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Gen PL: The Next Generation of Public Library Leaders

San Francisco Public Library

Problem Statement

Leadership for a new and dynamic public library model is essential. Leadership that is community-centric and with a focus on change and adaptive organizations that embrace technology, service innovation and stakeholder engagement is necessary for libraries to thrive in the new normal. The need for developing a succession plan for future leaders provided a compelling case for a leadership training program at SFPL.


The San Francisco Public Library designed a leadership academy to develop the next generation of leaders. What makes this model different is its inclusive and diverse approach – from custodians to librarians at all levels, to information technicians and security personnel, the curriculum consisted of four day-long sessions on relevant topics that were complemented by extracurricular activities. The sessions included effective leadership in libraries; the library’s role in the urban setting; transforming organizational culture; and coaching and communication. Additional activities such as project management, development of a mentoring network and access to managers through information coffees complemented the formal curriculum. The overall program was led by a seasoned expert in managerial leadership Maureen Sullivan with additional support from the library’s training officer, the human resources department and partner agencies.


Gen PL has made significant progress in transforming SFPL’s organization culture. The values of engagement, communication and leadership at all levels is taking hold and producing tangible results. For example:

  • To date, two Gen PL cohorts totaling 78 participants have successfully completed the leadership program
  • Participants in the first cohort engaged in project teams to successfully complete fourteen system wide projects. The projects ranged from assessing self-service practices in branch libraries and developing public training tutorials, to “green” programming and demographic mapping of San Francisco’s ethnic communities.
  • Developed a Mentor/Gen PL Fellows network to provide ongoing coaching and leadership development to participants.
  • Sponsored annual panel discussions that provided access to key community leaders such as the police and fire chiefs; housing authority, public works and port directors and the school district superintendent
  • Developed key strategies for organizational improvement and personal skills development
  • A stronger connection to and deeper understanding of the organization