News Features & Releases
PPE Institute Provides Retreat for Higher Ed Librarians
by Jill Anderson
August 23, 2006
Every summer, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) collaborates with the Harvard Institutes for Higher Education to present the Leadership Institute for Academic Librarians--a unique opportunity for higher education library professionals. The one-week institute, offered by HGSE's Programs in Professional Education (PPE), attempts to create a "total immersion," retreat-like experience for college and university librarians from across the United States and abroad.
"The institute is not about focusing on the intricacies of the latest technology or most recent hot button issue for librarians," says Joseph Zolner, PPE's director of higher education programs. "Instead, it provides a chance for library leaders to step out of the daily grind, reflect on their current leadership practice, and develop a new network of professional colleagues."
Librarians from around the world are eager to seize such an opportunity. This year's institute, held on August 5–11, had 94 participants from 33 states and four foreign countries. Over the six-day event participants focus on developing broader management and leadership skills rather than addressing more discrete issues like library cataloguing or the ins-and-outs of Internet research.
Several years ago, librarians would occasionally attend higher education institutes on campus, but John Collins, HGSE faculty member and librarian at Gutman Library, recognized a need for them to have their own program dedicated to leadership challenges. In the late 1990s, he approached former PPE director Cliff Baden and then-President of the ACRL Maureen Sullivan about putting together the institute. Now, in its seventh year, the institute has become the premiere professional development opportunity for college and university librarians in the country, according to Collins, and it has a growing waiting list to boot.
Unlike other conferences offered in the library field, Collins notes that the institute goes beyond just talking about the latest library innovations and instead aims to inform these professionals about the larger higher education world and other pertinent leadership matters. "If you look at the faculty who teach in the institute, they are among some of [higher education's] best and finest," he says. "[Library professionals] hear about financial management, leadership strategies, adult development, and other issues in higher education such as the perspective of the dean and provost, and the role of the library from a campus wide perspective. It's unique, interesting and enlightening."
The program focuses on leadership challenges facing academic librarians by addressing two key questions: How well-positioned is my library to meet current and future challenges? How effective is my own leadership?
Faculty members who help participants explore these questions include HGSE Senior Lecturer James Honan; HGSE Meehan Professor Bob Kegan; Joan Gallos, former dean of the School of Education at the University of Missouri-Kansas City; Sullivan; and Zolner.
"The institute represents a genuine opportunity for these librarians to become learners again and leave the trials and tribulations of their day-to-day work lives behind for a week," Zolner says. In order to attain that level of personal reflection and professional distance, the institute creates an environment that enables participants to remove themselves from the day-to-day grind by creating a retreat-like experience that encourages candid discussion from the time they awake until they go to bed, and provides unstructured time to prepare for upcoming classes, reflect on what they are learning, and apply their new insights to challenges they may face back home.
The institute includes large class sessions, recurring small group meetings, and unstructured time. Recognizing that the exercise of effective leadership must be context specific, the curriculum is designed to identify alternative leadership approaches and strategies.
Zolner says that one of the institute's goals is to get everyone thinking about multiple and more nuanced approaches to leadership. "There usually isn't just one right answer to a given leadership challenge or situation," he notes. "Instead, effective leaders must better understand the intricacies of the environment within which they must lead in order to identify the most appropriate and effective actions to take." Through the use of higher education case studies, participants are given an opportunity to analyze such situations in an interactive, "firsthand" way.
Lynne Schmelz, Harvard College's librarian for the sciences and librarian of the Cabot and Tozzer Libraries, said she enjoys getting out of her fast-paced environment to read, think, and talk to colleagues during the institute.
"[Prior to attending the institute,] I'd heard excellent reports from colleagues that have participated about how good the teaching and perspective is," Schmelz says. "Anyone in a management or leadership position needs to have some time to get out of the trenches, so I like to do these types of programs every few years. This is one of the best, if not the best."
Over the years, Harvard College Library has sent 32 employees to the institute. With approximately 130 senior managers in its libraries, the plan is to send five librarians to the institute every summer.
The dedication to sending participants each year is something that the institute staff appreciates. "Harvard College recognizes the importance of professional development and [PPE] makes a strong commitment to save five spaces for them every year," Collins says. "It's been rewarding for us to have them and nice that the university recognizes that this is a premiere program."
Steve Marley, director of human resources for the Harvard College Library, says they understand and see the importance of this institute as not only a professional development opportunity, but a valuable opportunity to network. "I don't remember anyone coming back and saying they didn't like it," he says. "Everyone comes back raving about it."