Training the 21st Century Information Professional

Posted by jlubans on May 12, 2010

“Leading from the Center: Training the 21st Century Information Professional”

Pilot proposal. Comments welcome.

Background: My proposal is based on the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s model of conductor-less music making. (The book includes a chapter on Orpheus). I have worked with Orpheus for over a decade in studying their group decision making and each musician’s taking full responsibility for a performance. Doing so, Orpheus produces some of the finest music, often, if not always, exceeding in their own way, conductor-led performances.

When Orpheus began in the mid-90s to coach student orchestras at the Juilliard and the Manhattan schools of music in the Orpheus way of music making, I asked myself: Why not offer library school students self managing experiences, ones rigorous and challenging enough to transform and inculcate students in how to get the best from professional groups? And, if we are indeed becoming more collaborative in how our libraries are run, then gaining experience in self management, leading and following seems a sensible thing to do . Library schools ought to offer an opportunity for those who are interested in the challenge of working without executive oversight.

A student’s getting a job, after graduation, on a self managing team, while nice, is less important than the student’s self growth and, through the experience, gaining skills and awareness on how to bring about positive work place change in any setting.

The pilot class idea was first discussed at an August 2009 conference in Bologna, Italy*. And, I brought the notion up again at a November 2009 conference in Zagreb, Croatia. Also relevant to this discussion is my Chapter 17 in the Leading from the Middle book: “Peer Coaching for the New Library.”

20100512-po colegio espana.jpg

Photo: The street sign for the Via Urbana set high into the ancient wall of the Collegio di Spagna in Bologna, Italy suggests an enduring past(since 1488) and an accommodation of the modern. The battered inaccessible door, set high above the street, might symbolize the entry through which we leave the hierarchy and settle into more democratic organizations. (Taken by John Lubans, Jr., August 22, 2009)

Each time I mention the idea at conferences and to colleagues, I come away with a better sense of how to introduce the concept of leading from the middle and how to allow new librarians to actually give it a try. That is why I am putting the idea up on the blog. Please give me your ideas.

Originally, I termed the pilot class the “peer coaching institute”; My colleague Kate Wittenberg suggested the new title, one that speaks directly to what we are trying to do – to create a new model for working in libraries, a model that is less reliant on hierarchy and more dependent on self management to inspire new programs and to improve existing services. The new title recognizes it is not just about coaching each other – not a bad idea in itself - it is also about group work and taking turns at leading and following.

What then does this have to do with leadership in the library? For one thing, the pilot class likely could provide a response to the question: What does a leader do in an organization of self-managing teams? Students who participate in this pilot should be able to speak about what they learned and what it means for them in the new library organization, the post departmental library. (BTW, the post departmental term was given me by another colleague, Ilene Nelson.) I would expect these students to help clarify the role of the leader. I see the pilot class as a circle within a circle. The inner circle is the experiment – the laboratory - the external circle is the observatory, in which we learn about what a successful self managing team needs from managers and leaders.

In order to make the best collaborative decisions, we have to have groups of people who work well together, who disagree at times and yet move forward, who communicate clearly, who take turns leading, who produce under stress and engage conflict in productive ways.

The Leading from the Center Self Managing Team Project

Who? A dozen or so library science students work independently for credit with a sponsoring faculty member (possibly the one who normally teaches the required library management course) and a practitioner librarian coach. The students select a semester long research project topic for study and presentation of outcomes. The practitioner coach oversees and facilitates the project, including its evaluation.

What? A semester long self-directed team project – about a real problem or question - conducted by a self managing team of students with an end of semester deadline. The design of this project is based on the immersion model of team development practiced by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in how they work with the student orchestras. The student orchestra, working without a conductor, selects, rehearses, interprets and presents a musical performance.
The library group’s independent study project will need to be as meaningful for library science students as an end-of-semester live and conductor-less musical performance is to the student musicians.

The research outcome will be presented to peers, faculty, and others at a public forum. While the topic is chosen by the team, here are some to illustrate potential scope and content:
A new way of doing something.
Leading the new library.
Developing a way to channel information seekers to the library web page when starting research.
A library web page that draws users to use library resources.
A marketing plan for a library to become the go-to for information needs, engaging stumped Googlers.

Where? Based at one or more participating library schools, the pilot uses existing space and resources: class rooms, meeting rooms, media equipment, library staff and resources.

The project is semester long, for academic credit, starting with an organizational meeting of interested students, a faculty sponsor and the practitioner coach. The latter will work with the team of students regularly throughout the semester to the public presentation.

How? With guidance from the sponsoring faculty member and the practitioner coach, the student team will first go through a several day workshop with training on group dynamics, communication, team building, leadership/followership and conflict management. An experiential component might include outdoor team building activities. Following this introduction the students will choose their research topic and prepare an action plan from start to finish.

Budget considerations:

Travel and accommodation for the practitioner coach.
Team budget, including facilitator costs for introductory workshops, meals and lodging.
Allocation for inviting Orpheus musician coaches from NYC to talk about non-musical applications or for library students to attend rehearsals in NYC to observe how Orpheus coaches and trains the student orchestras.
A travel and food allocation for use by the team, as necessary, throughout the semester.


*Lubans, John. “Peer Coaching for the New Library” in Strategies for Regenerating the Library and Information Profession ed. Jana Varlejs and Graham Walton (Munich: K.G. Saur, 2009): 126–36. The proceedings for the IFLA satellite conference “Moving In, Moving Up and Moving On: Strategies for Regenerating the LIS Profession” CPDWL/New Professionals Discussion Group, Aug. 19, 2009, the University of Bologna, ex-Convento di Santa Cristina.

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