History of the MPLA Leadership Institute

The Leadership Institute idea was introduced at the April 21, 2001 board meeting. Developed to respond to the need for renewal of the association in a way that also met the needs of the profession and of individuals who lived and worked in the MPLA region’s libraries. The Institute would fill the association’s goals of supporting and enhancing libraries of the region, and it would bring identified leadership candidates into close relationship with MPLA’s products of training and professional development, creating a leadership pool for libraries while concurrently creating potential new leadership for MPLA itself. The individual who served as the primary inspiration, planner, and champion of the leadership Institute concept, who worked tirelessly to make this idea a reality and guided it through its first formative years was MPLA Past President, Marilyn Hinshaw from Oklahoma. She was the first chair of the Leadership Institute Committee.

“Seed money” for planning and implementation came from the Johnson County Library in 1998, announced at a reception hosted by Ingram Library Services, held on site at the JoCo main library during the Public Library Association conference in Kansas City that year. The founding committee used this seed money to work through the concept and outline the elements that would be needed to structure the hoped for event. The committee needed to work out decisions on the curriculum, the location, who might serve as Institute staff and the qualifications of those who might be selected to attend, and finally, determine the process of selection.

During the years of preparation, the Institute planning committee narrowed the search of site locations within the MPLA region from 35 nominated sites, to a small final list, then assigned personal site visits to committee members. It chose the location of Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. Maureen Sullivan, a consultant with many years managerial experience in libraries, followed by half a dozen years as a highly regarded trainer for the Association of Research Libraries, was approached to provide the curriculum and lead the Institute’s sessions.

A distinctive element of the Institute was the participation of mentors. Chosen as examples of good leaders in the profession, the mentors added to discussions, worked with the participants in the exercises, and were available to meet with them individually to talk about career paths, professional problems and goals. Mentors discuss their careers, risk taking, leadership styles, and power and influence. They also provide an overview of participation in state, regional and national professional associations, and how those activities have helped build their leadership abilities. State librarians, academic librarians, directors of large urban systems, and library educators have all willingly given their time and expertise to advise and mentor newer colleagues.

An application process was put into place that allowed for applicants to be selected by each state association based on their leadership experience (in any area) and their career goals. Applicants were required to have an MLS or equivalent degree; be less than 10 years post-degree; and be a member of their state association. They must also be employed in a library in one of the MPLA states.

Up to 24 applicants are selected by the 12 MPLA state associations; the remaining attendees are “at-large” and are selected by the Leadership Committee based on rankings. Preference for the at-large berths is given to MPLA members and to the corporate sponsor(s).

After identification of the elements that would make an Leadership Institute not only possible but successful, committee members approached EBSCO through Western Regional Sales Manager Stan Terry to ask for implementation funding. EBSCO agreed to provide enough to help MPLA run the Institute for three consecutive years.

With the site, the staff selected, funding secured and the first participants chosen, the Institute was launched in the fall of 2002. The launch was received with high accolades from those attending, from state associations in the MPLA region and from the MPLA’s leadership.

The Institute runs for five days, with each day’s activities and learning building on the previous one. The curriculum for Leadership in Libraries Today: Challenges and Opportunities includes:

  • Understanding work and leadership styles
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Managing differences
  • Risk taking
  • Using power and influence
  • Working with others: creating a culture of commitment
  • Working with groups and teams
  • Leading change
  • Achieving your potential: personal planning
  • Guidelines for continuing your leadership development
  • Leading in MPLA and State Associations

Email discussion lists, both prior to the Institute and for a year following, facilitate the group networking and allow sharing of successes and learning when attendees return home. Regular reunions of participants and mentors now occur annually at the joint MPLA and state conferences Plans are also underway for group gatherings at ALA and other national library events.

Elements of the Ghost Ranch Leadership Institute’s huge success are in the choices made by MPLA’s leadership and the activities of MPLA units and individuals who have contributed directly or lent support. Maureen Sullivan’s instructional style and professional knowledge put the event at the highest quality of leadership training available in the profession. The coordinator position, which began as an enhanced “local arrangements” assignment emerged to permanent mentor as well as content provider when Mary Bushing, library educator and consultant, was recruited for the job in 2003. State associations have supported the event with their recruitment, selection and funding efforts for participants. Over the years of its duration, 178 leadership candidates and 32 seasoned leaders with mentorship responsibility have convened for personal assessment, renewal of their professional goals and to learn how to meet the challenges of leadership that amount to figuring out how to get things done in library organizations.

The sense of place, within the beautiful New Mexico cliff s memorialized in Georgia ’Keefe’s art, and a curriculum that features both personal development and the tools for organizational development has left an indelible impact not only on careers, but on the lives of those who have been involved in the experience of the Ghost Ranch Leadership Institute. The remote site lends itself to exceptional bonding by the participants and to developing support groups within each class of graduates that have endured years after the Institute experience. Even mentors have remarked that their time at the Institute became a renewal of purpose. The Institute has succeeded well in realizing the goals MPLA’s Board wrote for itself at the beginning of the 21st Century. Over nearly a decade of the Leadership Institute’s existence, a valued friendship and partnership with EBSCO added immeasurably to the quality of the Institute with financial support that added to many thousands of dollars over six years through the class of 2007.

One of the changes made in 2004 was to refer to graduates of the program as “MPLA Leadership Institute Fellows.” Participants who were not currently members of MPLA received a complimentary one-year membership upon graduation from the Institute. This is an inexpensive way for MPLA to immediately recruit our best future leaders, and involve them in the association.

In 2008, MPLA announced that the Institute is on hiatus while the premise and the funding for it are revisited in the continuation of MPLA’s search to provide the best possible learning opportunities and leadership experiences for its membership.

Leadership Institute Founding Committee members are: Marilyn Hinshaw, OK, chair; Joe Edelen, MPLA Executive Secretary; Donna Morris, CO & UT; Patti Butcher, KS; Dorothy Liegl, SD; Linda Rea, NE, 2001 MPLA President, ex officio; Debbie Iverson, WY, 2002 MPLA President, ex officio.