Balancing Needs and Resources in Developmental Offerings in an Academic Library

By Jill Crawley-Low
Science Librarian, University of Saskatchewan

The University Library at the University of Saskatchewan is fortunate among academic libraries in having had more than a decade of continual investment in training and development with active support from library leaders. About a decade ago, the Dean of the library recognized that sending people away to workshops did not result in expertise and skills returning to the organization in a sustainable and shareable way. Nor was leaving for external training possible for all employees. It became apparent that a new approach was needed. A variety of offerings delivered in-house and customized for library employees evolved into three different streams. Over time, the organizational culture shifted to one in which engaged employees expected to have access to continuing learning opportunities. Guided by the strategic plan, the library is preparing to review its existing training and development program with the goal of balancing the needs of employees with the resources that are available.

The University Library’s training and development offerings have evolved into three predominantly in-house streams. The first stream includes single-session offerings on a variety of topics. For example, the Learning and Development Committee annually develops a program of single sessions delivered over the course of a year.  Another example is Sustaining Leadership Learning designed to continue leadership learning with one-off sessions that complement the multi-part programs.

The second stream includes multi-part programs with a specific focus delivered over a period of weeks or months. An example is the Library Leadership Development Program, which consists of six components delivered over several months with a focus on leadership for self, team, and organization. The single-session and multi-part programs described above were developed in-house. An example of an externally developed multi-part program is Indigenous Voices, which seeks to share knowledge and experience in Aboriginal education with employees. Indigenous Voices is customized for employees of the University Library. These are just a few examples of the more established training and development opportunities available in the University Library.

The third stream of informal training and development opportunities has recently developed as an unexpected result of a change management initiative with a 3-5 year timeline. Teaching and learning; research support; and collections were identified as priority areas set to position the University Library to respond quickly to changes in the information landscape locally or in the profession. The third stream is evolving because each of the thematic plans includes action items to gather feedback from users and employees and, further, to share those learnings.

For example, the Research Support Plan, which includes activities to position the library as the definitive source of expertise and advocacy for open access on campus. The working group asked library employees for feedback on the usefulness of resources the group is creating on the concept of open access. Currently, the group is sharing knowledge about open access by presenting educational sessions, which all employees are encouraged to attend.

Library employees have become accustomed to easy access to sessions/programs on a variety of topics delivered in-house. The concept of improving oneself and contributing to the goals of the organization is firmly entrenched in the library’s culture. Attendance at training sessions is balanced with maintaining services objectives. Happily, quantitative evidence of the value of this sustained period of access to training and development opportunities appears in employee engagement scores rising from year to year. Anecdotal evidence includes reports from employees who enjoy building relationships at training sessions with colleagues from different work units. Employees who learn together are a tightly knit group, able to show resilience in the face of continual change in the academic sector. Newcomers to the organization take the development opportunities as a given, and expect to be included in the shared leadership/training experience.

With the plethora of training and development opportunities presented in a climate of reduced budgets, it is timely that the University Library is preparing to review its offerings in order to balance programming costs with the obvious developmental benefits. The shift in organizational culture has created ongoing demand for training and developmental opportunities for employees who are engaged in learning about themselves and their colleagues. By placing the review and coordination of programs in the strategic plan, library leaders are acknowledging the importance of training and development for employees and the organization.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

The conundrum of leadership

by Jaclyn McLean, Electronic Resources Librarian, University of Saskatchewan

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a leader. What leadership is. What a strong leader would look like. How I could be a leader from right here where I am today. So naturally, I have been doing some reading about leadership. And watching some videos about it, too. I’ve found a few philosophies about leadership that resonate with me, and many others that didn’t, which only serves to demonstrate the individual nature of leadership. There seems to be a need for hope, for optimism, in the world today. For me, thinking about the leader I could be and focusing on the positive, rather than letting my energy be drained by the state of the world around me, has made me feel like I’m doing something positive. These are some of the people whose ideas about leadership are inspiring me:

Susan Cain [link:] wrote Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, a book that showed me that introversion is powerful. It is not something that needs to be cured. It is not the same thing as shyness. Some of the most powerful leaders in recent history would describe themselves with the characteristics of introversion.

Drew Dudley [link:] reminds us that leadership can be as small as a moment when you have an impact on someone else’s life. That as long as we make leadership about changing the world, we’re giving ourselves the excuse not to expect it from ourselves or each other.

Roxane Gay [link: ] has the bravery to say and write the kinds of things I think but am not always brave enough to say. She says, in Bad Feminist: Essays “When you can’t find someone to follow, you have to find a way to lead by example.” If you haven’t read any of her writing, consider it [link:]. Or follow her on Twitter and observe how she engages with critics. She leads by example.

