New England Library Leadership Symposium (NELLS)

NELA will be sponsoring the New England Library Leadership Symposium (NELLS) this summer. The symposium will be held at Rolling Ridge Conference Center in North Andover from July 28 to August 1. The center has a beautiful lake, but you can’t swim in it because it is a public water supply. There is a pool (swimming seemed to be a common theme at this session!) The cost of the symposium is $500, but potential participants can also check with their state association to see if scholarships are available.

In this session, NELLS co-chairs Betsy Bray (assistant at last NELLS) and Cheryl Bryan(mentor at last NELLS) talked to former participants about their experiences.

The four NELLS participants on the panel were:

  • Louise Goldstein (2003 NELLS participant, Cambridge Public Library)
  • Jen Leo, (2005 NELLS participant, Westbrook, Maine)
  • Steven Butzel, (2005 NELLS partcipant, Nashua, NH)
  • Lynn Serra (Woodridge, CT, 2005 program)

The program was done in a Q&A format.

Question: Looking back, what has been the biggest change in the way you do your job since participating in NELLS?

Stephen started by saying,”You should all apply and you should all go. It’s a great experience.” He has felt more comfortable with taking risks since the symposium.

Jenn – Confidence coming out of it. Jenn recently changed jobs. “One of the reasons why I felt capable of applying and interviewing was from all of the tips and growth that came out of attending NELLS.”

Lynn – the big thing I took away from that week was how important people were. Looking at it more in terms of relationships with other people and strengthening them. Within a year became Lynn became Assistant Director at her library and she was able to use a lot of what learned at NELLS.

Louise – taken over as branch manager in Cambridge before went to NELLS. It gave her an opportunity to meet librarians in a fun way. “I enjoy seeing librarians laughing.” Would talk about what’s going on in job and get feedback from other people. Really useful. “I’m more apt now to ask for other people for input.” More collaborative. Having worked with a lot of staff who have been at the library a long long time, I find it valuable to get out to conferences and other events to get new ideas.

Jenn – add one more. Networking opportunities. “you can’t put a price tag on the networking opportunities that you come away with.”

What did you gain? What did you walk away with?

Stephen – a very different idea of what leadership is about. Not about authority and telling people what to do. More about listening, empowering, influencing.

Lynn – another great thing. There were people at all levels.

Louise – Encouraging people on her circ staff to participating in professional development opportunities. I really encourage the circulation staff to come to programs like this. 3 different dept. members coming to NELA. Traditionally, they didn’t do that in this organization.

Jenn – Went in with a certain amount of knowledge about myself. NELLS helped me learn how to put those skills in place and also added skills.

What did you enjoy most of the week?

Jenn – meeting with people but having engaging activities at the same time. She also reminisced about participants fighting with the lifeguard so that they could swim in the pool.

Louise – enjoyed swimming (no fights with lifeguard) at the 2003 institute. “I liked that the learning was fun.” “I want to be learning because I want my users and staff to be enthusiastic about learning.”

Lynn – fun activities after dinner with lavish prizes. Betsy in charge of evening acts. Trivia games. Optional

Betsy was in charge of fun at NELLS. You go to the class but you can also have time to yourself.

How was the mentoring experience?

Jenn – I still keep in touch with the Maine mentor. He was someone I didn’t know before. Someone I feel like a can continue to call on today. “That relationship has remained two years later.” While you’re at the conference, the information they provide is valuable.

Lynn – I feel like everyone who was there were mentors. Can get in touch with anyone I went with.

Stephen – for me, there were two men who were mentors. That was nice for me, because there are not a lot of men in the profession. Getting to know men from other states was particularly fruitful. One night we broke into discussion groups of own choice – I chose to talk with people on the younger side of the profession and met with mentor. We talked about what it means to supervise people who are the same age as our parents. The mentor had a lot of great sage advice.

Question from audience: how do mentors participate?

Cheryl Bryan – There is a mentor from each state. Men, women, academics, publics. Mentors participate in the programs with participants. Instructed to sit with different people everyday. People were encouraged to talk to us and ask us questions at any time.

Louise – mentors were really accomplished librarians whom I admired. And were participatory.

What advice would you give to someone who is heading into the experience?

Jenn – just do it, just go with. “Just…sink your teeth into it.”

Louise – don’t be afraid to bring things up. It’s a safe, caring supportive environment.

Lynn – I worried ahead of time about what I had to know. Don’t worry about it, just go into it.

Stephen – It’s a very nurturing environment. Anyone there is there to help nurture your professional growth. If you have insecurities, there are opportunities to bring those up. You don’t have to hide them

Question: We ask NELLS participants to make a commitment to NELA or their state organization. Tell us how you’ve been involved.

Louise – I fell behind on that. So busy at Central branch. Her supervisor in Cambridge gave her absolution.

Stephen – Had volunteered to be liaison to Executive Board prior to NELLS. NELLS cemented commitment to position. Now I’m Webmaster for NHLA and running unopposed as vice president elect. NELLS Definitely feeds you into the network.

Lynn – joined CLA tech services section. Planned programs. Was a presenter at one.

Jenn – had been involved in NELA prior to NELLS. Continued with some of that work. Maine rep for NELA. Before NELLS – was involved in NELSSA.

Question for Audience: as a leader, if you have staff that is resistant to professional development, how do you get them to go to things like this conference or a leadership conference.

Stephen – try to find out what they think is fun for professional development. It may be different than what I intended them to do.

Question from audience: if you could nominate somebody for NELLS, what characteristics would make them a good candidate?

(Answers from the entire group)

  • Curious lifelong learners
  • Open minded
  • Love of learning
  • Desire for new ideas

Question from audience: what if there’s someone who doesn’t want to be a director? Is NELLS the right place for them?

Cheryl stressed the importance of both leadership and followership. Leadership doesn’t mean you have to be a director. Leadership means you want to lead in your position. “It’s about participating fully. It’s about bringing the talents you have to the position you’re in.”

Question from audience: But a number of you did move on to higher positions after NELLS. Isn’t it a natural progression to move on in your career afterwards.
Unanimous that you didn’t feel a need to move on after the institute.

Jenn – I did feel more confident about going out and looking for a new job. But I didn’t feel like I had to do it.

Cheryl B – if you spend a week contemplating your life and your job, your more clear about what you want to do. You can’t come out of that experience unchanged without more clarity.

Brochure said 3 to 5 years mid-career. Organizers said it really isn’t limited to this. They should have changed the brochure because the program has evolved to something different.

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