Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Booknote: Learning to Lead and Manage Information Literacy Instruction

Grassian, Esther S. and Joan R. Kaplowitz. Learning to Lead and Manage Information Literacy Instruction. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2005. ISBN: 1-55570-515-4.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Librarianship, Information Literacy and Instruction

This is possibly the best book I have read on its topic, and it is one that should be a standard textbook in any BI classes in library school. In fact, future IL librarians should simply be issued one of these when they come to their new jobs. The book guides new and experienced librarians through the process of managing and leading an Information Literacy Instruction (ILI) program. From developing your own individual leadership skills to mentoring to research, marketing and technology management, this book really covers the bases. I borrowed the copy I read, but rest assured, I am buying my own copy.

Some points I wanted to remember:

  • From Chapter 1, the chapter on developing your leadership qualities, the one question that I often have was not fully addressed, and that is what happens when the rest of the "team" simply won't budge in terms of resistance to change. We are talking passive resistance, lack of administrative support, and overall neglect. I found this chapter, as other writings on leadership, a bit on the idealistic side. I thought the section on organizational cultures was a bit on the simplistic side due to the assumption that all organizations function in a healthy manner, which is not reflective of reality (see page 22). However, I found the authors address some of this later in the book, in the chapter fostering growth (Chapter 4).
  • Chapter 2 opens with the differences between a manager and a leader, which I found to be a very good reminder. There was some mention of recognition, which I found reminded me of the book The Carrot Principle (see my note on the book here). Remember that an IL manager should be seen as a mentor, not a boss. The IL manager needs to keep track of daily operations without losing track of the big picture, and therein lies the challenge. Also remember to do assessment, and the issue of assessment is addressed very well in this book, especially in terms of assessing the IL instructors.
  • Why collaborate? Because usually IL programs lack resources. However, the heart of collaboration is trust, which unfortunately can be missing at times. I am not sure the authors look at that notion as much.
  • The authors also distinguish between dialogue (what you use to discover meaning and you look at all points of view without judgment) and discussion (what you do to actually reach decisions. The persuading goes in here).
  • Chapter 3 provides various ideas for cooperation. It does look at administrative problems and offers some solutions. Remember not to base decisions based on politics (even though in some places, it may be business as usual to do it that way). I found intriguing the idea of recording the ILI history of an organization/library. I also like the idea of using consciousness-raising questions with faculty to gain their cooperation.
  • Remember the need to do prospecting. This does need some dedicated time in order to accomplish it and harvest fruit from it.
  • Chapter 4 for me was probably the most useful as it looks at the concept of the reflective practitioner. A good teacher needs to reflect, and they need to be willing to engage in assessment and appraisals. The section on peer appraisal and portfolios was excellent.
  • The book also looks at stress and burnout, two things that can very easily take down a good ILI librarian. For me, it was a bit of a painful reminder of advice I was given back in Immersion. In order to avoid the burnout or be ruined by it, it may be time to simply send out that resume and find a different position. It was not something I mentioned in my notes at the time, and to mention it now is not something I am happy about. There's a story there, but I am keeping it under wraps for now. Anyhow, this is what I meant when I said the book addressed some of the questions from Chapter 1. The authors do provide excellent advice and ways to cope with stress and burnout including: constructive conflict management, problem-solving approaches, developing outside interests, and in the extreme, move on. This chapter really came close to home for me.
Some quotes from Chapter 4 I want to remember (warning signs maybe? Anyhow, these are passages that resonated for me):

  • "Although a rampaging elephant or a snarling tiger or a lion rarely threatens the IL instructor, the demands of the day-to-day work environment can create their own pitfalls and perils. Faced with budget cuts, information overload, staff shortages, heavy workloads, and long hours, the IL instructor can begin to exhibit the same symptoms as someone facing a physical threat" (132).
  • "Lack of managerial support, shifting priorities, lack of private workspace, and difficult and demanding clients are all stressors in the library world. Furthermore, a feeling of not being invited to participate in goal setting or decision making, and few opportunities for advancement can also contribute to the problem. The result is a situation in which the IL instructor feels overwhelmed, overloaded, and stressed to exhaustion. He or she is then vulnerable to burnout (Becker 1993; Caputo 1991; Kuppersmith 1998)" (132-133).
  • "Burnout is caused by overdedication, overcommitment, overwork, and the establishment of unrealistic goals. It can result whenever expectation levels are dramatically opposed to reality, making goal achievement impossible (Freudenberger and Richelson 1980)" (133). Keep in mind, this often means the librarian's high expectations and standards clashing with the reality that may be an opposite.
  • "Information professionals choose this type of work because they expect a degree of autonomy. However, many professionals end up working in a highly structured bureaucratic environment. This mismatch between their professional expectations and the practical reality under which they must operate is also a contributing factor to stress and burnout. Administrators who are not involved in direct client service may be perceived as making decisions without realizing how those decisions affect client and professional alike. Bureaucratic red tape, endless meetings, piles of paperwork, lack of positive feedback and administrative support, and communication failures can all create an atmosphere in which burnout thrives (Becker 1993; Cherniss 1995; Grosser 1987)" (135-136).
  • "Burnout comes from frustration, from the perception that we cannot accomplish what we feel is our professional responsibility. However, sometimes we must accept the fact that these self-imposed goals cannot be reached or that the goals imposed upon us by others are unreachable under certain circumstances. The problem is that we feel responsible. We entered the profession to provide service and to hopefully make a difference in people's lives. But if we do not have the authority to actually create a situation where our goals can be realistically accomplished, we must reconsider our options" (137).
The rest of the book looks at research, grants, marketing, and technology management. Research is crucial to the reflective practitioner, and it should be done even if the "publish and perish" situation does not exist. In fact, for me, that is a good reason not to have the tenure: to be able to research without the pressure, and one is likely create a better product. Overall, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. The book does include a CD-Rom with various helpful materials.

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