Category Archives: Leadership

Know Your Why, Know Your 8!

By: Tegan Davis, Eagle Valley Library District, PR Librarian


Why are you a librarian?

This question was proposed to the 90+ librarians attending Lead the Change; after watching a short clip of Simon Sinek explaining the ‘golden circle’ and our brain’s neocortex and limbic systems response to it. We were instructed to write our ‘Why’ on a sticky note and put it on the conference room wall. Here’s what I wrote: ‘To serve and to assist in dreams becoming a reality’.

This is why I’m a librarian:  to serve my community in whatever capacity I can and to assist my community in making their dreams a reality.  I want to be of my community and librarianship is about building relationships and assisting in growth.

Lead the Change came right after I completed my final module for Leadership Park City (Class XX) with guest speaker Walter C. Wright, Jr. (He proposed 8 questions, which I’ll get to.) Mr. Wright stated a correlation between leadership and mountaineering in that—“like it or not we’re all tied together” on the same rope. To lead requires at least one follower; thus, leadership is about a relationship between two people—one who seeks to influence and one who chooses to be influenced. Yet, as with any relationship, they both will influence and be influenced by each other.

How does this effect an organization or a mountaineering team?

In that the decisions the leader makes based on the leader’s values have a ripple effect throughout an organization (from administration to front line staff) or a mountaineering team (from the first to the last person on the rope). It’s not just about the summit—toxic leadership, which has adverse effects on staff and their morale; the organization and short and long-term performance of the organization.   A great leader is focused on the trail they leave behind for their team:

“The values and integrity of leadership shape the relationships of trust and respect that enable collaboration and cooperation in any organization. Character matters!” –Walter C. Wright, Jr.

Mr. Wright proposed 8 questions to be answered in order to get your bearing on your values as a leader and as a follower (who do you want to be on a rope with?).

The 8 questions:

What’s the single most important thing in life to you?

What do you want to be known for?

At this point in life, what do you want to learn?

What gets you up in the morning?

What makes you weep?

What are you good at?

With whom in the day do you laugh, play, and weep with?

What’s your exercise program?

These questions are not always easy to answer; for example, a fellow Leadership Class XXer shared the eight questions during a staff meeting. The response: staff yelled, discussed shortfalls, and some people started crying. All the more reason to answer these questions!

What’s your ‘Why’ and ‘8’? What’s your organization’s ‘Why’ and ‘8’? Figuring these out will help you as a leader, as a follower (finding organizations or leaders that align with your values), and in engaging with your community by articulating the ‘Why’ and ‘8’.

Episode #060–Lead the Change (Community Engagement)

evillibrarianslogo Today, Tegan and Dustin are talking all about their experiences at Library Journal’s Lead the Change. It was an inspiring day that encouraged all librarians to engage their communities in conversations and continue to break down their library walls. A big thank you to B.A. David Company and Library Journal for bringing this conversation to Utah, the City Library for hosting the event, and Peter Bromberg and John Spears for facilitating.

Evil Librarians Podcast 060

Resources we discuss:

Lead the Change


By: Pamela Martin, Utah Library Association President and Reference and Instruction Librarian at Utah State University

As a society, I think we focus on success far too much. It certainly seems like success is all we are ever able to talk about at professional conferences. It’s all “I did X and it went great!” or “Look how well my study on Z went! LOOOK!” Very often these tales of success, rather than being inspiring, can be depressing.  Success can seem unattainable to your audience, especially when we never see the failures that precede all stories of success. And ignoring our failures just encourages fear of failing and discourages risk taking and innovation.

So in order to encourage a culture of sharing failures (and after being publically goaded by Dustin Fife), here are some of my favorite failures.

In the Classroom

As a Reference Librarian at USU, I teach, and I have made a few mistakes in front of classes. If you know me, you’ll know that people do NOT describe me as “laid-back” or “calm.” I’m the same in front of a class. I can be warm and engaging when leading classes, but I’ve also overreacted to students’ behavior in the past. Once, a student was not following directions after being gently reminded 3 times. Another time a student started talking loudly about how women aren’t funny. Both times, I reacted emotionally and loudly, and I am not proud of this.

However, these situations taught me to be a better teacher. Both situations caused me not only to seek out better classroom management skills, but also to focus on not taking it personally. It might sound like an easy thing to do – not take it personally – but I am used to taking EVERYTHING personally. Gaining some distance from students and realizing their behaviors are not always about me has helped me both inside and outside the classroom. (Also, the student in the latter situation was just dead wrong. I’m hilarious.)

