Transparency in Library Leadership

By Jolene Nechiporenko


Libraries are an excellent example of organizations that can benefit from the leadership strategy of transparency.  “The first important issue that drives transparent behavior is communication and helping people get the facts straight in the beginning and without emotional uncertainty.” (Crumpton, 2011)

Transparent leadership can reap benefits when used in communication. “Easy access to information means the the public’s appetite for accountability cannot be thwarted” (Johnson, 2012).  In Johnson’s article, Transparency and Trust, he explains the importance of being upfront and honest.  The theory of transparency embraces frequent, open, and honest communication.  Communication, flowing both directions, creates a network, a fan base, a group of shareholders, or even a community that supports and backs the library. Shoaf (2013), says that “…this process would be open and transparent, would be designed to receive input from library personnel, would make information about the process freely available to everyone, and would promote and encourage system-wide thinking among task force members and all library employees.” Shoaf’s article is directed toward internal organizations but would suffice for those that also address the external.

Communications such as a blogs or a websites can be used to stifle rumors. To draw on what Shoaf stated above, transparency and communication make for happier employees by keeping them in the loop of what’s going on. Transparency “can move organizational stress off the scale” (Crumpton, 2011). It can also help the breakdown of silos within the work environment.

Transparency recognizes and creates stakeholders both inside and outside of the library.  According to Thompson, “Your customers are going to poke around in your business anyway, and your workers are going to blab about internal info- so why not make it work for your by turning everyone into a partner in the process and inviting the to do so?” (2007). Not only are you inviting people to learn more about your organization, you are inviting them through a direct source – the tone of which you control.  “Google is not a search engine.  Google is a reputation management system.  And that one of the most powerful reasons so many CEOs have become more transparent: Online, your rep is quantifiable, findable, and totally unavoidable.  In other words, radical transparency is a double-edged sword, but once you know the new rules, you can use it to control your image in ways you never could before” (Thompson, 2007).  “Online is where reputations are made now,” says reputation strategist, Leslie Gaines Ross (as cited in Thompson, 2007, p. 6).

Transparency backs your decision-making and can help justify expenses.  Many libraries today include their operating budget on their websites so that stakeholders can see and understand how the money is being spent. “Making it known why your organization makes the decisions it does and being forthright when it makes mistakes are effective ways to humanize your library” (Schmidt, 2013). This also demystifies the library. “Just where does all the money in the library budget go and what does the librarian do all day anyway?” (Johnson, 2012).

Transparency allows libraries to be heard: “…we’ve become so good at dealing with limited resources, setbacks, and a lack of public recognition that we sometime stifle our ability to stand up and shout about everything that makes us great” (Casey & Stephens, 2007-2014).

The bottom line is that transparency builds trust by allowing libraries to be heard, understood, and communicative, which in turn establishes a reputation.  “Trust breeds loyalty, and loyal library users are more likely to support the library” (Schmidt, 2013). In turn, these users are also more likely to support the library by financial means, volunteer time, etc.


blogpicJolene Nechiporenko

Jolene Nechiporenko is a senior student in the MLIS programs at SJSU and plans to pursue a career in academic librarianship.