What happens when you convene the top school library supervisors in the country and give them the space, time, and support to take their work to the next level? We are about to find out, as the first Lilead Fellows end their official gatherings and move into the action phase of their work. Given what I’ve seen from this powerful cohort so far, I expect we’ll see innovation, bold leadership, and a new communal strength born from the intimacy of work done in a setting that is designed to spur growth amid high expectation and in light of the numerous challenges school libraries face.
I hadn’t focused on the fellowships until last January, when I received two emails in quick succession while attending the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting in Chicago. Each expressed excitement about the first meeting of the recently named Lilead Fellows, a group of 25 school library supervisors selected to take part in an 18-month professional development deep dive. The fellowship was born from the Lilead Project, spearheaded by Ann Carlson Weeks, the associate dean of academic programs at the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies. The Project, funded largely by the Institute of Museum and Library Services) began with an effort to document what school library supervisors do, who they are, and what they are called. It’s the first baseline study of that tier of library heads, according to the Project, in more than 30 years.
The Fellows program takes an important next step, designed to help these district supervisors gain leadership skills; work with mentors on projects to address real-world problems in their local settings; and unite at their level in efforts to deliver the best school library services possible. Its goal, driven by a sense of activism, is to: “Empower library supervisors to be innovative and creative leaders who think outside the prevailing traditional paradigm.”
It’s well on its way. Those emails, from Leslie Yoder, school library program supervisor, Saint Paul (MN) Public Schools, and Stephanie Ham, director of library services, Metropolitan Nashville (TN) Public Schools, expressed the passion and ambitions one would expect from this tier of school librarians. Nonetheless, still early in the process, they only hinted at the intensity that would emerge and is now palpable when the group is together. And, if there’s any doubt of the potential impact of this group, consider the fact that they represent upwards of 1.5 million students, 115,000 teachers, and 1,850 librarians across 17 states.
Following the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) conference last month (“AASL 2015: Spirit and Surprises”), I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with the Fellows, Lilead Project leads, and mentors [pictured here after the think tank session, which was co-facilitated by SLJ staff and sponsored by Junior Library Guild (also owned by Media Source, Inc., SLJ’s parent company)].
That time with this impressive group revealed a drive to, in Yoder’s words, “lead brave,” which takes the form of creativity, urgency, and activism, and promises to positively influence the entire field for years to come.
Rebecca T. Miller