Eureka! Building California’s New Library Leaders

Donna Feddern —  March 21, 2013 — 1 Comment
Pop Up Podcast van

Joanna and Viktor showing off the Pop Up Podcast van.

California librarians early in their career have a unique opportunity to build their leadership skills. The Eureka Leadership Institute, a partnership between the California State Library and Infopeople, provides 32 librarians with anywhere between 3 and 10 years of experience, an opportunity to work on their skills by participating in a 6 day residential leadership program held in three parts over the course of one year.

The details of what happens at the Institute are shrouded in mystery. This is so that participants don’t arrive with expectations and so that they see it as a safe place where they can feel free to challenge themselves without being afraid of an official record or recording. To give you a better idea of what is involved, here is a basic outline of activities:

  • Application/Acceptance
  • Homework assignments
  • Attend first 2 Days of Institute (meet/work with fellow participants and mentors)
  • Write LSTA grant for project (must be responsive to community needs and fit California LSTA guidelines)
  • Implement grant project
  • Encore event (2 days together)
  • Anniversary Event (2 days together)

I have the pleasure of working with a Eurekan (how they referred to themselves) so I interviewed her about her experience so far. Teen Librarian Joanna Axelrod, recognized as a 2011 Library Journal Mover & Shaker, was one of the 32 applicants chosen to participate this year.

Why did she choose to participate in Eureka?
“I wanted to be part of the club”, Joanna says. Everyone she met who had participated in previous years spoke about Eureka with such passion and praise. She wanted the opportunity to expand her professional network and says that the network that results from attending Eureka is “like going to a conference times a thousand.” Eurekans tend to develop close bonds that continue for years to come. The support from colleagues who are just as interested in leadership as you are, and from mentors who take a personal interest in developing you as a leader, make it an unforgettable experience.

What has she learned so far?
Joanna has learned a lot about her own personal leadership style. As an extrovert and someone not afraid to take the reigns, she challenged herself to not be the first person to volunteer for leadership roles in group settings. Surprisingly, she found that not being the official leader or the first voice heard, did not impact her ability to contribute her leadership skills to the group. Also, getting feedback from the mentors and other participants has helped her realize her strength as a public speaker.

What is it like working with the mentors?
Every group of Eurekans gets to work with mentors who are mostly directors from California libraries. Joanna found this experience very beneficial because it gave her the opportunity to see life outside her own library. She got to learn about different leadership styles and what other libraries were doing. It truly broadened her horizons and she was happy to network with these amazing leaders. She also appreciated the honest feedback they gave during her first two days attending the Institute.

Joanna’s project for Eureka is called Pop Up Podcast, a free, after-school activity that provides a fun, creative environment for teens to engage with audio recording technology and explore their own self-expression and presentation skills. Joanna travels to two off-site locations with Digital Services Librarian, Viktor Sjöberg, to teach teens about podcasting. The project is going great and Joanna is looking forward to telling her fellow Eurekans about it at the upcoming Encore event. In the meantime, she is keeping in touch with them and getting their support as the project progresses.

I wish I’d known about Eureka before I reached the 10-year mark in my career. If you’re working in a library in California and are interested in leadership, I encourage you to consider applying for the next Eureka Leadership Institute. The library world can use more Eurekans!


Donna Feddern


Donna is the manager of two library branches for the Timberland Regional Library system in Washington State. Prior to that, she worked at the Escondido Public Library for 10 years, working in multiple positions from Automation Systems Librarian to Senior Librarian of Teen and Media Services, and finally Digital Services Manager. Her projects included a major website redesign and the LibraryYOU project. Donna has also worked on reference desks for the Free Library of Philadelphia, the King County Library System, and the Seattle Public Library and as a trainer for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation traveling to libraries in Oklahoma and New Mexico to provide computer training to library staff. Donna’s professional interests include management, staff development, library security, design thinking, and online marketing.

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  1. The Next Generation May Not Want Your Mentoring | Leading From the Library | Stephanie L. Gross, MSLIS - April 25, 2013

    […] Eureka! Building California’s New Library Leaders ( […]

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