The following book review was written by Jeanette Castle, University Librarian at the University of the West of Scotland for the Talis Informer.
This is a book to read through in full and at just 80 pages in length, it will not take you too long. It is also a book that you can go back to and dip into sections to help reassess your leadership thinking and personal leadership motivation when challenges in your professional practice arise. Jason Martin, associate dean of the James E Walker Library at Middle Tennessee State University, gives you the opportunity for reflective practice and supports your thinking by presenting a variety of key theory and leadership models alongside the workbook element. Jason condenses the theories down to the core learning required and acts like a leader himself, providing meaning to his readers. He also provides graphical interpretations on theory to clarify sometimes-complex thinking. This is invaluable in this type of book where theory and practice are so intertwined.
This book came along for me at just the right time. Knee deep in leading my library team through restructuring, I could extract what I needed from the theory set in the context of a changing organisational culture. It allowed me to examine why some changes I was trying to implement were not being taken forward with the team and gave me tools to try again. I enjoyed reading the research and survey about the “five most desirable traits in library leaders” and tried to see how I could assess my own leadership practice and match them to what was required! I was able to re-examine my relationships with both the library teams and the wider university teams and find ways forward to establish a higher profile of the library service. The book also helped me to remember to focus on the big picture and the vision and journey to that vision for our academic library service, and not get bogged down in the day-to-day operational issues. Above all, it is a personal workbook and a guide to your own library leadership style. Readers can choose what they need for example not everyone will want to or needs to carry out a SWAT analysis.
I initially felt that the book is for a new employee in your library service, one who would benefit from finding their own leadership style no matter where they are in the organisational structure. There is a clear message across the book that all librarians should be leaders. However, even long-established (and long in the tooth managers like myself) will benefit from reading and using this book. The style of the book replicates that of a training session but gives more in-depth opportunities for personal reflection. It feels like a more in-depth personal leadership workshop, which digs below the surface in terms of what leadership means in an organisation. The book asks readers to record where they have failed as effective leaders and how they can improve in the future and the workbook style allows readers to record what they might not say to anyone else.
Chapter 1 is not specifically about libraries and we are led more into an exploration of our library roles in organisations from chapter two. Confidence boosting examples are sprinkled throughout the book and these are to be found in every chapter. Personally, I like this style, especially when I am questioning how I handled a situation, and I felt encouraged, even when weighted down in imposter syndrome guilt! The book leads the reader through different situations that library leaders find themselves such as changing organisational cultures. Martin consistently provides an effective summary at the end of each chapter and these always end with a positive outlook. The book provides an all-round assessment of leadership and feels a little like the format of customer service excellence at times, looking at situations from all angles, but I liked the focus on “Leading Yourself” in Chapter 3, and addresses avoiding burnout, poor health and bad habits, which is essential for us all. The book establishes the foundations of our leadership practice and goes on to look at why our staff follow us and the different reflection and analysis on how we lead people. The focus on followership is fascinating to think about in terms of library leadership.
The book is infused with a love of being a library leader and I especially appreciated the sections, which focused on nurturing that love of what libraries and library leaders deliver. Which is such a strong motivating force when things get tough. This thinking helps readers to find that spark that keeps them motivated if it has become a little dull through challenges and loss of sight of the vision.
Like all good training opportunities, there is further reading through a detailed bibliography to enable readers to further examine wide-ranging sources, both monographs and journal articles. This book provides you with the tools to assess your own leadership beliefs and motivations, and guides and provides you with the methodologies to reflect and improve your practice. Each workbook, completed by a reader, will reveal a unique leader and will reveal your true leadership.
Jeanette Castle is the University Librarian at the University of the West of Scotland. As a professional librarian, Jeanette has worked across HE, School, Special and Public Library Sectors and input to research projects across the UK, including chairing the advisory board for the MAIPLE project delivered by Loughborough University. Jeanette is enthusiastic about promoting the value of libraries and been involved in the development of the National Strategy for Public Libraries as well as contributing toward How Good is Our Public Library. Jeanette has introduced innovative practice across the sector, including Ayr Carnegie Library Cybercentre (first in Scotland), joint work with NHS in supporting health literacy, Macmillan Cancer information support service in West Lothian Libraries and was a core founder of the Ayrshire Libraries Forum. She has also been heavily involved in encouraging professional development by serving in Cilip in Scotland as President in 2015 and now as Honorary Vice President. Jeanette is Secretary of the Scottish Confederation of University and Research Libraries and is Chair of the CILIP Academic and Research Libraries Group Scotland.
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