- “Leading from the Middle,” and Other Contrarian Essays on Library Leadership
Seasoned library administrator, experienced library school professor, and eminently readable commentator on the library profession, John Lubans, Jr., possesses a [End Page 1008] perspective on leadership in the library profession unique among authors of administration and management manuals.
“Leading from the Middle” embodies his unique perspective in three specific ways. First, Lubans differentiates throughout the book between administration and leadership. Leadership (and “followership,” he would add) is or should be a significant factor for change at any level in an organization. Second, his focus on contrarian leadership, using change as a leadership goal, differs vastly from the rash of recently published library administration texts that typically focus on the process of management. The third significant difference is his reach outside of libraries and higher education to other industries (airlines, classical music, sports) to find wisdom that pertains to libraries.
The book primarily comprises revised columns from Library Administration and Management during the period 2000 to 2009. Lubans shapes the thirty-six columns around four themes that library leaders know well: Leadership, Leaders, Coaching, and Techniques. The columns on leadership encourage librarians to lead in different ways—in self-directed teams, for example—not typically associated with academic libraries or higher education in general. The chapters on leaders are often case studies—more like thoughtful portraits— of leaders like Herbert Kelleher of Southwest Airlines; Simone Young, the orchestra conductor; and Saul Zabar, the food impresario, that focus on their soft leadership skills. Kelleher is hailed as an ethical CEO, Young as a collaborative, though demanding, musician, and Zabar as the “head of a family.” (p. 106) The theme of coaching and collaboration highlights the opportunity for library organizations to become increasingly self-managed in order to meet an evolving information landscape. Leaning on lessons learned from travels, conferences, and adventure courses, Lubans uses these chapters to challenge the reader to look in unexpected and unusual places for leadership and management lessons. In one chapter, Lubans uses concepts such as the Aboriginal model of ownership and Adam Smith’s writings on morality to question library fines (p. 159). The final section, on Techniques, requires less reach and advises more direct action. Chapters dealing with customer service, evaluations, and “mess finding” give readers a practical set of articles to immediately digest and apply, with Lubans’ easy-reading style encouraging quick engagement.
A simple bond holds these chapters together. Lubans has constantly searched for leaders in institutions and non-traditional cultural settings, mostly outside the library rather than within, who create and support positive and affirming change in their respective communities. He brings these narratives to life in a witty, self-effacing way. Lubans has crafted an excellent primer on embracing organizational change in libraries. Librarians of all stripes are encouraged to read these essays.