New Book Explores Librarian Leadership Infused with Humanity and Heart
Dr. Michael Stephens Emphasizes the Need for ‘Heart Skills’


The heart shape embodies the many works of Michael Stephens, associate professor in the School of Information at San José State University. Stephens has published a collection of columns, blog posts, and essays that celebrates compassion and empathy, teaches ways to develop and empower kindness, and encourages curiosity and creativity as keys to establishing “radical trust” and inclusivity. His latest book, Wholehearted Librarianship: Finding Hope, Inspiration, and Balance, was published in May 2019 by ALA Editions, an imprint of the American Library Association.

Wholehearted Librarianship book cover Wholehearted Librarianship expands upon a central theme of librarian leadership infused with humanity and heart that was introduced in his first book The Heart of Librarianship: Attentive, Positive, and Purposeful Change. “I am thrilled to have this second collection of my writing published by ALA. Wholehearted Librarianship actually becomes a philosophy of professional practice: owning our actions, being all in, and cultivating a culture of kindness,” Stephens said.

When asked about the characteristics of compassionate leadership in a Library Leadership podcast that aired in September 2019, Stephens stressed the importance of mentorship, and noted that “leadership is more art than science.” He spoke about developing a set of “heart skills,” and suggested that strong emotional intelligence is crucial to understanding how best to encourage others.

“It’s about taking care of user needs. We should always consider our users through a lens of compassion and empathy,” Stephens said. “What would make their lives easier?” He reminded librarians growing into leadership roles that librarianship “is not a culture of perfect.” He stressed the need for librarians to take a step back and “take a breath,” and acknowledge that it’s okay to make mistakes. “It’s also about taking care of ourselves,” Stephens said.

Inspired by library structures and virtual spaces that support user curiosity, encourage participation, nurture the creation of new knowledge, and encourage the heart, Stephens is keenly interested in helping users find joy. He has delivered keynotes, papers, and workshops throughout the United States and internationally, sharing his core message that the heart of librarianship is learning, and that all users should have ample opportunities to experience the joy of learning.

With the publication of Wholehearted Librarianship, Stephens presented a program at the ALA conference in June 2019 in which he explored the importance of accessible, welcoming and responsive library environments that invite open and equitable participation. He addressed the cyclical process of support, engagement and discovery, and its deep roots in the concepts of service, access and freedom to pursue interests of all kinds. He also reminded librarians that their role in meeting users’ needs as guide and facilitator is best fulfilled when steeped in humanity and heart. 

Stephens teaches INFO 200 – Information Communities and INFO 287 – Seminar in Information Science [The Hyperlinked Library: Emerging Trends, Emerging Technologies] in the Master of Library and Information Science program. His courses focus on evolving library service and reflective practice for librarians.

To review his archive of work, visit his Tame the Web website and blog at