Why this Leadership Institute?

According to the 2017 American Library Association paper, “Rural Libraries in the United States: Recent Strides, Future Possibilities, and Meeting Community Needs,” roughly one-third of all U.S. public libraries serve areas with populations of 2,500 or fewer people. Of these, two-thirds of the library directors have not earned a Master’s in Library Science.

The average Association for Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL) member comes from a library with less than three employees and the average salary for the library director is $28,508. The salary, in particular, can have an impact on the ability to recruit and hire staff with leadership and/or managerial experience. In some communities, being the “librarian” pays slightly better than working at the gas station mini mart.

Even when libraries have strong leadership, the small number of staff results in a limited ability to grow new leaders within those rural and small libraries.

However, when staff from rural or small libraries have participated in leadership institutes that focus on general, and often much larger libraries, they have reported t that the content and examples often have not directly informed the issues they face in rural libraries and small communities.

Recognizing this need, we designed
Outstanding in Their Field: Leadership Institute for Rural and Small Libraries

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


Who is this for?

The Outstanding in Their Field 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.


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

  • February

    Application deadline February 24, 2021

  • April

    Participants confirmed

  • May

    Participants receive Leadership Kit

  • June

    Online Leadership Orientation – June 11th

  • 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 – September 10th

    Leading Others – Managing Conversations

  • October

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

    Leading in the Library

    Leading in the Community

  • November

    Online Session

    Leading in the Library –  Leading Change


  • January

    Online Session

    Individual Learning Plans (Leading in Org, Community, or Profession)

  • March

    Online Session

    Library Evaluation

  • May

    Online Session

    Library Impact & Advocacy

  • July

    Online Session

    Presentation tips

  • July

    Online Session

    Leading the Library – Library Advocacy

  • 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