New From ACRL – Critical Library Leadership

ACRL announces the publication of Critical Library Leadership: Managing Self and Others in Today’s Academic Library. Edited by Kristin Henrich and Cinthya Ippoliti, the book offers thoughtful solutions and practical resources to help shape our approach to leadership for ourselves and others.

Learn more about Critical Library Leadership in this excerpt from the Introduction by the editors, © Kristin Henrich and Cinthya Ippoliti.


Many of us arrive in administrative or supervisory positions with little or no formal training in academic library management or leadership, attempting to teach ourselves the skills we need to be good managers and organizational leaders while juggling our own identity shifts and insecurities. While there are several professional development opportunities for generalized leadership theory, fewer resources are available to learn practical, library-specific, hands-on tools that touch on areas that often remain hidden yet deeply shape our approach to leadership. Leadership is challenging during the best of times, and with the added complexities of the pandemic and shifts in higher education and the library profession as a whole, one thing stood out to us as particularly important: the personal stories behind the best practices, leadership seminars, and self-assessments. These hidden experiences are not always evident, but surfacing them is critical in illustrating how individuals in both formal and informal roles cope with the stresses and seemingly endless challenges that accompany this work: by sharing our own experiences and by honoring the experiences of others we can build community and sustain our work as leaders.

This edited volume seeks to provide managers and supervisors with practical applications to develop strategies for dealing with stress and addressing feelings of insecurity while managing the organization from an equity perspective that places people at the forefront and focuses on inclusive leadership, person-centered communication, and staying true to one’s values within a broader organizational context. This book is divided into two main parts, one focused on the leader as self, the other focused on the leader working with others. Each of these parts is in turn divided into two sections covering topics that range from managing your career and dealing with trauma and organizational change to changing relationships due to shifts in duties and building trust both as an experienced manager and as a new one. In addition, each section offers a mixture of theory and research, lived experience, and practice in order to provide readers with strategies they can apply to their own journey and organizational context in both formal and informal ways.

Part I: Leader as Self

Section I: Care, Empathy, and Authenticity

How can we support ourselves as leaders? The chapters in this section cover different aspects of care, wellness, and improving one’s work environment to support authenticity and center the whole person. A good place to start when considering these issues is the concept of person-centered management, which, as Sarah Edmonds (2021) describes in her presentation “Radical Empathy: A Person-Centered Approach to Library Management,” includes

  • analyzing the goals of both individuals and the institution
  • understanding that different people have different motivators
  • recognizing strengths and weaknesses in self and others and building teams to balance these elements
  • building awareness of interpersonal dynamics
  • developing a solid foundation of trust and connection (p. 14)

This type of leadership is also part of a broader environment where collective care is practiced. In her article entitled “From Self-Care to Collective Care,” Lisa Chamberlain (2020) discusses the concept of self-care as a political act and a form of resistance against capitalist notions of productivity and resilience where individuals set boundaries, rely on support networks, and establish a balance between their work and personal lives. Rooted in the work of Black activists and writers such as Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, and Ericka Huggins, self-care goes beyond social media–friendly activities to embrace the idea of rest as radical and necessary, especially for those most harmed by institutions rooted in white supremacy. Extrapolating the notion of collective care to an organizational context supports the idea that these activities are everyone’s concern and that the entire organization is responsible for implementing guidelines to help balance workloads, offer flexible working hours and access to mental health resources, and model this behavior across all levels.

In Chapter 5, Garrett Trott examines leadership from a very personal space in his journey with epilepsy, using a framework of empathy, interdependence, and humility to build connection with others and bolster his own experiences and understanding of himself as a leader. In Chapter 2, Gretchen Dreimiller discusses the importance of not judging employee challenges because what seems insignificant for one person may be life-altering for another, arguing that it’s important to develop a team environment where leaders are approachable and flexibility is key to alleviating employee anxiety and stress about a particular situation. In Chapter 3, Marco Seiferle-Valencia brings a new perspective to dealing with issues related to authenticity as the only remote employee in an in-person organization, describing the changes he made to his virtual representation, creating opportunities for intentional connection with colleagues, setting boundaries, and embracing self-care. These concepts are echoed in an article by Donna Ladkin and Steven Taylor (2010), “Enacting the True Self’: Towards a Theory of Embodied Authentic Leadership,” which states that “authenticity which stems from a person’s awareness of self . . . is negotiated, made sense of, and then expressed through the body” (p. 66). In the same article, Ladkin and Taylor note that according to Stanislavski, “physical actions incorporate the intention by which they are fuelled, their purposes, as well as the surrounding circumstances of their manifestation. In short, physical actions encompass all of the emotional and intellectual materials associated with them” (p. 68).

