A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending NELLS 2013 - the New England Library Leadership Symposium, a weeklong retreat focused on various aspects of leadership, management, and personal development. I was one of 28 librarians (plus six mentors) from across New England selected to participate, and it was an honor to be in the company of so many interesting, accomplished, and enthusiastic librarians. The symposium was led by Maureen Sullivan, the immediate past president of the American Library Association. Over the course of the week, we also had discussions led by the presidents of the various New England state library associations and other regional library leaders.
The week was a good mix of discussion, role play, and brainstorming about all kinds of topics related to leadership: different communication styles, risk taking, interpersonal relationships, the role of the library in the community, and much more. We had participants from libraries ranging from the itty-bitty to the very large, but what really struck me was how our experiences and concerns were all so similar, regardless of whether our library was big or small, rich or poor, urban or rural.
I took so much away from the week and came away with so much I want to do, both personally and professionally. I've already started the ball rolling with some things -- projects I got ideas for, and personal work-related goals I set for myself in the wake of what I learned -- but am still digesting a lot of it. We were provided with a notebook full of readings, thought exercises, self-assessments, and more. I'd heard from previous participants about "the notebook" and how helpful it was after the fact, and I can see already that it is someting I will continue to refer to. I'm also looking forward to reading a number of the recommended texts.
Maureen is a wonderful facilitator. One of my fellow participants described it somewhat like this: She can ask a question, and you can open your mouth and spit out some rambling, pointless response. She'll take that response, package it up with a little bow on it and give it back to you -- and somehow make you feel like YOU said something wise and profound. That is, in my experience, a gift that not many people have, and I learned so much just from watching how she moderated and guided our discussions.
Of course, you can't go away for a week and have it be all business -- which is where the "library camp" moniker comes in. The symposium was held at Rolling Ridge, a retreat center in North Andover, Massachusetts. Rolling Ridge will get its own post soon, but suffice to say, the experience was, in many ways, camp-like. We had a bonfire one night (complete with s'mores, of course); the most cutthroat trivia night I have ever witnessed; canoeing and kayaking excursions on the lake; free swim time in the pool...the list goes on and on. Even our packing list sounded like it was meant for camp (bug spray, fan and extension cord, sunscreen, lawnchair...). Thankfully, though, we did not have to sleep in tents; that probably would have been a deal-breaker for me. ;-)
I have to admit, I was a little bit anxious about the week -- I used to do these sorts of leadership events, including a couple of overnight/weekend things, back in high school, but I'd fallen out of practice (if that's possible -- can one be practiced at going to retreats?), and as an introvert, I often find these kinds of situations (new environment! lots of strangers! they're going to think I'm an idiot!) very stressful. I needn't have worried, though. I tried very hard to make it a point to sit with different people at every opportunity, actually TALK to people, and fight the urge to spend all of my spare time alone with my book and/or my wifi, and once I pep-talked myself through the awkward initial "icebreaker" phase, I felt very much at home. I couldn't have hand-selected a more thoughtful, welcoming, and interesting group of "my" people.
Photos by Jenny Arch, used with permission