questions about library leadership

I’m a member of a SUNY Council of Library Directors task force on leadership, and my fellow task forcers and I had a conference call on Friday to talk about our next steps. The problem statement we all agree on is that we need to nurture library leadership and management talent from within the SUNY system, but that we have wildly varying local approaches and resources for that. So, can we create something centralized? We’re batting around ideas, and having a good time doing it. And then we started talking about doing a survey in conjunction with social sciences faculty at one of our campuses, and so we started posing questions we want answers to. Like,

What leadership skills do library directors think librarians need to build?

or, the flipside,

What leadership skills do librarians want to build?

and on in that vein.

And then I posed my question, which I think we all agreed didn’t belong in this survey, but which I still think is fascinating and needs an answer. My question is this: Knowing that too many SUNY library director searches were closed, postponed, extended, failed, or ended with an internal hire when it was clear there was an initial desire for an external hire, why is this happening? I think there are several possible issues at play:

These are guesses: SUNY wants to attract top talent, but there isn’t enough talent interested in management roles to fill our (many) searches. SUNY wants to attract top talent, but doesn’t pay enough to seal the deal when it does. SUNY’s reputation in some way damages our ability to attract the talent we want. The locations of many SUNYs (rural, charming, RURAL) prevent candidates from applying, so what we want in regards to talent is irrelevant.

There’s a demographic issue I also want to explore, namely: In 2012, is there a dearth of first-career librarians in the 40-55 age group, ie, the folks who would be ripe for top management positions? If not, is there a trend in that group’s attitudes toward management that would explain low and/or unsatisfying leadership candidates and pools of applicants?

And then there’s the thing I wonder about most often:  Are library search committees demanding a unicorn when a horse would serve admirably, and thus ignoring the really fine horses in the pool?

I wonder. I wonder if we want perfection, if we want the impossible, if we want innovation and deep experience and a sense of humor and a perfect institutional fit but not so perfect that you don’t shake things up a bit and outgoing but not too aggressive and empathetic but with broad personnel management chops and a history with budget management and also information literacy and reference and cataloging and, I dunno, moon landings.

I wonder.

But then, maybe I’m way off base. Maybe we’re asking for fine horses and getting goats. I haven’t run one of these, nor seen the pool, nor interviewed applicants. But I wonder.

And it occurs to me that if anyone’s gonna do the research, maybe it needs to be the person doing the wondering.

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