At the organizational level, Jennifer Thom Hadley in Chapter 4 shares her experiences successfully leading change in a new role as her library’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice program coordinator, a position in which her own intersecting identities and lack of positional authority created some unique opportunities and challenges for organizational development, and suggests strategies for others in similar situations. In Chapter 1, Bridgit McCafferty covers a practical approach to managing and implementing flexible work practices that includes building community and defining accountability in terms of quality rather than output. These concepts are also covered in books such as Bobbi Newman’s (2022) Fostering Wellness in the Workplace: A Handbook for Libraries, which provides practical applications and recommendations for topics such as definitions of health and wellness; what a workplace looks like when it strives to support well-being of workers across all aspects; policies relating to wages, working schedules, and dependent care; and workplace issues like emotional and invisible labor.

Section II: Career Development

Career development is an important component of every leader’s journey. This journey is even more perilous for library workers from marginalized and underrepresented groups and identities who face very real barriers to being hired and promoted within an organization, as noted by Raymond Pun (2016) in a conversation entitled “What Does It Mean for Librarians of Color to be ‘Movin’ On Up’?” where colleagues face microaggressions, the need for code-switching, and a glaring lack of administrative and organizational support. The set of chapters in section II seeks to provide strategies for all individuals, and especially those who are marginalized, to support their career growth and development trajectory. In Chapter 6, Vincci Kwong provides an overview of strategies to address the types of challenges librarians of color and other identities face when attempting to advance, especially in organizations where there is less structural room to move up; these strategies include serving on committees both within and outside the library, being active in library organizations, enrolling in professional development coursework or leadership programs, and seeking a mentor. Some of this work, however, still comes with a heavy burden placed on the individuals themselves rather than the organizations in which they work or professional associations to which they belong, such as ALA. As Alyssa Jennings and Kristine Kinzer (2022) discuss in their article “Whiteness from the Top Down: Systemic Change as Antiracist Action in LIS,” support from organizations should include “offering free unfettered access to the tools that will help them succeed such as additional education, BIPOC mentors, and attending conferences at reduced rates” (p. 76). There are some further ways to combat these issues, and in their presentation entitled “Racial Equity in Libraries: Hiring, Retention, and Promotion of BIPOC Employees,” authors Kristyn Caragher and Tatiana Bryant (2022) discuss the responsibility in library administrative practices of hiring and promotion, specifically looking at turnover rates of employees from a marginalized group or identity as well as the type of work they do within a library and ensuring that library administration and higher level positions are diverse.

In addition, Trevar Riley-Reid (2017), in their article entitled “Breaking Down Barriers: Making It Easier for Academic Librarians of Color to Stay,” explores the idea that tenure processes also create a barrier for BIPOC librarian success because they are called upon to be more “visible,” balancing added work in the form of mentorship, EDI committee work, overall emotional and racial labor to help their white colleagues, and because of lack of clarity around tenure and promotion criteria and processes (p. 394). Another option is explored in Chapter 8 by Kim Clarke and in Chapter 7 by Jennifer DeVito, who each discuss conducting a self-assessment in order to create a leadership development plan, which requires an individual approach to managing a path forward. Clarke focuses on doing a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) analysis, usually used in organizational development, as a tool for career development for individuals, identifying areas where they are doing well as well as areas where they might benefit from additional skills or training, and identifying how to try to overcome threats, which are usually external and more difficult to control. DeVito offers a similar approach, with a broader career planning model in which an individual fills out a template that guides them through identifying values and goals and moves on to create action items across areas where further development is desired or needed. In Chapter 9, Jenni Jacobs, Jason Rinaldo, and Josh Salmans remind us that imposter syndrome can affect individuals within an organization as well as library leadership and offer strategies for support. While these four chapters focus primarily on personal effort, it’s clear that organizational support for employees is needed in order to provide a holistic approach for those who are most impacted by systems designed to work against them.

