Build Your Leadership Skills at the iSchool

iStudent Blog

Published: October 1, 2018 by Priscilla Ameneyro

Do you see yourself leading others? Are you the next library director or branch manager? Even if you don’t aspire to be in a leadership position, leadership skills are important at any level. Leadership capabilities can help you work collaboratively with others and look ahead to new trends or issues that can impact your work environment. You might also find yourself supervising interns or volunteers. Whatever your career goals, the iSchool offers plenty of opportunities for building your leadership competence including courses, volunteer roles and some paid positions.     

Leadership and Management Courses
Dr. Cheryl Stenstrom and Dr. Sue Alman co-chair the Leadership and Management Program Advisory Committee. Stenstrom shared that their members “consistently tell us they are looking for leadership skills when they interview people for positions at any level of the organization, including strong communication skills, an understanding of project management and an ability to see the big picture in the workplace.” All students can benefit from taking a few of the leadership and management career pathway classes, such as INFO 282 Seminar in Library Management and INFO 286 Interpersonal Communications Skills for Librarians. According to Dr. Alman, leadership skills are essential to your future career so you can “make an impact on developing and assessing new resources and services, supervise employees, participate in the strategic planning process and be a change agent for the community that you serve.”

Student Chapter Executive Committees
All iSchool students are welcome to get involved in the student chapters of professional associations. Each chapter has an executive committee made up of students who volunteer their time to help run and grow the student chapter. Opportunities exist in membership, communications and program development, among others. There are also chair and vice chair positions that oversee the operations of the entire chapter. As students graduate every semester, openings are regularly available. Look out for email announcements or visit the chapter websites to search for open positions. You can always start off simply by joining as a member to get a feel for the group and participate in events.

For Amy Nykamp, being the president of the Special Libraries Association Student Chapter has given her “a great deal of confidence in what I know I can do.” Dr. Cheryl Dee, the group’s faculty advisor, noticed Amy’s leadership skills in INFO 204 and encouraged her to join SLASC. Amy began as the assistant communications director before moving into the role of vice president and now, president. With the confidence she gained in this position, Amy has found she is more effective in her current job when it comes to managing projects and is now looking ahead to future leadership positions such as director, which she says she “never would have looked at if I didn’t get involved in the SLASC.”

Melissa Ward, Chair of the American Libraries Association Student Chapter, is gaining valuable experience in managing people that she sees a future use for if her department at her current job expands. Melissa shared that her role stood out to the hiring manager on her resume which goes to show how getting involved in leadership opportunities at the iSchool can boost your employability.

The same goes for JonLuc Christensen, President of the First Generation Students group and Immediate Past President of SLASC. JonLuc expressed that his participation in the student groups helped him land an internship at the NASA/Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory which eventually turned into a full-time position. The experience he gained with the student groups transferred to local chapters of national professional organizations; he is currently running for a leadership position in the SLA Southern California chapter.

SRJ Editorial Team
Another role that looks great on your resume is that of editor-in-chief (EIC) of the School of Information Student Research Journal, a double-blind peer reviewed academic journal that publishes student research. MLIS student Megan Price is the recently appointed EIC who feels like she “won the lottery.” In addition to learning new skills in publishing and editing, she is enjoying her new position and loves working with the editorial team, including the journal’s advisor, Dr. Anthony Bernier. Megan brings previous leadership experience in education to the role but had not thought about publishing before, which proves you don’t always have to meet the exact requirements to take on new opportunities. Think about your past volunteer or work experience and how that could translate to a new profession or leadership opportunity at the iSchool. The editorial team is made up of copy/content editors and a managing editor (who gain credit towards their degrees), in addition to the editor-in-chief (which is a paid student position).

Additional Leadership Opportunities
Here are some other possibilities you can take advantage of to bolster your leadership prowess:

  • Sign up to be a peer mentor to incoming students in INFO 203
  • Take the lead in group projects
  • Present a poster at a professional conference including the student poster sessions hosted by the iSchool
  • Volunteer to run a project or program at work
  • Seek a committee appointment in a local, state or national association

I’ll leave you with an anecdote that Dr. Deborah Hicks shared about why leadership aptitude is vital: “Recently, I saw an author (Attica Locke) tweet ‘is there anything a library can’t do?’ in response to an LA Public Library program designed to help people sign up for CalFresh (food stamps) and Medi-Cal benefits. My immediate response to her tweet was to think, it really should be is there anything a librarian can’t do because it was likely a librarian who used their leadership skills to set up this important program[...]leadership skills are important because without them even the best ideas would have a limited impact.”

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