Library Friends Groups and Leadership
by Richard Naylor
Working in an organization brings together a variety of personality types with varying levels of skill and emotional intelligence. To add to the complexity, each organization has somewhat different challenges based on staff profiles, community needs, external issues, and the unexpected. Leaders need to adjust their behavior to meet a variety of challenges and opportunities. This is true of the dynamics between a library director and members of a Friends group.
In one sense, a Friends group is a part of the library. Its very existence is predicated on the library and its name usually simply adds the words “Friends of the …” to the name of the library. But a Friends group is a community partner; it has its own bylaws and its own board. This puts an aspect of the library outside of
By utilizing the key dimensions of leadership, a library director can maximize the group’s success and outcomes. The main leadership aspects in working with Friends groups include developing strategy (i.e., an analysis of the organization with a review of the mission, culture and strengths and weaknesses; and
If a library leader has the luxury of being involved at the start of a Friends group, s/he has the luxury of establishing the relationship management with a clean slate. My first experience with developing a Friends group provides such an example. In that case, I was very fortunate to have help from a State Library and Archives librarian who travelled 150 miles to help with the start-up. This individual introduced the kick-off meeting with a speech in which he told the gathered group how important their role was in supporting the
Another dimension of leadership requires affiliative skills: self-control, team building, and conflict management skills. These are important in trying to correct problems with Friends. In another experience, I encountered a group with members who lacked teamwork skills. One person would make a suggestion and another would immediately say why it was not a good idea, while other people in the group tried to compensate by saying “yes” to everything. These interactions produced tension in the general group and emotional deflation in the person making a suggestion. As an ex officio, I could not tell the group what to do; however, I could discuss the problem with individual members. From these conversations, we decided that at the next similar occurrence we would follow through with an immediate constructive response.
My final experience came from an older case that created a situation that continued throughout my tenure. When I arrived, a trustee informed me that the library would never have another Friend’s group. He recounted that there had been a Friends group at the library’s formation and its members had been active with a building project. Over time, issues arose regarding the library’s differing governance structures.
Assuming that the Friends did try to acquire more control than appropriate for the group, we can consider
The Library Director and the chair of the Friends need to be self-confident, as well as secure in their own power and roles. What is also needed is a library leader with the ability to manage conflict resolution and facilitate team building. The director can mediate the activities of the Friends based on the library’s needs and the Friends talents and resources.
Because of the different governance structures, the library director must guide a Friends group without a command function. This library administrator can set schedules, choose who to hire, and change
Whether a library director is starting with a new Friends group or working with an established unit,