Librarians as Catalysts (and a Confession)

Throughout my short time working in a library, I have found that I put a lot of effort into creating a program or participating in a committee, which culminates in the completion of the project. When it is done, I tend to do some reflecting such as asking, “What went right?” and “What didn’t go so well?” But it doesn’t go much beyond that. There is almost a sense of relief that it is over. It has been accomplished, and now we’re on to the next thing. But Professor Michael Stephens reminds us to take the time to be reflective in our practice (Stephens, 2016).

And another thing, librarianship is a practice. This is such a great way to look at our profession. You try something and see how it works. This could be with a program–or simply an interaction with a patron. When we reflect upon these experiences, they become integrated into our toolbox. We then use those tools to “catalyze knowledge, information and people” (2016, p. 25). I have been referring to librarians as facilitators, people who make things easier. And that is true, librarians are concerned with equity and access, but a catalyst causes a reaction. There is definitely more power there, not just for the patron but through their relationship. 

Our profession is the dynamic interplay between ourselves, our patrons and the library as an institution. It is relational. And that is one of the five things that Bill Georges identifies as necessary to authentic leadership: relationships (Frierson, 2011). To establish trust in relationships, it is important to be transparent and open. It is important to listen. The other four qualities are: purpose, values, self-discipline, and heart. Not only is this important to the people who you lead, it is important to other stakeholders, as well. In times when library leadership needs to advocate for library budgets and relevance, acting with integrity, being connected, and telling our story is paramount.

In another article, a conversation between Michael Stephens and Jan Klerk “Treat them as humans and not as members of an anonymous crowd. Share your knowledge and stories with them, join the conversation” (Stephens, 2010, para. 5). This may seem obvious, but it’s not. It can be easy to hide behind the desk or the organization or the brand. 

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So here’s the confession: after working for awhile at a large central library, I stopped wearing my nametag. I was getting hit on continuously. Patrons felt that, as a public servant, they owned me. They felt that if I was nice to them, that it meant I was interested in a romantic relationship. Taking my nametag off quelled that interest. However, in order to be a living, responsive organization, the library really needs to focus on relationships and conversations and connections. Now that I have amassed some skills in redirecting those inappropriate conversations, perhaps it’s time to put on my nametag again. It’s time to fully step into the role of relational catalyst.


Frierson, E. (2011). Leading with the heart. Retrieved from

Stephens, M. (2010). Open conversation: Being human. Retrieved from

Stephens, M. (2016). The heart of librarianship: Attentive, positive, and purposeful change. Chicago: ALA Editions, an imprint of the American Library Association.

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