Leading from the Library

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Do You Agree with the Statement “The Administrator(s) of My School(s) Perceive Me as a Leader”? This is the question we asked for our March One-Question Survey. Keep reading for Dr. Maria Cahill’s analysis of the results and strategies for boosting your leadership profile.

We hope you use these surveys to help you reflect on your own practices. Subscribers can view our archive of past surveys here.

With the publication of Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs, the American Association of School Librarians (2009) identified “leader” as one of five primary roles school librarians should enact. Yet, labeling school librarianship as a leadership profession doesn’t necessarily mean that school library stakeholders will perceive the position or the professional occupying that position as such. Rather, leadership is a contextual process in which individuals develop relationships that position them to influence others. Naturally, some contexts are more conducive to leadership and some individuals have developed skills, dispositions, and behaviors to better position themselves as leaders. Nevertheless, all individuals are capable of becoming leaders (Northouse, 2015).

We asked school librarians to identify their level of agreement with the following statement: “The administrator(s) of my school(s) perceive me as a leader,” and we provided space for the school librarians to elaborate on their responses, if they so chose. Encouragingly, the overwhelming majority (81.5%) of the more than 800 respondents to our survey Agreed or Strongly Agreed that they are perceived as leaders within their schools, and this was especially true for school librarians working in middle schools, nearly half of whom responded, “Strongly Agree.”

Using an inductive process, we coded the elaborated responses and identified two very different types of explanations. All school librarians whose responses reflected an internal locus of control (i.e. personal responsibility or control over the outcome), agreed that they were indeed perceived as leaders within their schools. Whereas, those school librarians who attributed leadership (or lack thereof) as a consequence of the context fell into both camps: some were perceived as leaders in their schools and others were not.

School librarians who are perceived as leaders within their schools were far and away most likely to attribute this leadership to their professional expertise. Proficiencies most commonly identified were in the areas of technology know-how and professional development offerings (within and beyond their own schools), but also included knowledge of the curriculum, collaboration skills, teaching skills, literacy skills, information literacy skills, and problem-solving abilities. They also attributed their leadership to their efforts, attitudes, and advocacy.

To the 18.5% of school librarians who felt undervalued as leaders in their schools, we offer these words of encouragement: You may not be able to pick your administrators, but stay positive and focus on continuing to grow as a leader, focusing especially on those skills and behaviors that have served your colleagues best. Using the words of school librarians who believe they control whether or not their administrators perceive them as leaders, we recommend the following strategies:

Flex your professional expertise

—One of my strengths is integrating technology into instruction. I provide a lot of support for teachers in using and troubleshooting technology.

Teachers know that they can ask me for help—whether it is related to curriculum or technology.

Even though I am mere months into my first year as the sole media specialist in our high school, I sit on the Faculty Advisory Committee, the School Improvement Team, the Literacy Leaders Committee, and our building Technology Committee. I have already led professional development [and] developed a system for digital annotation that we will soon be rolling out school wide.

Our school district is moving towards personalized learning and last year I was able to participate in training with other leaders to become a go-to person on the personalized learning team.

—I am a leader because I am a problem-solver in all aspects of the school.

Demonstrate the dispositions of someone with whom you would want to work

—In my second year as a librarian, I’m a newbie. With that said, I have taken on leadership roles, started programs, encouraged reading, and connected with all staff to make sure they know I am here for them. I’m doing my best to be a positive staff member and with that naturally comes leadership.

—I work my tail off, but all my administrators know they can come to me, and that the library is a resource for them as well.

—Each administrator is different. Over the years I have worked with many that see that I am a capable leader that will work extremely hard. I have worked with a few that aren’t quite on board. It’s my opinion that over time I can show how valuable a media program can be.

—I share everything I can whenever I can.

—I have been proactive in collaborating with [teachers and administrators]to develop [the] perception [that I’m a leader].

—I work hard with my administration and my teachers to put myself in a place of leadership. I attend monthly leadership team meetings and serve on several committees in our school. I am often asked to head up special activities and programs. When I first started, I wanted the library to openly serve our students and teachers. We make it our mission to say “YES” as often as humanly possible. We operate on a flexible schedule with shared calendar for all staff for transparency in to our open schedule.

Advocate and communicate the value of the school librarian and school library program

—[I] send out monthly newsletters to let our staff know what’s happening in the library (in addition to sending my monthly report to admin).

—The administration views me as the only teacher who services the entire student body as a teacher, which is true. They probably see me that way because I inform them frequently that I serve all kids.

—I feel that I am respected by the administration at the board as well as in my schools. I believe it has a lot to do with the quarterly and end of year reports I send to admin and the principals. I highlight library events and include statistics and list out the ways I collaborate and teach.

We promote our activities, ask for administrative support, and often invite them personally to our activities. We positively promote our program and it seems to be working wonderfully!



American Association of School Librarians. Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs. American Library Association, 2009.

Northouse, P. G. Leadership: Theory and Practice (7th ed.). Sage, 2015.

Maria Cahill, MLIS, PhD, is an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky in both the School of Information Science and the Department of Education. She received her master’s degree from the University of South Carolina and her doctorate in education from the University of Tennessee. She is author of numerous papers in such journals as Knowledge Quest, School Libraries Worldwide, and School Library Research and has served in numerous professional leadership positions, including on the Educators of School Librarians Section of the American Association of School Librarians and the American Library Association’s Literacy and Outreach Services Committee.


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