6 Library Leaders Who Made a Difference

6 Library Leaders Who Made a Difference

The reading room of the New York Public Library
Becoming a leader in your library’s community and within your institution takes passion, dedication and a constant drive to achieve better results. Across all library disciplines, a particular set of characteristics and leadership traits emerge as necessary to achieving this goal. Learning from the great library leaders of the past can help guide you along your path to become a leader within the field. Here, we present six library leaders from the past who made a difference and left a lasting mark on the field of librarianship, so you can learn about the particular leadership traits that they embodied.

Melvil Dewey: The Visionary Librarian

Even non-librarians know Dewey’s name. As the father of the modern field of librarianship, Dewey’s influence in the field was vast; indeed, many argue that he alone crafted the foundations of the current profession. According to the OCLC, Dewey’s decimal classification system is the most widely used for organizing library collections, with more than 135 countries using it in their libraries.  He also focused on his work as the founder of The Library Journal and as one of the creators of the American Library Association, reflecting a unique and encompassing vision of what librarianship could and should be.

Being a visionary is one of a leader’s most important traits. Looking beyond what is and understanding instead what could be is necessary to moving the field of librarianship forward to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The coming years will see many changes in the way that libraries of all kinds must operate and meet their users’ needs. Those librarians with Dewey’s sense of vision will be able create new models to keep libraries relevant and thriving.

Mildred L. Batchelder: The Motivational Librarian

Batchelder’s long and distinguished career is most notable for her influential advocacy for children’s library services. Her tireless efforts to bring enhanced resources to school libraries and open up these services to children of all races and genders forever changed the field. One of her key initiatives was her aim to mentor and motivate young and emerging leaders.

Understanding what is needed to motivate both patrons and fellow librarian staff is a critical aspect of leadership. No one avenue can motivate everyone. A great leader must work to understand the particular incentives and approaches that work with those around them and adopt a varied range of techniques in order to motivate their colleagues to achieve their own personal greatness.

Louis Shores: The Problem-Solver Librarian

Shores firmly believed that the library needed to be the center of every learning endeavor, whether public or at an academic institution. One key aspect of this drive to promote libraries as centers of learning was Shores’ belief that libraries should be repositories of information in general. This meant moving beyond libraries merely as places for books and incorporating other media into libraries’ collections. In order to put this theory into practice, Shores created an example of a “materials center” that incorporated audiovisual material directly into his library’s book collection.

Shores saw a problem — that libraries were excluding valuable sources of information — and forged a solution to meet that issue. This problem-solving ability is required of all great leaders. As technology and other challenges face libraries today, those librarians who can clearly identify and understand the problems facing their institutions and craft effective solutions that will do much to move the profession forward.

Marvin Scilken: The Librarian Who Took Responsibility

A lifelong librarian, Scilken played many important roles in advancing the field, including improving patron services and advocating a more practical librarianship approach. However, Scilken is most remembered for his letter-writing campaign that ultimately led to testimony in front of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly. During the subcommittee’s investigation of price fixing by publishers, it found that publisher’s pricing strategies were indeed detrimental to libraries nationwide. The Senate ended up agreeing that publishers were price fixing, forcing a change in practices that saved libraries millions of dollars going forward.

Scilken saw a problem, and rather than assuming someone else would handle it, he took responsibility to improve the issue himself. Any librarian who wishes to become a leader must use the same approach by taking responsibility for all issues and problems that arise in the library and then take a hands-on approach to problem-solving.

Frances E. Henne: The Learner Librarian

As founder of the ALA’s Association of School Librarians, Henne played a key role in defining standards and principles for school libraries that endure to this day. Through her work with a variety of school libraries, Henne began to realize that incorporating non-print materials into these libraries’ collections was key to keeping children engaged and learning. She observed that the new technologies of the day, such as phonograph records and filmstrips, could help keep libraries relevant for patrons of all ages.

Henne was only able to come to this realization and work to institute important changes because she remained open to learning from her experiences and evolving her approach to librarianship. Those who wish to become library leaders must remain open to learning through professional development and through listening to patrons and colleagues in order to become more effective decision-makers and leaders.

Forrest Spaulding: The Librarian of High Character

While he worked as a librarian both in the United States and in Peru, Spaulding is best recognized for his authorship of the Library Bill of Rights. This important document espoused the importance of intellectual freedom and an opposition to calls to censor library collections. The Library Bill of Rights was eventually embraced by the American Library Association; its influence continues to be felt throughout the profession today.

Spaulding dedicated his career to taking a stand in favor of important principles that present-day librarians agree underpin the entire field. This sense of high character and dedication to doing what is right is emblematic of all great leaders. Those modern librarians who wish to become the next great leaders of tomorrow must learn from Spaulding’s example and embody the principles of high character in all actions that they take.

Are you also interested in becoming a leader in the field of library and information science? With a Master of Management in Library and Information Science Online from the University of Southern California, you can learn the foundations of the field and forge the necessary management skills to help advance your career as a librarian. To learn more about our library science degree, please contact us today to find out more about our program.