LibTech Leadership: An Interview with ALA Leadership Institute Attendee Jennifer Chan

In 2018, LITA offered its first-ever scholarship to the ALA Leadership Institute to Jennifer Chan—Scholarly Communication Librarian at the UCLA Library. Ms. Chan’s work has focused on alt- and bibliometrics, research impact, open access, and the Affordable Course Materials Initiative, involving targeted outreach with campus partners to promote open education strategies. The generosity of LITA’s 2017 fundraising donors made it possible for her to attend one of the country’s premiere professional development opportunities for library leadership this past August.

What sparked your interest in the Institute?

I came across the call for participants about a year prior to actually applying. I was researching programs and opportunities for professional development to enhance my leadership skills and quickly developed the impression that while such programs existed, there did not appear to be many designed for my current stage of career development. The ALA Leadership Institute offered the right fit for my needs. By the time I applied to the Institute, I had taken on the responsibility of supervision and was really looking forward to the learning experience. I am very grateful to have received the support of LITA and my home institution, UCLA Library, to attend this worthwhile program.

What do you feel are the most actionable points you have taken away from it? Is there anything you are already applying in your regular work?

I was fortunate to leave the Institute with a formulated action plan for a project involving communicating resources and have since implemented this at my institution. Academic librarianship is something of a small world, but the Institute gave me the opportunity to broaden my professional network even further and that’s been invaluable. Speaking with fellow members of my cohort helped me to benefit from their collective experience.

Additionally, Maureen and Kathryn’s careful curation of the plethora of resources we were provided during the Institute has allowed me to continue to benefit from the Institute experience. I have been able to further research various models and consider how they might be applied in a library context.

Do you feel like the need for leadership in libraries now is different from what you prepared for earlier in your career? Having attended the Institute, do you see opportunities now for new or different kinds of leadership in libraries?

Working in academic libraries as a scholarly communication librarian, a portion of my work has involved open access advocacy. Those experiences have helped shape my view of leadership as a dynamic dialogue. One might say an advocate can only be successful when others share in the perceived value of a message, and I think this concept extends to leadership as well. Providing context helps establish relevance and is a key element to building a resonant message.

The recent CR&L article by Jason Martin quotes several definitions of leadership that parallel some of my own experience, specifically Stogdill:

[leadership] as the process (act) of influencing the activities of an organized group in its efforts toward goal setting and goal achievement…

The resources, tools, and techniques introduced at the Institute stressed, among other things, the importance of effective communication and the establishment of trust to obtaining successful leadership outcomes. Given that ours is a profession experiencing constant change, we have the opportunity to bring libraries to new levels of growth if we are able to act strategically and with intention, provided we have an accurate assessment of the starting point and a clear vision of the desired destination.

Did your engagement with LITA give you a distinct perspective on the leadership issues the Institute engaged? Are there areas outside library technology itself in which library technologists really need to be providing leadership?

The Institute touched on interesting discussion points about the future of tech in libraries, such as the potential implications of artificial intelligence and machine learning on our profession. Having specialized in information technology during library school, in addition to being involved with LITA, these types of issues have always held interest for me. What strikes me as being of critical importance for libraries now is the need to express and advocate for the type of future we want to see. For me, this includes being specific about practices and services. My unit’s past research on academic library support for text and data mining has only served to reinforce this perspective.

Given the breadth of change that libraries have experienced over the past few decades, we have done much to adapt, but my experience on a 2012 altmetrics pilot taught me that there is potential to actively shape the future if we aren’t waiting around to first see how it looks. I should follow up that statement by saying that maintaining agency and control over infrastructure—IT and otherwise—is a detail that is best not overlooked. Successful library leadership, to me, means greater and deeper collaboration with colleagues across library units, library and campus departments, and across institutions.

What advice would you give to someone deciding if they are (or are going to be) ready to apply for next year’s Institute?

Apply. While there are other Library leadership programs, the composition of the ALA Leadership Institute is quite unique. It really stood out to me for its immersive nature, its commitment to establishing a cohort of librarians from all institutional types, and for receiving such positive feedback from previous graduates of the Institute. The experience of both Maureen Sullivan and Kathryn Deiss as seasoned facilitators combined in a way that really served to enhance the overall experience.


Registration for the 2019 ALA Leadership Institute will open in December. More information can be found at http://www.ala.org/educationcareers/leadership