Interview with Bridget Schaumann

This interview appeared in the most recent issue of Library Life. Huge thanks to Abigail Willemse for her enthusiasm for, and support of, this series of interviews on leadership.

An interview with Bridget Schaumann – Looking at Leadership in New Zealand Libraries

Bridget Schaumann is the Librarian / Careers Advisor at King’s High in Dunedin, a secondary school for boys with a roll of around 700. She describes herself as enthusiastic (irritating has been bandied around as well!) Her heroes are people who aren’t afraid to stand up for what is fair and just; not keen on homophobes! Bridget is interested in school libraries, the people who run them and the people who use them. She’s very keen on Web 2.0 and says “I am doing Library Studies through the Open Polytechnic when I can afford it, I am a very bad student, I hate to study; too many other jobs to do”.

Who do you look up to as a leader and why?
I am a big fan of those who are willing to put their heads above the parapet and drive others in the profession to try a little bit harder. School librarians are often a little shy to draw attention to themselves and I am a believer in shouting from the rooftops about the awesome work we do with students.

So, people I really admire include: Jennifer LaGarde, Buffy Hamilton, Joyce Valenza, Judy O’Connell, Judith Way, Doug Johnson, Stephen Abrams, Travis Jonkers and Cathy Nelson. In New Zealand, these people are Donna Watt, for her clear vision; Miriam Tuohy, for her clever ideas and drive; and the members of the SLANZA National Exec for being willing, hardworking and committed to our future.

Tell me about your own growing leadership skills
I’ve spent a long time on the National Executive of SLANZA and have worked alongside great leaders, people who have all contributed a large amount to our organisation. These people all taught me skills by example, and through their different styles and their hard work moving our organisation forward. I hope that my enthusiasm, passion and the drive I feel will help forge new connections and provide tools and resources for our members.

I’m learning all the time, trying to be a good listener and to pay attention to what our members want. I love collaborating with the National Executive team and working on projects with them. I’ve got lots still to learn, I am always learning!

What’s your view on personal versus organisational responsibility for Professional Development?
I believe it is important for professional growth that organisations (in our case schools) support their library staff to go to conference, to attend SLANZA PD, to attend courses in the same way they support their teaching staff. I also believe that in order to keep current library staff must accept the reality that learning happens everywhere – at work and at home.

I really believe that it is vital we keep abreast of changes and challenges. We have to accept the fact that in both education and in the library world change is the new normal, we must rise to new challenges and embrace new ways of doing things even if they make us uncomfortable and mean we work harder and outside our paid working hours.

Let’s talk for a minute about learning at home. It seems to me there are more and more opportunities available online that are free. Do you take advantage of opportunities that come up such as ANZ23mthings and Reality Librarianship 2013?
Unfortunately these just came up at the wrong time for me, I’m involved in a couple of projects for SLANZA at the moment and just couldn’t fit it all in. If I wasn’t already involved in an online PD project for our members I would have jumped right in to both of those. I’ve done quite a few online courses and I love that style of learning. I say take advantage of every opportunity you can find and have a go. It is so interesting to learn with other people from other sectors as well as from your own.

Do you think it’s hard to lead in NZ libraries without being a manager?
In school libraries, even in the smallest schools and with limited hours and budgets, we lead every day. I believe that we are in the unique position of having lots of independence within our schools and within our organisation to show great leadership. Individuals who work in isolation often have a stronger sense of self, a huge motivation to move forward, make changes and make a difference to others in their field even if they are the only person working in their library and therefore managing everything. Others in larger teams also have freedom to make enormous changes and move their libraries forward.

I want to grab these people with all this potential for leadership and encourage them forward. In essence I think that leadership can come from the smallest places as well as the larger ones with layers of management, it is about feeling confident to put your hand up and take on challenges and know that there is support for you if you wish to take a leading role.

How do you think we can encourage people to become leaders?
The collegial nature of our organisation means that there are lots of opportunities for people to lead and be an example to others. We have regional committees who love new people coming on, sharing their skills. I would love people to be brave, to share what they are doing, to share their ideas.

We want them to present at conference, to write articles for Collected Magazine, to share photos, and to join the SLANZA Pool of Talent and to show leadership qualities locally and to think about joining our National Executive. We want our NE to show the variety of people who work in our schools and we know that there are people out there who would be excellent leaders.

If you could suggest a school librarian take just ONE step toward becoming a leader in their field, what would it be?
That’s a hard one. A PLN (Professional Learning Network) is powerful, I think an online presence is important, say things, be considered and opinionated and share what you are saying, and engage with your audience. (Don’t overshare, people hate that!) By engaging with others whose work you value you become part of their PLN too.

Thank you very much for your time over the last few weeks, Bridget. As a public librarian it’s been interesting to hear the perspective of a school librarian; there are some big differences in how we operate but we share a need for good leaders and a framework to help make that happen. 

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