IRB: Bane of My Existence

When you work on a research project that studies people (as we do in library science), you must get IRB approval at your University. As a young librarian (never really trained in the art of research – thanks, Grad School!), I, along with some of my colleagues, made the mistake of soliciting survey responses without first gaining IRB approval. In order to proceed we had to destroy all the data, gain IRB approval, and send out the survey again.

This failure was a necessary one on the road to becoming a competent researcher. I am now much more detail-oriented when embarking on a research project, and I have several IRB-approved research projects in the pipeline.

I share these stories because, like Dustin, I think it is important not to hide our stories of failure while highlighting our stories of success. Odd as it sounds, sharing your failures can be far more comforting and perhaps even more inspiring than success stories. Oftentimes you and your audience can learn just as much (perhaps more?) from failure than from success. And without failure (or at least a willingness to fail), there is no success. Failure is a necessary and helpful part of life, and any successful librarian has had more than a few epic failures.  We should not let failure keep us from taking risks.

Failure: EVERYONE’s Dirty Little Secret

logo_808707_printI have failed numerous times in my life, but we usually do not discuss our failures. If you have ever been to a library conference, board meeting, or office party you have heard endless expositions of triumphs and laudable results. Failure is unacceptable in our society and, more often than not, in our work places. We treat other people’s simple mistakes and good-faith efforts gone awry as personal opportunities to gain advantages. We have all seen people do this and many of us have done it ourselves. I understand that workplaces are competitive, but at what cost?

Failure is inevitable, but what do we personally, professionally, and institutionally lose by not discussing it openly and honestly? Even if we do discuss our failures within a safe space, what do we lose by not sharing what we have learned more broadly? Now this isn’t me trying to say my failures weren’t actually failures because I learned something from them. This is me sharing my failures and some of the lessons that I have learned in hopes of helping someone else avoid the same fate. So, let’s discuss three of my failures.

The Insecure Man-Child

When I began my job in San Juan County I had almost no library experience. On my first day of work I was in charge of a branch library and within two months was managing the entire system. Unfortunately though, I was too insecure to ask for help. I did not want my employees to know that I knew less than them. I did not want the library board to know that I was learning on the go. I did not admit to myself that I needed help. It took me several months before I started reaching out to an amazing library board president and other librarians from around the state. Instead of being met with scoffs from unsympathetic colleagues as I assumed I would be, I was given every chance to succeed by committed individuals who invested in me. They created a safety net for me that allowed me to grow and learn. I was working hard, but I wasted several months groping in the dark before I allowed people to help me.

This leads to two important questions: are you part of someone’s safety net and do you feel like your supervisors and colleagues are a safety net for you? Everyone needs a safety net. If we are going to be creative and innovative we are going to fail. I was given a safety net and now I try to be a safety net for others.


I began telling people as early as the sixth grade that I was going to be a history professor. I loved history and I did well at school. When I began graduate school in history I became very depressed after just one semester. I was not sufficiently self-aware to connect the dots right away, but by my second year I knew I did not want to continue. The only problem was, I did not know how to articulate this to myself or other people. I was newly married and had told my wife that I was going to be a professor. I felt like I would be letting her down or changing the game on her if I changed my mind. I had always discussed grand plans with my friends and family, what would they think of me for giving up so easily. I just kept trudging along until my lovely wife confronted me. She knew I was unhappy and I finally let it all out. More than anything she was relieved that I had finally discussed this with her. She helped me search for other opportunities and because of her I now have a career that I love. My failure wasn’t not becoming a professor, it was not trusting the people who loved me the most.

Everyone needs people in their lives that will confront them with hard truths and then support and love them unconditionally.

Neighborly Love

For years my wife has taken great care of our ninety-something year-old neighbor. She invited her to meals, holidays, and simply to visit. Earlier this year she invited our neighbor over for dinner on Mother’s Day. She came, we had good food and a nice visit, and later that night she died. She had told her cousin what a wonderful dinner and evening she had had, and her cousin relayed this compliment to me. This woman had very little family and almost nothing to do. I could have done so much more for her and now she is gone. For some reason I thought a ninety-something year-old woman would be there forever. This might be more a regret than a failure, but what if that was my mother or my wife. I could have done so much more to make her life enjoyable.

I know we are all working hard, but there is always something more that we can do.


Now, why am I discussing all of this in an article that is supposed to be about innovations. I believe that it is an innovation to discuss failure. We all need to openly discuss what went wrong. My failures stay with me much longer than my successes and mean much more to me in the end. We all need to work on self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and emotional maturity. I believe that discussing failure will go along way to help each of us do that. I would also suggest that you all read a book called True North: Discover your Authentic Leadership by Bill George.

