Leadership Development Program Commencement Speech

Delivered at the Library of Congress on August 20, 2013

 

Dr. Billington, members of the Executive Committee, directors and chiefs, managers and supervisors, colleagues, family, invited guests, and friends.

Good morning.

I am humbled to be addressing this esteemed audience, in this venerable institution, on behalf of the nine other fellows I have come to know and love these past fifteen months.

Raymond Patt a veteran of World War II, once said in an oral history that, "You get closer to the men with whom you live and die, then with your mother, your sister, your wife. Because you depend on each other, and you would sacrifice your life for them. And that's not drama. The closeness cannot be explained."

To my fellow LDP-ers, I can only say that the closeness I feel toward you cannot easily be explained. Your grace, humor, intellect and courage, has inspired me to be a better colleague, a better leader, and a better person.

Thank you for all you have meant to me these past 15 months.

Ten of us were selected. But the Leadership Development Program is not simply an exercise in taking X amount of dollars for X amount of FTEs and pulling together 15 months of training. It is far bigger. It is the actualization of an idea that great institutions must continually regenerate themselves in order to survive. Dr. James Billington and John Kluge recognized that future stewardship of the Library of Congress must not be left to chance. Leadership must be passed, like a baton in a relay. The race does not pause or reset. Pass the baton while the race is occurring, or risk falling behind.

LDP is the sum total of a vast institutional commitment. To every mentor of a fellow. To every supervisor. To every staff member that presented to us. To our colleagues in our home offices who supported us, to those who accommodated us during our work assignments, to those that process our financial transactions... it takes an agency. We stand here the product of your diligence and commitment. We thank you.

There are two specific thank you's we must offer. The first is to our LDP predecessors. Without LDP's 1-7, there would be no LDP8. Each cohort laid the foundation for the next to be a success, and laid the foundation upon which the Library's future is being built. Thank you for the leadership you exhibit daily.

The second is to Fern Underdue. If LDP were Star Wars, Fern would be our Yoda. She has witnessed the rise of many Jedis. She has developed an intimate oneness with the force, how the universe of the Library holds together. She has cultivated the talents of decades of interns and fellows, pushed them to grow beyond their comfort zones, and groomed them to contribute to the continuation of our mission. It has been our privilege--and perhaps privilege is not strong enough a word--to be a part of Fern's incredible career. To you, Fern, we simply say, we love you.

Love. Early on, one of our instructors said there are only two emotions in this world: Love. And fear.

Each day, we choose from which to operate.

To operate from a place of fear can steer us toward resentment, bitterness, inaction, jealousy, and distrust. It is a hurtful and vulnerable place. We see obstacles. We see limitations. Fear can make us small.

To operate from a place of love opens possibilities. It opens possibilities for collaboration, trust, camaraderie, and shared success. Love invites people in. It builds bridges. It frees us to think broadly about the impact we can make, options for overcoming challenges, and how we can help others. It gives us enormous power to create a world as we would like to see it. Love makes us big.

Fifteen months ago the ten of us walked into a room not knowing anything about each other. Now, I cannot imagine a life without them. Fear would have closed that access point. But through being vulnerable. Listening without judgment. Mutual respect. And love. We have set individual egos aside and created a cohort of big ideas and awesome power.

The result has been that we have addressed the challenges laid before us. We have offered solutions to complex institutional problems. And we have fostered a safe environment wherein we have collaboratively laid out potential roadmaps for the institution's strategic, operational and tactical future. All in a short 15 months.

Seeing what we can do together when we love, has led us to have no fear. And this is despite the fact that as an institution, there could be potentially much to fear.

We could fear reduced funding. We could fear that our service units will be split up. We could fear new technologies. We could fear new realities of how and where we work. We could fear the future.

We acknowledge these challenges. Yet we, LDP8, see a very bright future for the Library.

For starters, being granted a birds-eye view of the institution we have seen inspiring dedication everywhere. Decades of service. Effort and passion. You have built lives here. You've built careers here. You've innovated here. You've served the American people. We could not help but be moved by your dedication. Seeing that dedication in action, working together to accomplish extraordinary things, we know that continually harnessing that passion and expertise can create innumerable ways to overcome our challenges.

This is one of the fundamental leadership shifts in the 21st century. As opposed to dictating from the top, we have learned that, as the leader, you must show that you care about the talents and skills of your people, and unite them in common purpose. Only then will they follow. Only then will you unlock the best of their talents. Only then will they listen to what you have to say.

This holds true for an institution. We as the Library of Congress need to show the world how much we care. The good news is, we do it every single day.

When Congress uses unbiased information we provide to impact policy that promotes the common good, we show that we care.

When a songwriter receives our certificate in the mail telling her that the force of the Constitution protects her creativity, we are saying that we care.

When a veteran gains peace of mind knowing his story will live on for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, we show that we care.

When a film lights up a starry night for the first time in 100 years because of our restoration work...

When a scholar's book researched and written here informs a new way of looking at the world...

When a foreign government validates its claims to ancestral lands using maps in our collection...

When the laws of a civilization are destroyed, and can be repatriated only by us...

When teachers get the resources to create engaged learning in their classrooms...

When children across the world see the documents of their nation's heritage digitized by the Library of Congress...

We are showing that we care.

We provide all these gifts on a daily basis. When we tell that story, for me, any fear of our future melts away.

As long as humans continue to have questions, seek answers, thirst for knowledge, and dig for explanations, the Library of Congress will remain important. Within these walls are our culture's collected thoughts and ideas, evidences and justifications, hopes and dreams. History has shown that the sum power of those contents is mightier than the mightiest of armies.

That eternal power cannot be extinguished by our temporal challenges.

We, LDP8, are excited for the Library's future and how we may contribute to it. The Digital Age will not make us obsolete. If we draw on the strengths of our culture. The expertise of our staff. The pride in our purpose. The dedication within our ranks. Our collections. We will succeed. And we as LDP8 are ready to work with all of you to tap these resources, rally around common goals, and co-craft the future together.

The Digital Age offers us powerful tools to provide lawmakers, federal agencies, and citizens worldwide the knowledge they need to navigate the challenges of the 21st century. The changing demographics of our nation, the interconnectivity of global affairs, the ecological survival of our very planet... policymakers, scholars, and all of us will need knowledge to understand and confront these issues. And that knowledge will not be confined solely to physical books or physical stacks. It will be all around us. We are excited to pursue a Library that educates and enlightens that world--even if it bears little resemblance to the one we once knew.

In closing, I wish to share a statement I found while researching these remarks:

"A technological explosion is reshaping the way information is stored and communicated, while rising costs and limited resources strain the public institutions that make information accessible. Given the prospects of continuing technological developments, the mushrooming of information, and severe reductions of funding, libraries must explore ways to serve each other's needs as well as the needs of their own patrons. It is increasingly apparent that serving the library community means working with that community."

This quote is from the Library of Congress annual report of 1980. We have been here before. The challenges, while daunting, are not new. 33 years on from these words--213 from when John Adams first established us--we are still here.

As future leaders, we wish to say that we are ready to help ensure that we are here for another 213. Thank you.

Delivered at the graduation from the Library of Congress Leadership Development Program, August 20, 2013. The Leadership Development Program is a 15-month agency-wide program to develop candidates for future leadership positions within the Library of Congress.

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