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Gen PL: the Next Generation of Library Leaders

San Francisco Public Library

Problem Statement

In 2008, a city study projected that 31% of SFPL staff would be eligible for retirement in 5 years; for library leadership positions, this number was 56%. The study revealed a need for succession planning and a compelling need to create a dynamic and adaptive organizational culture. SFPL aimed to establish a culture of engagement that recognized talent and leadership at every level, preparing staff to take risks, be accountable, and develop the skills to lead organizational change.


Our solution was Gen PL - an innovative multi-year internal leadership training program. Two cohorts of Gen PL Fellows (total 65) represent almost every staff classification, from pages to librarians, technicians, security officers, custodial, IT staff, and middle managers, thus ensuring that all staff in key positions, regardless of their functional unit, could provide and model participatory leadership. Key program components include a variety of learning opportunities to promote skills and strategies that support taking ownership of one’s place in the organization and leading from any position. The curriculum includes:
  1. Four full-day sessions devoted to exploring and practicing effective leadership, understanding the city and organization, building trust, coaching staff, and improving communication;
  2. Unprecedented access to the City Librarian, senior staff, and other city leaders such as the Police Chief and the Superintendent of Schools through meetings, panels and coffee hours;
  3. Experience leading & participating in cross-unit team projects with real impact on policy/operations;
  4. Support workshops dedicated to building core management skills such as project management, community engagement, group facilitation, coaching, and mentoring and change management.


Gen PL has successfully created a culture of change and engagement at SFPL through leadership development throughout the organization. Participants led staff committees and cross-functional efficiency teams, resulting in the reorganization of major operational functions (collection development, bookmobiles, delivery services), and more significantly improving public service to our customers. In addition, approximately 25% of participants have been promoted, appointed to acting promotional assignments, or qualified for promotional exams. Consistent feedback reflects the fact that the values of individual leadership at all levels, collaboration across library units, improved internal communication, collaboration, and networking have all spread throughout the system. The ultimate success is that SFPL is developing a cohort of future leaders for our library and city.