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Student Shadow Adrienne Canino Reflects on the 2018 Spring Conference

Upstate New York Special Library Association Annual Conference, 2018

The 2018 UNYSLA Annual Conference, Lead From Where You Are, was an exciting opportunity for a soon to be librarian to spend a day as a student shadow. I wish to express my deep gratitude to the UNYSLA Board for the opportunity to spend a whole day connecting with fellow librarians and learning about leadership skills for any position. A major theme of the day was the ‘other’ things a person needs to know to move up in their professional career:  motivation, reflection, and a sense of humor came through clearly.  The presentations also covered tools and topics, and presenters and audience members alike did not hesitate to have the complex and sometimes difficult discussions about leadership.  Being a part of it was a pleasure, and gave me a foundational understanding of leaders in today’s changing library world.

Leadership Roles Today

The conference began with an apt presentation on motivation (we all also had coffee and snacks thanks to the sponsors- well motivated were we!). Rochelle Mazar, Assistant Dean of Academic Engagement at River Campus Libraries of University of Rochester, delivered session titled “Kindling the Spark of Motivation.” This presentation was not only about motivation, but about how motivating a team comes from the leader’s frame of mind. Assistant Dean Mazar gave valuable insight on “re-framing” the role of a leader, librarian, or team member can be an important step in motivating.  It was also a discussion on being aware of when to intervene with a class, team or project, remembering the context of the situation, and knowing that the only thing we can control sometimes is ourself.

Soft skills for leadership

Many of the speakers gave great examples of the ‘other’ , soft skills, any of us can cultivate to improve our ability as leaders. Jan Fleckenstien, Director of Syracuse University Law Library, told many insightful (and entertaining) stories of her early career. She wove a story of how every experience, whether it was dealing with an overflowing bathroom or learning a brand new technical skills as the head of a department, built her skills and honed her leadership to be a powerful skill set.


Another skill I would consider a ‘soft skill’ for leadership is self-awareness. I do not refer to the ‘touchy-feely’ kind, though I believe that has a place in a work-life balance. Instead, I mean the kind that Jill Hurst-Wahl urged us to use in thinking about our goals and reach.  Professor Hurst-Wahl, president of Hurst Associates and Professor of Practice at Syracuse University, presented on goal-setting for productivity and provided insight about how to REALLY make s-m-a-r-t goals. Many of us have heard about setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound, and so may have overlooked the value of this talk. However, through gentle, slightly self-deprecating humor and insight, Professor Hurst-Wahl pushed the audience to think through the process of how to genuinely apply yourself to each step, and know yourself enough to gauge what achievement can be for you.

Tools for leadership

Being a student, I may have appreciated taking home a worksheet on goal-setting more than the average attendant. There were many other ‘tangible’ takeaways from this conference as well. The goal setting session provided a real framework for pushing my professional development, and Fleckenstien’s presentation left me with the very applicable advice to find a mentor and explore open opportunities when they came.  But haven’t we all had an evaluation experience with a supervisor or as a supervisor that we wish had gone better?

One of the sessions I had also been looking forward to the most was set to address this very tool: Chris Miller’s presentation on feedback. Christian Miller is a Research and Instruction Librarian at the Catherwood Library of Cornell University, and his talk was enlightening and enheartening. He brought a new lens to feedback for many in the room, and covered how necessary feedback is, how the compliment sandwich is not the best way to go, and the importance of incorporating feedback into your workplace culture.

Leadership: not just one day at a conference

As the day began to wrap up, the presentations and discussions lent themselves to a close examination of where library leadership is now and where it is going. The final presentation was co-presented by Lindsay Cronk, Head of Collections Strategies at University of Rochester, and by Linsey Rae, Science and Engineering Outreach Librarian at University of Rochester.  Titled ‘Lean Back: Methods of Collaborative Leadership’, this presentation used a feminist framework to discuss the many challenges facing libraries today, including leadership blindspots, and how the path forward will be about balance. With many candid prompts and statistics, and by building in the feminist pink diamond framework, this presentation provided food for thought and stepping stones for action about the future of leadership.  More than the presentation itself, the discussion that followed and surrounded the topics at hand were embraced by the audience and brought up an important discussion that the library world needs to have.

This conference provided multiple powerful messages for a library-student to bring home: collaborative leadership, motivation and re-framing, feedback and goal-setting. I must say again how grateful I am to have been given the opportunity to attend and meet the excellent presenters and sit alongside insightful professionals. As my career moves forward, I feel confident that I have more tools now to carve a balanced approach.


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