What the Heck Is an Innovation Leadership Resident?

Innovation Leadership Resident. What the heck does that mean? This is a question I am asked often and, to be perfectly honest, I’m not entirely sure of the answer. Now, that is not to say that I don’t know what I’m doing, but that the entire concept of the Innovation Leadership Program is new to the world of urban, public libraries in general, and LAPL in particular. Those of us who are participating in this two-year residency program are embarking on a new adventure and though we are benefiting from all of the lessons learned in the 6-month pilot, we’re still learning much of it along the way.

However, before I delve into the concept of a public library residency program, let’s back up so I can tell you a bit about who I am and how I happened to become an Innovation Leadership Resident. My name is Mary Abler and I received my MLIS from San Jose State University in 2012. I decided to pursue a career in libraries shortly after I started working at Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. I came to work at Friends after a series of unfulfilling, short-lived stints in various “my-English-lit-degree-didn’t-really-prepare-me-for-a-particular-job-and-no-one-will-hire-me-without-experience-so-I-will-take-what-I-can-get” jobs. I was desperate to obtain work that mattered and that made a difference in the lives of others, and finally, I obtained enough confidence to convince someone at a non-profit to hire me. At the time, it hardly mattered what cause I supported, but that I was doing something that was greater than making a profit. It wasn’t until I started meeting library staff and working with them on various projects that I began to understand the depth and breadth of how public libraries serve their communities.

For me, public libraries represent a synthesis of my passion for service and education. I was lucky to learn early on in my adult life that a terrible job with a big paycheck would not be satisfying to me, especially if I couldn’t see the value of my contributions beyond the bottom line of the company for which I worked. Everyday, public libraries serve our communities and teach our patrons. We provide resources for those who have lost their jobs and coach parents on how to help their children develop early literacy skills. We give those that have no other place to go a welcoming space and simple kindness, and put books in the hands of teenagers who have never read a book outside of school assignments. Library staff are some of the most selfless people that I know, often going above and beyond simple customer service to help patrons find what they’re looking for and provide the resources that they need to educate themselves and learn new skills. And not because we’re going to make a sale or obtain a commission. Not because this is the only job we can get. But because we are in the business of service and access to knowledge, and it is at the core of everything that we do.

Meeting library staff throughout San Francisco who were actively engaged in helping their communities to be more educated, more active, and more engaged felt a bit like a magic trick. Here were all these talented, bright, passionate folks, right in front of me in every community in which I’ve lived, and I had no idea that they did the kind of work that I felt called to do. (We won’t even get into the fact that my mother has an MLIS too and works for a library school. I was obviously oblivious.) In many ways, I did not find the library profession; it found me.

Now back to the original question: what exactly is an Innovation Leadership Resident? To start, I will introduce you to an ILP catchphrase: “Don’t call it an internship!” Many times, Jacquie and I are confused with interns – students who are working in libraries with the goal of obtaining library skills and school credit towards their degrees. Granted, as first-year librarians, we are certainly learning essential library skills and engaging in first-year librarian duties, but the difference is that we aren’t students. We are post-graduate library professionals and while we are learning, we are also offering our unique skills to LAPL as innovators. We are making connections, asking questions, and generally working with LAPL go from being a great library, to becoming a remarkable library.

At the moment, Jacquie and I are each partnered with a fellow, a mid-career librarian at LAPL, in the first of four rotation sites. Currently, I am working with my fellow, Joyce Cooper, Senior Librarian, in the International Languages Department at the Central Library in downtown Los Angeles. Jacquie is with her fellow, Karen Pickard-Four, at the Studio City Branch Library. In my next post, I hope to tell you more about the nuts and bolts of what a rotation looks like and how I actually spend my time!

Thanks for reading…

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