Each month the Leadership Development Committee of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) highlights a librarian leader and asks them a few questions about their leadership journey. Read more about the profile of our Library Director in the late December installment.
Gail Wechsler, Library Director
Law Library Association of St. Louis
What does leadership mean to you?
To me, leadership means that I am using the knowledge and skills I have acquired over the years to guide others to reach their highest potential. Sometimes it means leading from ahead, where a certain amount of guidance is needed to support those who are newer in their roles. Sometimes it means leading from behind, giving people the space and freedom to do things in their own way.
Is there a particular AALL product/program/article that was especially helpful for you as you developed as a leader?
For me, one of the most beneficial AALL “programs” that was and continues to be very helpful to me is the initially weekly, and now monthly check-in calls for the Government Law Librarians Special Interest Section cohort. Led by the wonderful Caroline Nevin and her able staff out of the British Columbia Library System, these calls started at the very beginning of the COVID pandemic when we were all in lockdown. The shared wisdom of the law librarians in this group helped me navigate and follow best practices during an extremely difficult time. The amount of give and take is tremendous. This is a cohort where we all have each other’s backs and work to address everything from personnel issues, vendor issues, patron issues, and everything in between.
What are the most important attributes of successful leaders today?
This has probably always been true, but certainly today leaders in law librarianship need to be adaptable and open to change. Change is constant and it seems to be coming faster these days than in prior decades. Even if you have done something well in the past, do not assume what worked before will always work moving forward. Be accepting, be curious, and be willing to continue to grow as change happens in the profession.
How have you remained resilient in the past year?
Do not be afraid of change and be willing to bring new ideas to those above you in the chain of command. In my case, my Board of Directors. One challenge we had last year was continuing reduced revenue due to lagging filing fees and room rental income. Working in tandem with a few leaders on the Board, we determined that we needed to get serious about fundraising. While this involved a steep learning curve, we did our first end-of-year direct mail campaign and solicited a grant we had never sought before. This first effort at fundraising was very successful and we will grow from there.
What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
Seek out mentors to be a sounding board for you as you enter a new leadership role. This could be someone within your organization or someone at a different library setting whose judgement you value. (Check out the AALL Mentor Program.) Look for continuing education programs to attend. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to take on new responsibilities. And don’t be afraid to “fail,” whatever that means. All of us have had instances where something we tried or worked on did not go as planned. Learn from that and take it from there. One of my favorite phrases from an old PBS children’s series called The Magic School Bus, says it all: “Take chances, make mistakes and get messy.” That’s how you grow.