We caught up with Paul Gallagher, Director of Library Operations and User Services for the Wayne State University Libraries, at a recent library conference. He shared his career path as well as inspiring advice for rising library leaders.
PG: I worked in IT doing application development, a lot of technology instruction, teaching, and corporate training. As that progressed, I was in between jobs and I decided it was a really good time to go to graduate school.
Somebody actually handed me a pamphlet on libraries and I ended up going to library school.
A paper pamphlet worked on you?
A tri-fold! I thought, wow, this is very interesting. At the time I was doing work in a historical society, so I had some inclination. I was fortunate enough to be part of an IMLS grant that sponsored students to attend graduate school with a focus on Fine and Performing Arts Librarianship. I had a Bachelor of Fine Arts and technology skills so I was fully funded through the program. As part of that I was required to do rather extensive internships in Detroit’s cultural institutions, like the Detroit Symphony and Michigan Opera Theatre.
Michigan Opera Theatre was a brand new library they had just put shelves in. They said, “We’re setting up a new library, we’re starting a spreadsheet of books!” I said, “Nooo! There is a better way!” I was able to get a basic ILS setup that they could use for material management.
I frequently see non-profits ask people with a library background ,”Can you help us manage our small library?” and it’s not as easy as a spreadsheet! How did you get from that performing arts focus to where you are now?
In 2009 I graduated and I hired in as a developer librarian at Wayne State Libraries, so I was tasked with software and technology development. Even though my background was in fine and performing arts I was still very much a technologist. I did that for about two years and then we had a typical manager turnover. We had a need for the associate director for discovery services and cataloging, so I moved into that role and did that for about two years. Once again we had management changeover and some opportunities, and we integrated the two directors in a chief operating officer role. So it’s been a whirlwind since 2009, and I’ve been happy to step up and serve the organization.
What do you think are the competencies needed for leadership and management?
I would say to people looking for advice is the whole issue of engagement. Some people think of that as extroversion but I think that’s too broad a brush. You have to be able to go out, engage yourself and be part of the discussion on these broader issues. When I talk to students, particularly the ones that are struggling that say: “I took all the classes but I don’t have an job experience in the library,” I respond, “Well, go get some!” You have to get into this world, you really have to step up.
I think this is a profession that attracts maybe more introverts? I’m sensitive about saying it but I think many of us would agree.
Because of the huge need for leadership roles, that whole idea of really getting up and engaging in the library community – when I look back at the things I wish I’d done differently, it always goes back to that. I wish I’d engaged more with that. I wish I’d went to this thing and talked to this person. You look at missed opportunities.
I tell students “Raise your hand. Be a joiner.”
I speak to a lot of LIS students, and that’s always the key thing. Start engaging. Really get into the community. That’s what I’m trying to do the most of right now.
What are the biggest challenges or most exciting projects you have on the horizon?
The biggest one, and it’s very broad: the changing nature of academic libraries is staggering. It’s different at each institution, but people are not coming into our buildings to use the resources anymore. Period. The amount of circulation we do is bottoming out dramatically. Of course electronic on the other side is skyrocketing. The interesting part though is we have as many people coming into our building as we did 10 years ago, but we’re only doing a fraction of the circulation. So, that right there is a huge motivation to step back and look at what we’re doing. There’s a huge shift in the way people use resources. That means a transition to e-resources, scaling back on routine print monographs in the favor of e-books, promotion of special collections, and reinvigorating our physical spaces.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring leaders or new leaders?
Really coming to the acknowledgement that you’re going to move more and more into a leadership role, even if you don’t want to. That doesn’t necessarily mean going into a top leadership position, but that ability demonstrate leadership with these more difficult issues at all levels is huge right now. That’s probably the most exciting part of this profession. You have to adapt to change and if you like that, you can have a blast.