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.

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.