Part II: Leader as Role

Section III: Relationships with Others

As leaders, especially new leaders, we all too often lack the time or space to consider the meta-narrative happening in our roles and in our work. What happens when we become a leader or move from a peer relationship to a managerial relationship? The chapters in section III examine the ways we view ourselves as leaders and the ways others may view us and each other within a team.

In Chapter 10, Stephanie Crowe and Jason Fleming share their own personal experiences navigating the liminal space of interim leadership and suggest strategies for positively and proactively managing the uncertainty that often accompanies interim leadership roles, including how to negotiate changing roles from peer to supervisor or manager. In Chapter 11, Jenny Horton shares her personal experience as an internal candidate, including the difficulties in navigating previous and new relationship dynamics, and suggests strategies for building new relationships with your team as well as managing your own feelings about the change with your support system.

In Chapter 12, David Dahl explores the relationship changes that occur when one moves into a leadership role from within, including the discomfort that can stem from managing former peers, and provides a framework and practical strategies for navigating changing relationships. In Chapter 13, Jennifer Hughes and Michelle Lewis dive deeper into the nature of changing relationships, exploring the loneliness and isolation that are inherent in many leadership positions and suggesting practical steps new managers can take to build community and develop their own authentic leadership path.

In Chapter 14, Shannon Smith shares her experiences as an early-career librarian working in scholarly communications and presents practical strategies for managing and initiating meaningful and sustainable change in a role without much positional authority. In Chapter 15, Hailley Fargo and Brianna Marshall share their experiences developing a community of practice as new leaders at the same institution, drawing upon their past experiences and successes to build trust and transparency with their teams.

In Chapter 16, Anna Sandelli captures the necessity and the discomfort of embracing feedback as a manager, sharing methods to develop psychological safety within teams to encourage a culture where employees feel comfortable sharing constructive feedback with their managers and supervisors. In Chapter 17, Tammy Ivins and Amanda Tarbet examine, through the lens of feminist and servant leadership, what happens when a leadership journey ends, encouraging readers who choose to leave their leadership roles to embrace the many and nuanced emotions that can arise from such a decision and suggesting a number of practical strategies for making the transition.

Section IV: Management Practices

In addition to developing a grounded, self-regulated relationship with themselves and with others, leaders also need to leverage a person-centered approach in their management practices. This approach can take different forms depending on the positionality of the leader and the situation at hand, as illuminated in the chapters following.

With pandemic-related grief and loss continuing to reverberate throughout our workplaces and communities, a trauma-informed approach to leadership is critical. In a well-timed examination of trauma-informed leadership in Chapter 18, Dr. Megan Lowe examines how a trauma-informed approach to library management and leadership can, at an organizational level, support employees who have experienced traumatic events in their personal lives and offers best practices for implementing a trauma-informed approach to management. In Chapter 19, Melanie Bopp also explores how trauma can be enacted through the workplace itself, impacting employee confidence and performance, and suggests best practices for rebuilding team relationships and moving forward with empathy, clarity, and collaboration.

In Chapter 20, Karen Stoll Farrell and nicholae cline examine management practices through a feminist lens, building on the work of intersectional feminist scholars and theorists to offer practical strategies for dismantling one’s own presuppositions and using positionality to develop a management praxis of equity, intersectionality, and reciprocal care. In Chapter 21, Paul Glassman shares tactics and strategies for creating equitable hiring processes that support neurodiverse candidates, practices that improve the job-seeking experience for all candidates regardless of their choice on whether to disclose. In Chapter 24, Lori Birrell examines positionality and power in management between library leaders and other campus offices, examining the differences in strategy that leaders may use to build positive working relationships with nonacademic units such as human resources, general counsel, security, and others. The success of these relationships can depend on accurately assessing power imbalances and disparities in work culture and practice and effectively tailoring communication strategies to those differences.

In Chapter 22, Michelle Colquitt, Renna Redd, and Chris Vidas describe their involvement in leading and experiencing change as part of a library-wide reorganization at Clemson University in response to a new Carnegie research classification, sharing their approach to centering employee safety and prioritizing staff morale through strategies intended to reduce change fatigue, build new relationships, and share information transparently and effectively. In Chapter 23, Michelle Hendley provides a case study of developing a five-point approach to effecting change as part of a grassroots campaign around an instruction classroom; these strategies are widely relevant and applicable to other leaders who may be agitating for resources, funds, spaces, staffing, or culture change.