The publication of Bold Minds: Library leadership in a time of disruption is a timely work; it offers new insights into leadership during our changing times. Why do we need yet another book on library management?... you might wonder…and how is this one different? Is it worth reading? We think so and we hope that you do too! 

When Leo and I (we are joint editors) conceived the book and presented our outline to Facet, it was based on our insights as experienced library leaders. We were keen to contribute to the narrative on leadership from a practical angle drawing in views from different countries, cultures, types of libraries and their infrastructure, to capture the reality of leading during these times of change. 

Therefore, we have contributions from public, academic, health and business libraries and from the academic world of library education, since our collective future lies in the knowledge generated by our newly qualified professionals as well as from our current library practitioners. We specifically wanted to engage different types of leaders working in different contexts, who would be able to provide their perspectives not previously recorded or communicated, that would be of practical use to library and information professionals wishing to find out more about leadership mind-sets in order to apply some of the ideas to their working environment.

However, the text is definitely not a rulebook…the disruptions faced by libraries (and other organisations) could be deemed “wicked problems”* …have no neat solutions, do not conform to the decisions of the past, are socially constructed and are characterised by confusion, disagreement between multiple stakeholders and they defy attempts to get to grips with! I read a very relevant article recently on this subject, which confirmed to me that the book themes that emerge and that our leaders uncover were indeed wicked! (Reference:  Camillus, J.C. (2008), “Strategy as a wicked problem”, Harvard Business Review, Vol. 86 No. 5, pp. 99-106.

Increasingly we are surrounded by change - the fast pace of technology, the economic pressures on all libraries, the unprecedented uncertainty caused by Covid-19, the political will of governments, all impact on how we behave, respond and lead. These aspects are perhaps not thought deeply about every single day, but they are certainly present and we feel them. I believe that we hear multiple voices vying for our attention as leaders (our many external stakeholders, our organisations, our patrons and our colleagues) and we have to decide which to focus on and when. 

The expert chapter authors have tried to address these leadership challenges by writing about realistic situations faced by their libraries detailing how they thought about and tackled the issues they faced. Situations include:

  • Communicating and maintaining relevance when there is significant opposition and misperceptions about libraries and their purpose in the 21st century is prevalent
  • How to embrace digital innovation– the opportunities for leading in digital skills development that exist for ourselves and our users
  • Educating for datafication and for technology-led library jobs in more diverse sectors, some of which do not yet exist and that we must create
  • Regeneration of libraries as forward-thinking places, powerhouses, community builders and forces for political and social cohesion demonstrating economic worth to attract further investment
  • Libraries as leaders in extending diversity and inclusion, power-sharing, how to listen and engage users meaningfully and the role of critical librarianship
  • Practical demonstrations of how to re-vitalise strategic thinking and planning, with some theory and tools suggested to underpin
  • Insights into the mind-sets needed to be a bold thinker and leader including how to manage upwards, sideways and outwards
  • The importance of forging new partnerships and aligning goals and outlooks, in some cases with divergent organisations
  • Personal reflections about aligning and positioning our libraries through well-designed actions.

Whilst the book was written before the Covid-19, the pandemic brings leadership to the fore as we grapple with completely unforeseen circumstances and issues. Libraries have re-engineered their services virtually and physically across the globe at pace, and bold thinking has been at the core.

We hope the book will energise and empower the reader and that you will enjoy and debate the provocations in the book so it will be of practical help in your own leadership journey and in your conversations with others, whether they are supporters of your work or whether they need some convincing from your bold mind!

Margaret Weaver is former Director of Library and Learning Resources at Birmingham City University and prior to this was Head of Library Services at Brunel University London, and Director of Library and Student Services at the University of Cumbria. A founding member of the Northern Collaboration group of academic libraries, she has also chaired the North West Academic Libraries (NoWAL) collaboration. Margaret is an Associate of the Higher Education Academy and a chartered member of CILIP. She is also a member of the editorial board of the New Review of Academic Librarianship and a regular contributor to professional literature.

“Wicked” problems can’t be solved, but they can be tamed. Increasingly, these are the problems strategists face—and for which they are ill equipped. (Camillus, J.C. (2008), “Strategy as a wicked problem”, Harvard Business Review, Vol. 86 No. 5, pp. 99-106.