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Lessons on Library Leadership in the Land of Lincoln

By Diane Giebink-Skoglind
MLIS Student
University of Wisconsin
Madison, WI

As I drove through Illinois on my way to the Midwest Chapter Medical Library Association annual meeting, I saw numerous signs calling attention to Illinois’ state slogan—Land of Lincoln As I am a Lincoln fan and have read numerous books on his Presidency, I wondered what his take on these times of tremendous technological change would have been.

Lincoln embraced the new technology of his time and utilized the newfangled telegraph to great effect during the Civil War. He used this new medium of electronic communication in an extraordinary way, to transform the nature of national leadership at a time when the new invention was under-appreciated and under-utilized. In fact, when he moved into the White House, there wasn’t a telegraph line to the executive mansion, nor was there one to the War Department. Lincoln soon remedied that situation and the telegraph became a tool that helped determine the outcome of the Civil War.

To another point, Lincoln had been a voracious reader. Indeed, what would the man who had said, “My best friend is a person who will give me a book I have not read,” have thought about the changes in the library world today? I believe he would have embraced those changes and the current new information technologies, and utilized them to great benefit. And, I believe, this is the message that the annual meeting addressed as well.

The Confluence of Libraries, Technology and Change

At the meeting–from the continuing education sessions (CEs), updates, exhibits, papers and the presentations of the two featured speakers, Michelle Kraft, author of “The Krafty Librarian,” and Sarah Houghton, author of “The Librarian in Black”–the oft repeated words and recurring themes related to technology, advocacy and change within libraries.

Much like Lincoln’s practice to get out of the office and circulate among the troops, librarians are getting out from behind the desk and circulating in remarkable ways. From riding in ambulances to rounding with physicians, librarians are bringing their message and the library to patrons. For example, Kacy Allgood spoke of her work, which includes being part of emergency services as an imbedded librarian within Indianapolis’ EMT system. Amy Donahue described the medical librarians’ role in disaster planning and response, through the use of social media such as Twitter, Facebook, etc., in sharing medical information and knowledge. Melinda Orebaugh explained how she and her team at Gundersen Health System work directly with patients, physicians and providers to form a cohesive healthcare team to better address complex case management with multiple morbidity patients.

Initiatives like these provide for the active participation that is essential for team engagement to better address the government’s Triple Aim of optimizing health system performance. These goals: 1) improving the patient experience of care (including quality and satisfaction), 2) improving the health of populations, and 3) reducing the per capita cost of healthcare, are possible with dedicated teams of health professionals, that include librarians and their expertise with technology and information.

Heretical Thinking and Paradox
Still the question recurs ‘can we do better?’ The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.

–Abraham Lincoln, December 1, 1862

While Lincoln was a model of consistency, he had a paradoxical devotion to flexibility. It is this model that we heard addressed time and time again throughout the meeting: the need to advocate assertively and yet be flexible enough to drive and accommodate change. Like Michelle Kraft stated, “We need to sacrifice a few sacred cows,” as the library evolves with technology. Further, Sarah Houghton encouraged “being strong, verbal and vocal” and the need to advocate needs and issues to venders, as “timid librarians are not allowed.”

Lead by Being Led

Lincoln had the unique quality of listening to people and being guided without being threatened. We, as a profession, need to do the same. We need to ask, “What would make your life easier?” We need to democratize information’s expertise and contribute to the solution. And, we need to study and adopt more business quality improvement methods, like the Six Sigma initiative that Elizabeth Moreton spoke of. Finally, we need to be more Lincoln-like and open to consensus, cooperation and collaboration, while holding onto our convictions and dedication to community.

For my part, I’d like to contribute my health and business backgrounds to help make the task less daunting and more librarian-focused. I am intent on exploring partnerships with public libraries concerning patient and consumer education that is family- and patient-focused. As data accumulates within healthcare, I’d like to work with data mining to harness acquired medical information, while respecting privacy and integrity issues we, as librarians, hold so dear. I hope to lead by being led by people of the caliber and conviction that I met at my first professional librarian conference. Thank you GMR for providing me the opportunity to attend and learn.

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