Perceptions of leadership in the public library: a transnational study

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Mullins, John
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University College Cork
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This study explores the topic of leadership as perceived and practised by public library leaders. Library leaders have a wide-ranging impact on society but have been largely overlooked as the subject of serious study. Prior to this study, only one small interview-based study and five survey-based studies have been undertaken on public library leaders/leadership — all in North America. No study on the topic has been researched and published outside of North America. The current study is the most in-depth study to date, drawing on face-to-face interviews with thirty public library leaders. As this study was undertaken in three national jurisdictions — Ireland, Britain, and America — it is also the first transnational study on the topic. The study investigates library leaders’ perceptions of leadership, and critically explores if head librarians distinguish classic leadership from management practices, both conceptually and in their work lives. In addition to exploring core leadership issues, such as positive or negative traits, the study also investigates the perceptions of library leaders on matters closely connected with their careers. The study investigates the impact of public library leaders on their followers and on the broader society they serve. This study of the perceptions of senior public library leaders, across national boundaries, makes a theoretical contribution not just to leadership in librarianship, but also to the broader theory of library and information science, and in a limited way to the broad corpus of literature on organizational leadership. The study aims to develop an understanding of the perceptions of current leaders in the field of public librarianship. The results of the study show that leadership is a relatively scarce quality in public libraries in Ireland, Britain, and America. Many public library leaders focus on management and administration issues rather than leadership. The study also illustrates that varying leadership styles are practised by the interviewed librarians, and that there are no universal or common traits, even within national boundaries, for effective public library leadership. The implications of the study for both practising librarians and research literatures in librarianship and organizational leadership are also explored and a future research agenda developed.
Mullins, J. 2004. Perceptions of leadership in the public library: a transnational study. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.