Simon Sinek [link:] tells us that leadership is a choice in his Ted talk. He talks about trust and cooperation, about choosing to look after those to your right and your left, to sacrifice so others may gain. When you do, others will sacrifice for you. And that is leadership.

Tina Fey [link:] reminds us to be part of the solution. To say yes rather than no, to stay open to possibility rather than shutting it down for yourself and others.

Looking to these sources (and so many others who stretch my thinking (watch Leroy Little Bear [link:])), I’ve been building my personal definition of leadership for several years now. Right now, it looks something like this. Leadership is the accumulation of small victories. It is situational, vulnerable, authentic, generous, flexible, and driven by the heart. Leaders admit when they falter or fall down, and they get back up again. Being a leader is about the small actions, about treating others how you’d like to be treated, by setting expectations for others and meeting them yourself. The idea of leading with the heart reminds me of Selinda’s recent post [link:] on this blog. Providing affective research support is one of those small actions that can have a large impact.

So that’s what leadership looks like to me right now. What does it look like to you? What kind of leader do you want to be? What can you do to make someone else’s life a bit better today?


Author’s Note: In writing this post, I came face to face with the unavoidable truth that many of those we hold up as leaders, or as exemplifying leadership qualities, are white men or women. If you’d like to read more about that bias, I would point you to this article, “Think Leader, Think White? Capturing and Weakening an Implicit Pro-White Leadership Bias” from PLos ONE [link:], and ask you to look for role models and leaders from outside your own cultural community. Or think about how to encourage leaders from all communities. Michelle Obama has some advice [link:]. Thanks for reading.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Using storytelling guidelines to simplify communication

by Jill Crawley-Low
Science Library, University of Saskatchewan

Recently in the University of Saskatchewan Library, a Sustaining Leadership Learning session on storytelling in an organizational setting was offered. During the half-day workshop, we learned the ways in which stories can be effective when introduced in a work setting to share understanding and connect people on a personal as well as on an organizational level. The role of storytelling in organizations includes sparking people to action; transmitting values; fostering collaboration; leading people into the future; and other good things (Denning, The leader’s guide to storytelling, 2011). We learned about a variety of storytelling structures that can be used to develop a story for almost any occasion. On a basic level, the key elements in building stories include purpose, idea, and content. If storytelling does, in fact, improve communication in the workplace then there are lots of opportunities for this practice in academic libraries.

For instance, developing a comprehensive collections strategy is a complex task with many facets and underlying assumptions, and, however appealing a complex discussion about collections’ issues may be for librarians, it is likely not so enticing to our community. So, taking advice from Natalie Babbit the author of Tuck Everlasting who said, “Like all magnificent things, it’s very simple”, we would break down the collections strategy task into manageable segments and use the storytelling methodology to focus the information to be shared and make it simple, yet meaningful. Still not convinced?

Taking only one aspect of the collections strategy, i.e., the responsibilities of liaison librarians and faculty in building collections that support research and teaching, the purpose, idea and content components guiding development of a story can be applied as follows:

Purpose – could the learnings from the storytelling session be applied to tell stories that would create transparency and create better relationships between the library and the university community?
Idea – since collections work is a passion for many librarians, could stories be used to create some excitement and understanding around a collections strategy that would be informative and interesting for the casual reader from the university community?
Content – with the intention to communicate key pieces of information, what kinds of information would be included?

If the purpose and idea are to share information about collections and enhance relationships with our academic colleagues, then the next step is to identify the content that supports the generation of a story. For this example there are a number of sources: an in-house document that outlines the potential duties of liaison librarians; the library literature that contain examples of best practice in liaison librarian responsibilities; liaison librarians can be asked to identify core values in their work, and also how they interact with faculty in supporting research and teaching; conversely, faculty can be interviewed to find out how they interact with liaison librarians, and which library services are most useful in supporting their work; and lastly discipline-specific characteristics can be included. Once the content has been gathered and the message is clear, four elements for impactful storytelling according to Denning (2011) can be applied to develop the style, tone, and final shape:

– write as if you are talking to one individual, be focused, simple, clear
Truth – tell the truth as you see it
Preparation – choose the shape of the story and stick to it
Delivery – be comfortable in your own style, know your audience, connect with your audience.

