Associate Professor & Associate Department Head The University of Tennessee, Knoxville Knoxville, Tennessee
Objectives: The purpose of this study was to better understand how academic health sciences library directors experience leadership and how their experience related to their understanding of effective leadership. The research question that guided this inquiry was: How do academic health sciences library directors understand their leadership and experiences as library leaders?
Methods: Qualitative phenomenological research was selected for the research design due to its focus on exploring and understanding the meaning individuals ascribe to a particular phenomenon or experience. A part of the interpretivist theoretical perspective, phenomenology searches for the essence of a phenomenon from people’s shared experience of it and works particularly well with phenomena that does not lend itself to easy quantification, like leadership.
The study used purposeful sampling and criterion-based sampling strategies to select its participants. Eleven library directors from academic health sciences libraries at public universities with a RU/VH Carnegie Classification agreed to participate in the study. They also met all other selection criteria for the study. Data were collected through two semi-structured interviews with each participant. The data were later transcribed and coded. Thematic analysis was used to analyze the data from which categories and themes emerged.
Results: A major theme that emerged from the data was the participants’ understanding of effective leadership, which we described in five categories: (1) What it takes, (2) Building a team, (3) Advocacy and credibility, (4) Awareness of your environment, and (5) Creating a vision. These five categories bring together a variety of aspects of the leadership experience expressed by the research participants during their interviews. These categories represent the most important components of effective library leadership based on the shared experiences of the research participants.
Conclusions: Leadership in higher education is complex and unique, and a good evaluation tool for leadership effectiveness in higher education remains elusive. Therefore, the intent of our research question was to capture the essence of the participants’ leadership experiences as library directors at academic health sciences libraries and determine what could be learned about effective leadership from these shared experiences. The categories that emerged from the data provide very useful guidance for being a more effective library leader and how to consider your own leadership situation.