The future of academic library leadership
I’m a librarian. I’m also fortunate enough to have a library leadership position as an AUL at McMaster University. Where I work is not irrelevant for any discussion of the future of academic library leadership, as anyone who follows libraryland news well knows.
For a number of years it’s been clear to me that we’re not going to be able to master the tasks that arise from the evolution of libraries if we continue to insist on having too many influential positions in the library saddled with the “ALA-accredited MLS or equivalent” requirement. That’s not a revolutionary thought at this stage, but even jobs where that requirement has been softened to allow those with other educational pedigrees to apply tend to include required or clearly preferred qualifications that only a librarian would possess, making them de facto open only to librarians.
Parallel to the discussion of whether to open our positions to non-librarians is a neverending discussion around the lack of qualified applicants for library leadership positions. There seems to be general agreement that libraries do a poor job of creating qualified and eager successors.
Put these two factors together, and what emerges from all of this is that we (MLS-holding library administrators who are open to hiring non-librarians into key roles) could essentially be closing the door behind us for those in our own profession. The logical next evolutionary step would be that library leaders are no longer former line librarians, and that we are essentially the dinosaurs roaming the halls. There are, of course, library leaders already who did not come from the ranks, but doesn’t it follow that in 15-20 years, library directors with an MLS will be a very rare breed? Does that matter? I seem to think it does, but that leaves me with a bit of a paradox: how to get today’s work done and help create the next generation of library leaders. It’s not a simple task.