We are looking for 30 people who are currently working in rural and/or small libraries throughout the country and from various backgrounds and ethnicities. 

Participants, a.k.a. “Outfielders,” will undertake 18 months of online and in-person interactive sessions.

It’s a BIG commitment, and rewarding!

Participants will gain:

  • skills and confidence as leaders
  • a network of colleagues throughout the country
  • experiences at two ARSL conferences

All participant travel, materials, and instructional expenses (worth approximately $8000) are covered by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). So while there are no monetary costs for participants, they will outlay their time, consistent engagement, and dedication to growing themselves and others as leaders.

The Association for Rural & Small Libraries (ARSL) seeks applicants representing a wide variety of communities and has a commitment to the representation of groups that have been historically marginalized or excluded due to ethnicity, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, ability, economic background, educational attainment, and age.


Is This For Me?

The ARSL Leadership Institute is for accidental library leaders.

They are folks who may not have a Masters in Library and Information Science and maybe not even a college degree.

They are the folks working in a small and/or rural library who are now are ready to grow as leaders, maybe even to make libraries their career.

These folks came into the library from various jobs: the cashier at the local Mini-Mart with good customer service skills, the cataloger who worked at the library for 12 years and just became the new library director, or the schoolteacher who ends up running the public library.

They might feel like imposters in leadership and are ready to step up.

If they don’t find a way to step up as leaders, they may leave libraries.

We want to catch them and help them find new ways to be outstanding in the field.

Goals & Objectives

Leadership Plan for Participants

Leading Self

  • Identify and practice their individual, authentic leadership style
  • Cultivate professional peer network
  • Build professional capacity

Leading Others

  • Build practical skills in leading and developing others

Leading the Library

  • Develop skills and confidence to lead a strong library for effective capacity and culture
  • Act as a thought leader

Leading the Community

  • Recognize the importance of participation in broader community initiatives
  • Lead community development

Leading in the Profession

  • Contribute to improving the library profession

This institute uses the Nexus Leading Across Boundaries (LAB) Layers of Leadership across Libraries, Archives, and Museums as the basic framework for the development of an 18-month institute for rural and small library leaders.


Learning Formats


Immersive In-Person

Two days of cohort building and leadership skill-building


Participatory Online Workshops

Blended sessions with experts who coach participants



Participants select a project to apply their learning and make change in their library, community, or the profession


Two ARSL Conference Experiences

Participate in a leadership track and present Institute projects


Online Anytime

Recorded presentations with leading experts in rural libraries



Participants build a team of professionals to help develop leadership skills


Participant Timeline

The Institute will run from June 2021 until January of 2023 with 10 online workshops, one intensive, and two ARSL conferences.

DRAFT SCHEDULE (content order subject to change)


  • January

    Application available January 4th, 2021

    Q & A Webinar – Friday, Jan. 29th at 2 pm Eastern, 1 pm Central, 12 pm Mountain, 11 am Pacific, 10 am Alaska, 9 am Hawaii.  An archive of the webinar is available.

  • February

    Application deadline February 24, 2021

  • April

    Participants confirmed

  • May

    Participants receive Leadership Field Guide and Tinkering Tools

  • June

    Online orientation

  • August 5th - 8th

    Immersive multi-day sessions (in-person, subject to current health emergency status) covering

    Leading Self

    Sessions on growth mindsets, strengths, values, implicit biases, leadership style, brand

    Leading Others

    Sessions on coaching, cultural humility, positive relationship-building

  • September

    Online Session

    Leading Others & Library – Professional Values

  • October

    Leadership Track at ARSL Conference (Reno/Sparks, NV, October 20 – October 23, 2021)

    Leading Others

    Sessions on strategic communications, including conflict resolution with Radical Candor

    Leading the Library

    Sessions on partnership development, inclusion, positive organizational change

  • November

    Online Session

    Leading Others –  Talent Management


  • January

    Online Session

    Leading the Library – Reframing Issues as Opportunities

  • February

    Online Session

    Leading in the Community – Change Management

  • March

    Online Session

    Individual Learning Plans (Leading in Org, Community, or Profession)
    Mentor Showcase – Building a Network

  • May

    Online Session

    Leading the Library – Library Evaluation

  • July

    Online Session

    Leading the Library – Library Advocacy

  • Sept/Oct

    ARSL Conference

    Leading in the Profession – Participant sessions and posters

  • November

    Online Session

    Participant Lightning Talks – Growth as a Leader


  • January

    Online Session – Graduation

    Leading Across Layers – Career path plans