ACRL Member of the Week: Lori Birrell

Lori Birrell

Lori Birrell is the associate dean for special collections at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Lori has been a member of ACRL for 2 years and is your ACRL member of the week for February 10, 2020.

Lori recently brought her expertise in the leadership and management skills and competencies needed to lead an academic library to the ACRL publication, Developing the Next Generation of Library Leaders.

Lori Birrell

Describe yourself in three words: Collaborator, learner, driven

What are you reading (or listening to on your mobile device(s)? I’m currently reading The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers for a book club I’m a member of. I regularly read the posts to Alison Green’s Ask a Manager blog. For the past year or so, I’ve been listening to a podcast called Safe for Work. I like to read or listen to management and leadership resources that are outside of our field. These sources provide additional context for the work that we do and often approach leadership and management topics from a broader perspective, which is helpful.

Describe ACRL in three words: Community, leader, information source.

What do you value about ACRL? I value the ability to learn about different aspects of librarianship through my participation in ACRL. The leadership discussion group and related webinars provide great information to emerging leaders/managers and those with more experience. As someone who began her career focused on archives, I rely on ACRL to become more aware of broader library trends, which impact my daily work now as an administrator.

What do you as an academic librarian contribute to your campus? As an academic librarian and an AD at the University of Arkansas, I see my role as being a connector between people, our library resources, and ideas. Librarians naturally work in an interdisciplinary space. In Special Collections, we talk with faculty and students from a variety of disciplines. Based on those conversations we can bring people together around a common problem they’re trying to solve. For example, there’s a lot of buzz on campus about the upcoming 75th anniversary of the Fulbright Program in 2021. As the repository for the archives documenting that program, we have many opportunities to develop collaborations around the records, our services, and expertise. As a result, we’ve partnered on a grant to make more archival collections discoverable for research, we’ve started a digitization project that will add 10,000 pages of program-related content to our digital collections, and have begun planning an interdisciplinary class with a student curated exhibit as one course outcome. These collaborations reinforce the important idea that libraries are places where intellectual curiosity is fostered, and positions librarians as knowledge creators and partners in that journey.

In your own words: As academic librarians we tend to focus on the functional aspects of our work, like learning new metadata standards, Open Access models, or active learning pedagogy, and less on the skills needed to be strong leaders on our campuses. I believe that leadership skills aren’t tools you’re born with. They must be learned. I became interested in learning more about librarians’ pathways into leadership, which has guided my research and my own personal skill development. I try to encourage everyone I work with to engage in their own skill development, regardless of where they sit in the organizational hierarchy. We all benefit from an organization with strong leaders.


Editor’s Note: Are you an ACRL member? Would you like to be featured as ACRL Member of the Week? Nominate a colleague? Contact Mary Jane Petrowski at mpetrowski@ala.org for more information.