The result is a story about the relationships between faculty and liaison librarians in building collections that support research and teaching. Following the impactful story development guidelines, it would be jargon-free, focussed on users, transparent and simple, and it would reveal some of the passion that librarians hold for the work they do. The story might be presented orally in meetings or in casual conversations. However, it would also lend itself to publication on the library’s website reaching a wider audience along with other collections documents. Not all topics can morph into stories, but when we want to communicate on a more personal level, storytelling is a viable option and one we might have overlooked. As Albert Einstein acutely noted, “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

Denning, Stephen, 2011. The Leader’s guide to storytelling: mastering the art and discipline of business narrative. 2nd rev. ed. Jossey-Bass.
Babbit, Natalie, 2011. Tuck everlasting. Square Fish.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

On Becoming a Learning Organization

by Jill Crawley-Low
Leslie and Irene Dubé Health Sciences Library and Veterinary Medicine Library, University of Saskatchewan

The concept of a learning organization is a model for dealing with complex systems and that is the environment in which most organizations, including libraries, operate these days. It is a model consisting of five disciplines, one of which is systems thinking. First, the individual is empowered and this positive energy flows on to become collective self-awareness which, in turn, profoundly affects the organizational culture. As management theorist Peter Senge explains, the people who contribute most to the organization are those who “… practice the disciplines for themselves – expanding their own capacity to seek and hold a vision, to reflect and inquire, to build collective capabilities, and to understand systems.”

The turbulent times in which we work in libraries are of a magnitude of complexity that requires not only individual action, but also collective action. The employees in a learning organization develop the ability to collectively learn and create new knowledge in the present and in the future to adapt and apply that knowledge to unforeseen conditions.

The University Library at the University of Saskatchewan has articulated in its vision statement the benefits it believes will be derived from becoming a learning organization. The vision remains a powerful statement that was first written in 2006 as part of the library’s strategic plan. The benefits of fostering a learning organization (with quotes from the library’s vision) include:

• an engaged and committed cohort of employees – “leaders and innovators
• effectively operating in a complex environment – “a dynamic information environment
• contributing skills and knowledge to the community – “collaborate with our community
• effectively manage change – “create a positive experience
• providing quality in a client-centred environment – “success in learning, scholarship and practice
• looking to the future proactively.

The University Library has made a long term and continuing commitment and investment in its employees through leadership development. There is quantitative evidence that leadership learning has led to increased employee engagement scores. Qualitatively, library employees have identified the changes that they have observed in themselves and others as a result of being exposed to leadership learning. These observations include increased:

• self-awareness that leads to more open feedback and collaboration
• sense of accountability and freedom to ask questions and share opinions
• knowledge of self that is rooted in reality with a deeper understanding of the behaviour of colleagues
• independence in their work decisions

The library’s focus on leadership learning has created a culture of continuous learning that rewards engaged employees. The organization is moving towards the vision of a learning organization by:

• accurately responding to or anticipating environmental changes
• developing simpler processes and showing transparency in decision-making
• building on the self-leadership that employees show in times of transition
• examining its culture in a realistic way and making it easier for employees to understand the shared vision and values

The ideal of becoming a learning organization with a culture of continuous learning and developing applied knowledge is deeply embedded in the library’s vision as a way to meet present and future challenges.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Reflections on Change Leadership

by Jill Crawley-Low
Leslie and Irene Dubé Health Sciences Library and Veterinary Medicine Library, University of Saskatchewan

There have been opportunities to reflect on leadership, organizational culture and change management during the past months at the University of Saskatchewan. The campus community has been involved in the impacts from TransformUS, a project that has been described by President Barnhart as “… too big, moving too fast”. “We have been part of a crisis…” (the President’s description of events) with activities unfolding in fast paced succession and resulting in the departure of several members of the senior leadership team. This astonishing progression was followed by a lull over the summer months as a modified leadership team met to determine a way forward.

During that time, although leaders were busy gathering information and consulting with stakeholders, there was little communication which deepened the feeling of suspension on campus. On September 9th, the President and senior team held a town hall meeting for the campus community and outlined their priorities for action this year. The majority of employees, I think, began to breathe again. Those who had resisted this change felt vindicated.

Although in normal times we take organizational culture for granted, in a crisis, which is usually characterized by accelerated change and often unpredictable outcomes, we long for familiar touchstones. Culture once established is difficult to change because it encompasses our overt beliefs and behaviours as well as those that are unspoken. When fundamental or transformative change is the goal then a shift in culture must occur if the change is to stick. This is why there have to be compelling reasons to initiate complex change. The cost of maintaining the status quo has to be higher than the cost of the proposed change to justify going ahead. Often, the change process involving a large scale change takes longer than predicted, and encounters more hurdles than anticipated.

