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The Innovation Leadership Program

Los Angeles Public Library, CA
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Innovation Summary

To meet the changing needs of its communities, 21st century libraries need innovative leadership and services. The Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) and the Library Foundation of Los Angeles launched a two-year Innovation Leadership Program (ILP), the first residency program in a large urban public library system.

Problem Statement

Faced with reduced staffing levels, LAPL sought to change the organizational culture to give staff freedom to think creatively to solve issues and problems. ILP addresses this challenge by giving participants a broad understanding of the library's operations and by nurturing cross-department projects to inspire innovative ideas among the staff. Additionally, the Innovation Leadership Program takes a new approach to cultivating the next generation of public library leaders. By uniting ‘residents’ (recent library school graduates) with ‘fellows’ (mid-career librarians), the program provides the ILP team with resources and new skills necessary to lead LAPL into the twenty-first century. The ILP is an exciting way to invest in innovative library leaders and future services and an excellent method for exposing recent MLIS graduates to the rewards and challenges of working in a large urban public library. The ILP helps both Residents and Fellows acquire the necessary skills to become future public library leaders.


There are five key elements of the Innovation Leadership Program: Recruitment: Extensive search for top recent library school graduates & competitive internal search for best middle managers. Candidates are asked to propose programs related to diversity and special community needs. Orientation & Socialization: Intensive introduction to public librarianship and socialization activities to facilitate Resident & Fellow pairings. Rotations and Specialization Projects: To give as broad an experience as possible about the organization’s myriad operations, the Residents are assigned to four three-month rotations conducted over the first year. To garner staff support and active participation, branch libraries apply to become host sites. To develop fresh, new services and programs, Residents and Fellows are jointly responsible for proposing, planning and implementing a specialization project. Professional Development: One of the unique aspects of the ILP is the intentional cultivation of two sets of public library leaders: new professionals (Residents) and veteran librarians (Fellows). Residents and Fellows received intensive leadership training to lay the groundwork for their two-year experience. To foster team building and communication, Residents and Fellows participate in monthly cohort meetings. Funds are made available for Residents and Fellows to attend professional conferences and visit peer institutions to learn and share best practices and insights. Post-Residency: Provide job placement assistance; conduct exit interview to assess the program's success; use social media to keep ILP participants in touch with each other; and past Residents and Fellows will serve on the ILP Advisory committee. Eventually, LAPL hopes to conduct a longitudinal study of career trajectories.


To test the elements of the first major public library residency, LAPL and the Library Foundation of Los Angeles partnered to conduct a six-month pilot project. The anticipated outcomes were how to best structure and facilitate: the Residency's rotational assignments; the Residency's specialization projects; and the Fellows' participation in the Residency program. What was learned: a) Longer rotations are needed; b) A longer orientation will be more effective; c) more planning is needed before undertaking the specialization project; d) Provide clear information and involve host site staff from the beginning; e) Strong funding resulted in more successful projects; and f) The Fellows' role in ILP needs to be clarified. Despite an extremely condensed time frame, the ILP was a success and led to the development of a two-year residency at LAPL. Anticipated outcomes for the two-year Innovation Leadership Program include: Fellows and Residents will gain unique experience and perspective necessary to become creative and effective library leaders. Increased leadership and management skills for both Residents and Fellows. Six months after the two-year program, all Residents will have secured a public library job. Sixty percent of the second year special innovation projects will succeed in improving access for diverse communities to library services as measured by usage rates by target audiences. The Innovation Leadership Program will serve as a model for public library based leadership programs.