Sharon Mader is the 2018 recipient of the Miriam Dudley Instruction Librarian Award. The 2017/2018 Awards Committee conducted this interview with her.
Of your many accomplishments over the years, what are you the most proud?
The accomplishment of which I am the most proud is being part of the original faculty team that created the ACRL Information Literacy Immersion Program. It was twenty years ago, in 1998, that Cerise Oberman¸ a Dudley Award winner and brilliant librarian who created the National Information Literacy Institute in 1997, called six of us and presented the challenge of designing this new concept in professional development from scratch. All we had to start with was that it was to be a 4.5 day immersion program to address a need for intensive training to better prepare librarians for their role as educators, with two tracks: (1) for new librarians or librarians new to teaching; and (2) for mid-career librarians who will assume a leadership role in information literacy in their institutions or communities.
The original national faculty team who embarked on this adventure were Eugene Engeldinger, Debra Gilchrist, Randy Hensley, Joan Kaplowitz, Mary Jane Petrowski, and myself, along with Karen Williams as facilitator. Development of the program proceeded over the next year (June 1998-June 1999), with the inaugural national and regional programs to be delivered at SUNY-Plattsburgh in July/August 1999, where we were joined by Susan Barnes Whyte, Beth Woodard, Craig Gibson, and Anne Zald.
Now twenty years later, the Immersion Program is still going strong, with over 3,200 alumni, an expanded faculty, and an expansive curriculum to address the needs of today’s complex educational environment and the opportunities for librarians as educators. The evaluations consistently showed that librarians felt transformed by their immersive experience and carried this back to their institutions, along with a new network of colleagues with whom they had bonded through this experience.
It has been gratifying to see that job announcements for instruction librarians often now include participation in Immersion as a preferred qualification and to know that it is considered a mark of quality and substance.
I can also say that it has been an incredible learning experience for the Immersion faculty and also brings joy over the years as you maintain contacts with your Immersion ‘students’, seeing them at conferences, profiting from their publications, and watching their careers blossom.
The Immersion experience has confirmed for me what I already knew – that instruction librarians are among the best and the brightest in our profession who go on to become leaders in libraries and in higher education. The Immersion Program has been one of the highlights of my career, as I hope it has been for all who have participated.
What impact do you think your leadership has had on the profession?
In ACRL my impact has been through serving as an officer (Secretary (1987-1988) and Chair (1992-1993) of what was then the Bibliographic Instruction Section) and shaping professional development opportunities. During the 90’s we were engaged in a lively debate about “What’s in a Name”, as the changing nature of our instructional role prompted a vote to change the name from the Bibliographic Instruction Section to the Instruction Section (1995). I was part of the original faculty team that designed and delivered the Information Literacy Immersion Program, beginning from scratch in 1998. I was a member of the SLILC working group that created the Global Perspectives on Information Literacy White Paper (2017). I currently serve as a member of the Roadshow team for the Standards for Libraries in Higher Education.
As ACRL Visiting Program Officer for Information Literacy (2015-2017), I was responsible for promoting and implementing the newly launched Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, working with ACRL sections, the ACRL Board, and librarians in the field. I have presented more than 22 workshops, conference presentations, and webinars on the Framework to national and international audiences and, along with the Framework Advisory Board, created the ACRL Framework Sandbox and the Framework Toolkit.
At the local, state, and regional level, I have been able to have an impact on library funding and support through my role as library dean and director. At the institutional level, in addition to garnering support for the library’s role in student and faculty success, I lobbied federal legislators and the Department of Education for funding for preservation of collections after Katrina; advocated for capital funds for a library renovation project; worked with architects to construct the Lincoln Park and Loop Campus Libraries at DePaul University in Chicago. At the statewide level, as chair of the academic library consortium, I organized the fight for legislative funding for the consortium resources and services and worked with the Board of Regents to include information literacy in the GenEd requirements. At the regional level, I served as a review team member for Air Force base academic programs and for our regional accreditation association (SACS) to provide a voice for the importance of quality library resources and services.
