The path to leadership: the career journey of academic health sciences library directors


  • Rick L. Fought Director, Health Sciences Library, University of Tennessee Health Science Center–Memphis
  • Mitsunori Misawa Assistant Professor, Educational Psychology and Research–Adult Learning, University of Tennessee–Knoxville



Leadership, Effectiveness, Leadership Development, Administration, Phenomenology, Academic Health Sciences Libraries, Librarianship


Objective: The authors examined the career journeys of academic health sciences library directors to better understand their leadership development and what led them to their leadership positions in libraries.

Methods: A qualitative phenomenological approach was employed due to its focus on exploring and understanding the meaning that individuals ascribe to a particular phenomenon or experience. Eleven library directors from academic health sciences libraries at public universities with very high research activity agreed to participate in the study. The research question guiding this study was: What was the library directors’ career journey that led them into library leadership?

Results: A major theme that emerged from the data was “Path to Leadership.” Although each participant’s journey was unique, common elements surfaced as they chronicled their careers that were informative as to how they understood their emergence and development as library leaders. The four categories defining this theme were breadth of experience, focused preparation, mentors, and recognition and development of leadership potential.

Conclusions: Previous research suggests that leadership development and preparedness are important contributors to leadership effectiveness. It was encouraging to witness and understand the amount of preparation by participants to ready themselves for their roles as library directors. This study provides a comprehensive view of the path to library leadership that furthers understanding of the value of leadership development and preparedness and provides a model for aspiring library leaders.


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Original Investigation