This is an interview with Nancy S. Kirkpatrick, the Executive Director and CEO of OhioNET, a multi-type library consortium based in Columbus, OH, done by Naomi House of INALJ. This is part of INALJ’s 2020 series on non-library jobs for library workers.
On Executive Director & CEO of a Consortium Work :
an Interview with Nancy S. Kirkpatrick
Q1: Thanks so much for taking the time to help us better understand what exactly Executive Director / CEO work involves and how LIS folk can get into this type of position, both inside and outside libraries. First could you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you got your MLIS (or your educational background) and what you do currently?
Hello, and happy to do so. My LinkedIn profile tells part of the story. I’m a lawyer who became a librarian and worked as an academic library director before moving into library consortia. I hold a Masters of Science degree from the iSchool (formerly GSLIS) at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. I also hold a Juris Doctor from the University of Richmond and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Drake University. I’m currently the Executive Director and CEO of OhioNET, a multi-type statewide library consortium that focuses on serving our membership by providing electronic resources and library equipment and supply purchasing, training and continuing education, a broad range of technology services, and strategic partnerships and connections.
Q2: Now can you tell us how you got into doing this type of work?
Well, I can tell you that as a little girl, I never said, “I’m going to grow up one day and work in consortium!” In fact, I probably never even said, “I’m going to grow up one day and be a CEO!” either. I fell into this work through service on a board. Specifically, I was the Director of Library Services at Marian University when I was persuaded to run for a board position for the Midwest Collaborative for Library Services (MCLS). I was elected to that board in the fall of 2014, and shortly thereafter, was approached about working there. Initially, I wasn’t interested because I couldn’t see how a library consortium fit into my career plans. After being convinced that I did have a potentially interesting future in consortium, I applied for (and got) a job with MCLS. I believe I hold the record for the shortest MCLS board term on record at something like 19 days.
I started at MCLS by learning the electronic resources management side of things, and that was a natural fit for my librarian and legal experience as much of my job was related to contracts and negotiation. I was appointed the Associate Director within my first year of service there, and continued to learn more about how to manage a self-funded organization – which was much different than managing an academic library where you’re handed a budget (or at least a budget number) to work with. It was valuable experience and I appreciate the time and mentoring provided by my boss and my peers at MCLS. After a few years of working as Associate Director, there started to be consortium Executive Director openings due to retirements. I was approached by several recruiters and ended up accepting an offer from OhioNet in the fall of 2018. It is not an exaggeration to say this position has been life changing, but for me, so was entering the field of librarianship in the first place.
Q3: What makes this a great fit for LIS workers to aspire to and likewise, what do you think makes LIS workers strong candidates for hiring managers / boards of directors looking to fill CEO positions?
Leading an organization requires many skill sets that I believe are inherent in information professionals. You need to be curious and enjoy problem-solving. You should enjoy new approaches to things and be able to think outside the box. It helps if you can take in large amounts of data and have some mechanism to make sense of it all. And the ability to delegate is important as well. I think I just described many librarians and information professionals, and I believe we’re particularly well-suited for this type of position because not only were we trained in these things, we’re also (often) naturally curious people. You also have to be able to get things done, and to trust your team and work collaboratively. Again, I feel I’ve just described a librarian.
One challenge, I think, is that many librarians don’t aspire to this type of leadership in part because they don’t recognize that they’re already leading. I believe in leading from wherever you are. I recently came across a great quote by Donald McGannon, “Leadership is an action, not a position.” I see this every day in our field – leaders exist at all levels and sometimes in the most unexpected places.
Q4: What is the best way to get your foot in the door?
What I’m about to say may shake some of the introverts in the room, but networking and getting to know colleagues in your field and out of it are key. As a Myers-Briggs INFJ, I understand the queasiness that my suggestion may cause. However, getting to know your colleagues is key not only because it helps you develop good relationships but also because recruiters will be asking your colleagues if they know anyone who might be a good fit for a position.
I would also suggest that if you are only reading library literature, or only involved in library professional associations, expand your network. Join an association for nonprofit management or executives, subscribe to the Harvard Business Review and Fast Company, and see what’s happening outside the library world. Attend a conference (virtual or in person, whenever we do that again), meet some people, and you might just learn some new things about yourself in the process.
Q5: Finally what are some of the most important skills / certifications / etc that LIS folk can do to prepare them? Any last tips?
This is a great question. If you’re new to leadership, or at least leadership in a formal sense, I would recommend any of the many great leadership institutes or cohorts that exist in LIS. I was fortunate to attend the Leadership Institute for Academic Libraries (LIAL) at Harvard in 2012. The intensive learning environment with a focus on practical skills, combined with the relationships I made there, have and continue to serve me well. If an institute is not possible due to time and/or resources, look for opportunities to grow your leadership skills in your current environment. Volunteer to chair a committee or a project. Join an affinity group or community organization – all skills do not need to be gained in the workplace.
If you are considering growing into a leadership position outside of libraries, I would also encourage you to seek a mentor in the type of organization or the field that you aspire to work in. Mentoring relationships can provide valuable insights and connections that may come in helpful as you advance your career.
My last tip – be true to yourself. Take the time to really consider what brings you joy and what makes you want to get out of bed in the morning – and then find a job that has those qualities. There are organizations who will value your unique set of skills and talent and will help you grow as you help them grow. Find one, and flourish.
Nancy S. Kirkpatrick is the Executive Director and CEO of OhioNET, a multi-type library consortium based in Columbus, OH. She was previously the Associate Director of the Midwest Collaborative for Library Services, and the Director of Library Services at Marian University. Before entering librarianship, she practiced non-profit law. An ALA Spectrum Scholar, she enjoys serving the ALA membership through appointments to the Committee on Professional Ethics, the Spectrum Advisory Board, and the Diversity Research Grants Committee. She is particularly interested in change management, organizational development, and leadership models, especially as examined through an appreciative inquiry (AI) lens.
She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from Drake University, a Juris Doctor from the TC Williams School of Law at the University of Richmond, and a Master of Science in Library and Information Science from the iSchool (formerly Graduate School of Library and Information Science) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Views expressed are those of the interviewee and not INALJ or their employer. Photo provided by the interviewee and permission granted to use it for this interview.