There is a vast literature on managing change with lots of advice on doing it well and cautionary tales for failing. Daryl Conner and John P. Kotter are two researchers who have written widely and their theories and advice are quite accessible. Conner, author of Managing at the Speed of Change, addresses roles in change management. He examines peoples’ psychological reactions to change, namely that we fear disruption of our expectations and seek control in our lives. Since employees have to “come along” for change to succeed, the most effective employees are those who are resilient, that is, they are adaptable in an ambiguous environment. Resilient employees look for some degree of direct or indirect control they can exert in the change process; they can assimilate the pace of change around them; they accept that there will be micro levels of change (will my desk move?) as well as macro changes at the organizational level. We all perceive things around us in our own way, so different frames of reference have to be taken into account when asking employees to participate in the change process.

Kotter developed 8 steps to transforming your organization in a 1996 article called Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail in HBR that is still cited. Firstly, Kotter advises creating a sense of urgency around the change process otherwise it’s business as usual. Other steps include forming a powerful guiding coalition, creating a vision to direct the change, communicating that vision, and empowering others to act on it.

Returning to the impacts of TransformUS on the campus community, in my opinion, senior leadership could have been more effective in communicating the vision surrounding TransformUS. As well, they failed to modify the change process to take into account feedback from stakeholders who wanted their leaders to slow the process and be more forthcoming about the financial reasons for the initiative. On the part of employees, we didn’t model resilient behaviour that would have positioned us to view the proposed changes through a more neutral lens acting for the benefit of the institution. In the fall of 2014, calmer times prevail, to be sure; I have to ask – have we settled for the comfort of the status quo and will we pay a bigger price sometime in the future?

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Learning & Leading: Transitioning from a conundrum to a continuum

by Karim Tharani,
Library Systems & Information Technology, University of Saskatchewan

At the University of the Saskatchewan Library, we are very fortunate to have a formal and externally-facilitated leadership training program specifically designed for the library employees known as the Library Leadership Development Program or LLDP. The LLDP program has seen five cohorts and has been instrumental in imbuing the leadership without title philosophy and fostering personal leadership in employees to become agents of positive change at the library. Now that many of the employees have gone through the LLDP training, the library continues to seek creative ways of sustaining this leadership among its employees. It was in this context that a few weeks back I was invited by our HR director to participate in an informal brainstorming session to generate ideas on how to sustain leadership.

As I started reflecting on this matter, I quickly realized the challenge we were faced with! I wondered if we were trying to sustain the learning about leadership or the practice of leadership at the library. In my mind there was a huge difference between the two and not surprisingly this challenge initially formed as a conundrum in my mind pitting learning about leadership against practicing leadership. While I am at it, let me also say a thing or two about my experience with conundrums. With my rigorous computer science training as an undergrad, I am conditioned to view conundrums as binary phenomena. Life used to be so clear and simple in the binary world of computer science but as I am getting more and more into the social sciences and humanities, I am learning every day how unique, complex, diverse, and adaptable humans are when faced with complex issues! Even as an individual I am full of complexities and conundrums and gone are the days when issues used to be binary for me. Whosoever believes that transitioning from sciences to humanities is an easy proposition, must not forget that the damage caused by algorithmic thinking is not undone easily :). Not that I regret the ongoing transition, but I do find myself reminiscing sometimes. Now the real life unravels for me in the fuzzy area between 0 and 1 or yes and no; and I am almost convinced that most conundrums are in fact portals to continuums of realities and new possibilities…and that’s a good thing!

Coming back to the learning and leading conundrum at hand, as I switched between staring at the ceiling and my monitor while my frantic fingers did all the thinking for me on the keyboard in front of me, I came across an explanation in the form of an article by Brown and Posner titled: Exploring the Relationship Between Learning and Leadership. In this article the authors point out that:

“Leadership development is a learning process. Leadership development programs and approaches need to reach leaders at a personal and emotional level, triggering critical self-reflection, and providing support for meaning making including creating learning and leadership mindsets, and for experimentation. Transformational learning theory can be used to assess, strengthen, and create leadership development programs that develop transformational leaders.

“Research over these past two decades underscores that the majority of leadership skills are learned from naturally occurring experiences in the work place. Being able to access and apply principles of adult learning and foster transformational learning would help aspiring leaders, those wanting to strengthen their leadership, and those concerned with the development of leadership, to accelerate and leverage leadership learning. Importantly, creating a culture of leadership and learning is the ultimate act of leadership development.”

This was my aha moment as I realized that practicing leadership goes hand in hand with learning about leadership and not as a discrete passage from one stage to the next. Thus the concept of transformational learning came to my rescue and transformed this apparent conundrum in my mind into a continuum of new possibilities. Oh, and in case you are wondering, the brainstorming session went very well and everyone lived happily ever after :).

Brown, L. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2001). Exploring the relationship between learning and leadership. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 22(6), 274-280.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.