It’s Parliamentary: Leadership in a Government Library

Career Blog

Published: May 19, 2018 by Evelyn Hudson

Think your MLIS degree will keep you in the background? Think again.

“New MLIS holders are often reluctant or don’t quite understand how quickly they will find themselves in management and leadership positions,” Dr. Cheryl Stenstrom explains.

With this knowledge, how can we as MLIS students prepare to be successful leaders?

The iSchool’s Leadership & Management Advisory Committee, co-chaired by Dr. Sue Alman and Dr. Stenstrom, hosted several webinars that featured library leaders who truly make an impact in their field. We covered part one and part two in earlier posts. The third webinar, “A Day in the Life of a Leader: Part 3,” featured Dr. Melissa Fraser-Arnott, Chief of Integrated Library Services at the Library of Parliament in Ottawa, Canada.

Dr. Fraser-Arnott has held librarian positions in many government agencies as well as public libraries and currently oversees 14 embedded librarians. She shared that “leadership is different for everyone.”

“There are as many ways to be a leader as there are to be a human being. Your leadership style is a reflection of who you are and what you value,” she stated.

Dr. Fraser-Arnott grouped leadership into several categories:

  • Obtaining resources – ensuring employees have what they need to work
  • Building relationships – developing relationships with all stakeholders
  • Advocating for the team while supporting the organization – balancing the needs of the team with those of the organization
  • Assigning tasks and setting objectives – knowing what work needs to be done and how much advice to offer
  • Providing strategic direction and context – working toward the big picture

She finds herself working in each category every day, depending on the needs of the organization on that day.

Dr. Fraser-Arnott also offered the three competencies she believes are essential for a leader:

  • Functional knowledge – knowing how to do the job; gained through the MLIS program and on the job
  • Contextual knowledge – applying knowledge to your specific position
  • Self-knowledge – understanding how you work and how you like to lead

She verifies her own leadership skills by asking herself questions such as “Am I an effective information conduit?” and “Am I able to defend and justify my decisions?”

“If I can answer positively to these questions then I feel like I am doing a good job,” she explained.

She emphasized that every day won’t be a success, but that is just part of the process.

“You always have a second chance to try to work towards your ideals because we’re all growing and we’re all learning and we’re all developing,” she said.

When asked what she looks for when hiring for open positions, Dr. Fraser-Arnott emphasized the importance of soft skills such as emotional intelligence.

“[The] ability to listen to what people need, to adjust your communication style to match what people need,” is important in a new candidate.

She also mentioned the importance of time management skills as well as the ability to teach others.

For introverts who have difficulty with communication, Dr. Fraser-Arnott recommends highlighting your strengths. Introverts can be excellent leaders—she herself admits to being an introvert.

“Try to find platforms to share your thoughts in ways that work for you,” she expressed.

What leadership qualities make you or your manager stand out? Share in the comments!

New LIS Jobs in Handshake

Head of the Government Information Library    University of Colorado Boulder
Assistant/Associate Librarian: Social Sciences and Data Services     University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

Don’t forget to explore job openings outside of the public and/or academic libraries in Handshake. Consider searching on topics such as taxonomy, research, data management, digital asset management, and similar terms that may reflect your particular LIS skills or area of emphasis.


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