Faculty Research: Mary Wilkins Jordan

wilkins_jordan2011_rdax_400x266.jpgSince her father was a management professor and her mother was a library director, it seems pre-destined that Mary Wilkins Jordan would specialize in library management research. Yet, it took having almost every job under the sun -- from dishwasher to attorney -- for Jordan to experience an epiphany about leadership as a public library director. She discovered that librarians knew about libraries, but they didn't necessarily know how to lead them.

"Librarians don't have a clear understanding of management level competencies that are needed to run their organizations. Although I was sent to leadership training programs, it wasn't enough. I thought, 'Someone needs to train us.' Then I realized that I am someone," said Jordan.

Since then, Jordan has conducted research about leadership competencies, training, and evaluation methods that can be applied to public libraries. She focuses on developing ways for librarians to improve service to their communities. Her March 2012 IFLA article "Developing Leadership Competencies in Librarians" identified 19 core competencies in the LIS literature that were refined by feedback from library directors. With the help of a GSLIS Hollowell grant, a training program for the competencies has been packaged into a two-day session that will be offered to library professionals in South Carolina, Arizona, Chicago, and Boston. The pre-test and post-test course evaluations will provide additional insights for future papers and presentations.

In her other research activities, Jordan is investigating how public libraries leverage their Twitter accounts. "While librarians should be talking with their communities, they are talking to them instead," says Jordan about her preliminary findings. She believes that London's Waterstones Oxford Street bookstore at @WstonesOxfordSt, which tweets often with leading media outlets like the Huffington Post and with people such as YA author Maureen Johnson, offers an excellent model to copy. Jordan also seeks to study a neglected area in librarianship. Stress in the workplace has a significant impact on workplace performance and productivity. Librarians have already responded in droves to her research requests with accounts about the constant threats of job loss, poor management, and difficult working conditions. Jordan will examine conflict resolution and resiliency skills that can be parlayed into coaching sessions that will offer coping strategies to librarians in challenging situations.

Although Jordan believes that library professionals with management aspirations do not need a master's degree in business administration (MBA), they do need to take the LIS 404 Principles of Management course. "Today, all LIS professionals will be managing someone else in a library or archive setting within five years of completing the program," said Jordan. While it is considered the course's toughest project, Jordan still gets calls from alumni thanking her for the grant writing assignment she requires as part of the coursework. Yet Jordan's efforts to prepare students to enter a tough job market don't end there. She is organizing a lecture series for students, leading career and resume boot camps with Simmons GSLIS colleagues, and encouraging librarians to find mentors in the field.

"Librarians need to be better at talking about what they do. They need to be able to change perceptions by partnering with politicians, connecting with funders, and raising public awareness about the contributions of librarians. Advocacy, marketing, and politicking are key to helping public libraries resolve budget constraint issues" said Jordan. "People like librarians. We are an easy sell. We just need to sell ourselves more effectively."

Article by Jennifer Moyer

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