May The Failures Be With You.

By: Dustin Fife, San Juan County Library Director and ULA President-Elect


logo_808707_printI just want everyone to know, though I may have already made this abundantly clear through past podcasts and blog posts, that I AM A HUGE SUPPORTER OF ILEAD USA Utah! The deadline for applications is only two weeks away and I encourage everyone to get involved. Creative Libraries Utah is a product of ILEAD USA Utah 2013. This program and our project have been an important success in my career. I had the opportunity to work with colleagues and mentors from across the state and country. I was taught skills that helped develop a participatory technology, but more importantly, that helped develop me professionally.

A great example of what ILEAD USA Utah can do is Librarians from several universities and the Utah State Archives built a beautiful and still growing digital collection about historical Highway 89. ILEAD projects are not constrained by your walls or your communities, but by your ideas and willingness to explore.

This program allows you to take chances with new ideas in a safe environment. The primary role of each ILEAD Team is to create an innovative program directly addressing an identified user need. Individual participants will join together in diverse teams, including public, school, and academic librarians, as well as specialized library staff members.” This is an amazing opportunity to work on one of the many innovations that are stuck in your brain or in the pipeline. Success will not be measured with a year-end review, but by how much you take away from the program. 

If you are a library manager or in charge of an institution, find ways to get your people involved. There are great ideas among your staff and they are waiting for a forum and opportunity to blossom. You can help your staff develop professionally and be more fulfilled (and that is never a bad thing.) Encourage them to apply. Encourage them to grow.

Creative Libraries Utah’s own Kristen Stehel is the Program Director for ILEAD USA Utah for the Utah State Library. If you have any questions please contact her! [email protected]


By: Dustin Fife, San Juan County Library Director and ULA President-Elect


Time to do the dirty work!

logo_808707_print“Leadership is the process by which one individual influences the behaviors, attitudes and thoughts of others.  Leaders set the direction by helping others see what lies ahead and rising to the challenges.  They see everyone’s potential and encourage and inspire those around them.  Leading by example is a trait of a true leader.  A group of individuals with poor leadership will quickly degenerate into conflict, because everyone sees things differently and will naturally lean toward different solutions.”


This is much more a reminder than an innovation; but it seems just as important to me as any new gadget or idea. Our colleagues and employees must see us working! If you are a library manager or supervisor it is essential that you do not endlessly retreat to your office (regardless of how much work you are getting done). If you are an employee with no supervisory role whatsoever, you cannot spend your day on Facebook or shelving one cart of books. If you are somewhere in between, you can’t do either. We all see each other’s work and we form opinions and preferences. More often than not, we lead by our example, not our words or memos.

Colleagues and employees need to see that we understand protocols and procedures. They need to see that we are able to work with patrons and other staff members just as they are expected to. They need to see our investment in our jobs, institutions, and them. At the same time, I am not imploring you to flaunt your accomplishments or CV fillers. Leading by example is humility personified. I expressed concerns about ever leaving my current position to my wife the other day. I told her that I would be scared to leave my little library corner, that it would be hard to go to a new library and not know what I was doing. I think we often feel incompetent when we are in a new situation. My wife reminded me that it was normal and that I would just need to be humble, recognize what I do not know or understand, and ask for help. We can all ask for help and we should all lend a hand.

Libraries are only as good as the employees, so engagement and fulfillment for the staff are essential. These are a few of the things that I have been thinking about:

Managers and supervisors, open your literal and figurative doors. Give your employees an opportunity to grow and invest in their work by incorporating their ideas.

Managers and supervisors, work with your employees every week. Work on the reference desk. Work at circulation. Help with programming. You cannot lead if you are not involved. You cannot serve your community without this knowledge and you cannot help your employees reach their potential.

Everyone, ask new employees, whether they are new to the profession or just new to your library, for ideas. They will have a fresh perspective. It will also encourage their investment in the institution.

Everyone, communicate and try not to get discouraged. Be open and vulnerable.

Everyone, most importantly, WORK! I have a lot of respect for people who work hard, even when I disagree with their ideas.

By: Dustin Fife, San Juan County Library Director and ULA President-Elect



ILEAD USA 2015 Leadership Program




Innovative Librarians Explore, Apply and Discover (ILEAD): The 21st Century Technology and Leadership Skills Institute for the States

The primary goal of ILEAD is to implement national programs that develop the knowledge, skills and abilities of library staff members who will apply participatory technology tools to understand and respond to users needs. ILEAD was designed to help library staff understand and respond to user needs through the application of participatory technology tools and the creation of an easy-to-replicate model program.

More information: