Instant Ideas and Collaboration

Feature Post #39a The importance of leadership education in library courses


Dr. Bates has 20 years’ experience of delivering and facilitating library and information education, in University College Dublin and subsequently at Ulster University.  Since 2009, she has been the Course Director for the professional library and information management courses at Ulster University. As the only academic employed in higher education in Northern Ireland for delivering library and information education she feels a tremendous responsibility for providing leadership and mentorship to students, graduates and the wider library and information profession in NI (and beyond).

For this month’s feature post, Dr. Bates has focused on the importance of leadership education in library courses.

The importance of leadership education in library courses

There are three key reasons why I believe it is vital to provide the opportunity for library and information students to develop knowledge of leadership.

  • Leadership does not only occur at the top of an organisation. It can occur throughout the organisation and individuals who are not in what they would consider to be a leadership role can show leadership to others through projects or other opportunities that arise.
  • It is a cliché, but our library students of today are the library leaders of tomorrow and so it is crucial they can learn about leadership – both in terms of theory and the day-to-day reality of leading an organisation.
  • Not everyone will go on to, or wish to go on to, a leadership or management position, yet everyone should have an understanding of the roles and decision-making that library leaders are faced with. By understanding more about what the people at the top of the organisation are dealing with – the big picture – staff can appreciate more fully their own role and why things are done in a particular way.

The combination of theory and practice is at the heart of the course at Ulster University (all of our students are taking the course while working in the library/information sector).

In the leadership module, in the second year of the part-time course (leading to PG Dip or MSc, both accredited by CILIP), students spend the first four weeks learning about leadership theory – leadership styles, strategic planning, and change management.

Following on, students have a series of online case studies and eminent guest speakers, from a range of library sectors and backgrounds, who share their experiences of leadership.

The module finishes with student presentations about what they have learned from the module and in particular the themes that emerged from the guest speaker sessions.

Guest speakers have included

  1. The Director of the National Library of Ireland
  2. Allen & Overy’s (Law Firm) Head of Global Library Services
  3. Librarian at The Linen Hall Library, Belfast, amongst many others.

This year we are very lucky to include the CEO for Libraries NI, the largest library authority in the UK and Ireland; the Head of Government Library Services in NI, who has just overseen the move to a centralised government library service; the Librarian at Ulster University; and and the Vice-President of CILIP, who will be delivering her session through web conference.

 Student Feedback.

 We know from student feedback that they particularly value hearing from the guest speakers about how leadership works in practice and the challenges that they face, and being able to engage in dialogue with leaders they would not otherwise encounter and to ask them questions about their experiences of library leadership and how they plan for the future.

The following is an in-depth look at how students value the guest speakers at Ulster University:

“The guest speaker sessions were really useful. They provided us with a real insight into how the theory that we were covering in the module could be put into practice in professional posts. The speakers were very open and honest about their careers and the progression involved in obtaining the professional positions they held. The leadership module gave me the opportunity to apply the theory directly in practical and real terms to my current post in relation to change management and strategic leadership. It was very interesting to spot different leadership styles within my working environment which helped me begin to work on developing my own leadership style”

 Michaela Campbell, Current MSc student and Senior Information Assistant – ICT Support, Library, Magee Campus, Ulster University.

“I learned many things from the Library and Information Management course at Ulster, but a key learning opportunity was presented by EDU718 during the case study sessions by experienced leaders in the field. These sessions were inspiring and insightful and demonstrated that librarianship wasn’t all about shelf-tidying and book issue. For libraries to retain their value at the heart of the community they serve, they must be led by individuals with an eye to the future, the bravery to engineer change and the ability to inspire stakeholders in pursuit of a common goal. I carry this understanding throughout my working life as an academic librarian and I hope that my approach will in turn enable others to develop their skills”

 Sarah Smyth, MSc graduate, Subject Assistant Librarian, Life & Health Sciences, Ulster University.

A New Year

For new students who entered the course this year, it is now fully online, so from next year all of our guest speaker sessions will be delivered through web conference within the university’s virtual learning environment – this provides us with a great opportunity to bring in guest speakers from further afield.


The challenges can be seen when providing leadership education in library courses. Students can feel constrained and frustrated working in hierarchical environments where it can be difficult to ever foresee a scenario where a library assistant would be able to demonstrate leadership.  However, this is a challenge also for our current library leaders.

What can our library leaders do?

Our library leaders need to be thinking about how best to use emergent talent within their organisation. While it may feel like there are few promotion opportunities within that workplace, one way in which students and graduates have been able to demonstrate their leadership skills is through working on projects within the organisation (e.g. social media, ICT training etc). Another way for individuals to develop their leadership skills is through involvement in professional bodies, regional groups and special interest groups. Leadership takes time to develop, nevertheless we are now seeing graduates from the course from a few years ago move into positions of management and leadership.


In Ulster University, we draw on a range of resources (books and e-books, academic journal articles, web resources and videos),

  1. The JISC guide for change management


  1. One example we look at in terms of library planning is the Vancouver Public Library
  1. Each year the students are intrigued by scenario planning as it is usually not something they have encountered before and we look at various examples such as

Leadership, mentoring and coaching, extends beyond what is covered in a professional librarianship curriculum. They are skills that are developed throughout a career. For me, research mentoring is particularly important. I do this through Master’s and PhD supervision; co-authoring with postgraduate students and alumni; peer review of journal articles; and involving and supporting emergent researchers in projects. Leadership can be taught, but it can also be demonstrated and articulated through practice.

A big thank you to #uklibchat for inviting me to contribute a guest blog for this month’s #uklibchat on the theme of leadership, mentorship, and coaching.

I look forward to joining the session on 1st Nov and am delighted that this topic is getting the attention it deserves from #uklibchat.

Dr Jessica Bates, Course Director, Library and Information Management, Research Coordinator, Education, School of Education, Ulster University.

Contact Details:

web: https://www.ulster.ac.uk/staff/j-bates

email: j.bates@ulster.ac.uk

twitter: @Jessica_Bates




About siobhanmac

Loves Libraries, Books, and Sunshine!

2 comments on “Feature Post #39a The importance of leadership education in library courses

  1. Pingback: #uklibchat Tuesday 1st November 2016, 18:30 – 20:30: Leadership, Mentoring & Coaching | #uklibchat

  2. Carricklass
    November 5, 2016

    As a fellow student of Michaela, I totally agreed with her comment. We were fortunate to have excelletn speakers who were excited and passionate about their roles and those of their staff. The variety of backgrounds from which they came added we were learning. Their generosity in sharing their experiences and on-the-job learning was inspiring.

    Each and every speaker admitted having made mistakes, in spite of having considered they were fully prepared. They confessed to having taken on new roles which, in some cases didn’t suit them, but from which they were challenged and learned a huge amount.

    The passion which the speakers obviously felt for their jobs, came across strongly, all facing a lack of funding which left them undaunted, but motivated more than ever to be creative, inventive, agile and flexible

    This module was for me the most important of all and where I learned more than in any other. The number of leadership styles and implication of those styles was a revelation to me. I wish I had undertaken a leadership module earlier in my career. It has helped me identify why certain leaders were so good at what they did. We learn most from modelling those who are excellent at what they do and this course illustrated the validity of some of the leadership styles I have encountered. It also made me realise why I was so critical of some leaders, they were poor managers or as Charles Handy said: ” To be successful a leader, or manager, needs to be aware of the culture within their organisation and to be able to work to its strengths to create a productive and satisfying workplace”. A tall order.

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This entry was posted on October 25, 2016 by in Feature, Uncategorized and tagged , , .


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