?
Depending on the size of the workplace, it can be difficult to get initiatives going in a large organisation without management buy in.

Opportunities for displaying leadership aren’t always made available to non-managerial staff - job descriptions may be so prescribed that they allow little room for initiative or creativity.

In other sectors where librarians / information staff are in a support role, it can be a challenge to have your skills and professionalism recognised.

What can we change?
Where skills may be lacking at a management / decision making level, look around the workforce for people with direct / transferable skills in the area.

Provide time for people to develop their skills/interests and share them where they see they can improve their workplace.

There is often a necessity to pitch projects at a management level, but perhaps there's an opportunity to include others at a more junior level who have relevant skills or interests.

More consultation and better communication can empower and inspire people to contribute.

I like your suggestion about including non-management staff in projects, based on skills and interests. Often staff are so busy it’s hard to get involved in extra projects though. Do you think the pace we work at can be a hindrance?
I do! Making time to get together is really important. Without it there’s no time to bounce ideas around and it’s easy to become isolated in a busy workplace. We seem to be doing more all the time, and we don't have the quiet periods of time like we used to in the academic sector (maybe we’re victims of our own success!)

What I've seen work well is a mixture of senior, middle and new library staff. We can all learn from each other, and the benefits for new staff are huge: we can inspire them to develop within this career.

How do you think we can encourage people to become leaders?
Be respectful. Seeing great leadership inspires others and earns respect.

Be a good communicator. Be prepared to listen and learn from others.

Take risks but be prepared to take responsibility.

Make time to get to know your staff, tap into their interests, they'll feel they belong if they can contribute something of themselves.

Encourage inter and intra departmental collaborations.

Allow staff the freedom to experiment and make mistakes, to share and be listened to, and to teach you (the manager/leader).

Give people responsibility and autonomy.

Provide opportunities for people to branch out from their prescribed role.

Celebrate the victories and learn from the defeats.

“Be the change you want to see”. Bring solutions rather than complaints - in my experience you can be more effective in creating change if you present a potential solution to a problem rather than complaining or doing nothing about it.

Foster an inclusive collegial environment where people will feel safe to be creative and to share. See that your staff are more than just employees, they are people with interests and skills outside of their 8.30-5pm job. All of that untapped talent could benefit the workplace.

Thanks very much Sarah, it’s been interesting chatting with you.

Feature article by; Cath Sheard RLIANZA
Member of the Emerging Leaders Working Group
www.kiwilibrarian.co.nz

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