At the international level, my leadership has had an impact on the inclusion of information literacy in libraries and government planning in countries around the world through my role as Chair of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) for the term 2013-2017. The most significant impact was co-authoring the IFLA Media and Information Literacy Recommendations which were passed at the UNESCO General Conference in November, 2013, recommending that Member States “endorse the Recommendations and take them into consideration during the planning of future strategies, policies, and initiatives.” Other countries have national education plans which include information literacy, although the U.S. does not. Besides dealing with UNESCO bureaucracy, we also learned that a few words can make or break diplomacy. Our document was sent back for wording changes. We had stated that Media and Information Literacy (MIL) was “a basic human right”, but UNESCO has a specific definition of human rights, which does not include MIL. The new wording was that MIL is “a new emerging field of human rights…”, which was then acceptable. My role in IFLA has enhanced the global understanding and conversation about information literacy.
Describe a pivotal point in your career and what impact it had on your leadership.
A pivotal point in my career was mid-career when my director told me (as associate director) it was time to leave the nest. I was very happy where I was, with a strong director and close colleague to lead the way, but now it was time to take what I had learned and move up to the next rung of the ladder. Since she believed in me and my potential, I knew I could do it, and as part of what I owed to the profession, that I should do it, even if it was challenging.
When I started as a librarian in the mid-70’s, the leadership/administrative roles were largely filled by males, even in such a female-dominated profession. That gradually started to change, and it was heartening to realize that the majority of those successful women rising to the top had come out of an instruction background, where the skills and connections with the campus had prepared them for this larger role in higher education.
Part of the reward for taking on this challenge is the opportunities that a leadership role affords you – the opportunity to bring about the changes that are needed, the opportunity to create the collaborations at the institutional and consortial level that will bring support and recognition for the library, the opportunity to recruit, mentor, support, and learn from librarians and staff. Leadership requires a change of focus, but it gives you a bigger voice.
And as part of fitting into requirements of a leadership role, I went back for my doctorate in Instructional Technology and Distance Education, with a cohort of colleagues from different areas of Education (only one other librarian), which broadened my knowledge in areas such as systems thinking, change management, leadership theory and practice, and instructional design. And having that degree is an important credential for higher education leadership.
So the pivotal point may take you by surprise and catch you off balance, but it will take you to new levels of leadership that will allow you to give back to your library (or a new library) and to the profession.
“Remember, it is not that we have so much to do that we cannot find the time to think and act as leaders; on the contrary, it is because we do not think and act as leaders that we have so much to do.” Peter Koestenbaum, The Inner Side of Greatness, 1991.
Who has inspired you over your career?
My biggest inspiration has come from my Instruction Section and Immersion colleagues over the years since I first became involved in what was then the Bibliographic Instruction Section in the late 1970’s. In particular, when I look over the list of all the past Dudley Award winners, I know that I have been inspired and influenced by their research and practice throughout my career and have been privileged to have known many of them personally. They were all bright leaders in a kaleidoscope of ways, innovators, generous in sharing, willing to speak out for what was needed, and shining examples of the best of our profession.
I’d like to also acknowledge Doris Brown, who was my director at DePaul University, who by her example, mentorship, and friendship taught me how to be a leader in the university environment, even when you were the only female in the room, dealing with presidents, priests, physical plant directors, architects, deans, and other compatriots.
Although I had worked with them previously, my two-year stint as ACRL Program Officer for Information Literacy confirmed for me how lucky we are to have the brilliant and committed leadership of Mary Ellen Davis and Mary Jane Petrowski, who are always responsive, resilient, and forward-thinking, moving ACRL into the future to “advance learning and transform scholarship”.
To learn more about the Dudley Award and to make a nomination for 2019, please visit the Instruction Section’s Miriam Dudley Instruction Librarian Award page.