Leading Through a Crisis: The Application of Servant Leadership During COVID-19

Leading Through a Crisis: The Application of Servant Leadership During COVID-19

Mary Piorun, Regina Fisher Raboin, Jessica Kilham, Martha Meacham, Vivian Okyere
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6449-3.ch001
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In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lamar Soutter Library was faced with moving off campus and into a remote work environment. As the crisis unfolded, it was critical for staff to experience a unified leadership team that was dedicated to their well-being, empathetic to the unprecedented situation, and committed to providing exceptional service. At that time, library leaders made a conscious decision to apply the principles of servant leadership as the framework for how, as a team, the library would see its way through the pandemic. What follows is a case study in the application of servant leadership in an academic health sciences library during the COVID-19 crisis.
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The Lamar Soutter Library (LSL) at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (The University) is a medium-sized academic health sciences library located in Worcester, Massachusetts, USA. The Library serves approximately 1,200 students in three professional schools (School of Medicine, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, and Graduate School of Nursing) and 5,000 researchers, faculty, and staff. In addition, the Library provides services to the University’s clinical partner, the UMass Memorial Health Care System (UMMHC), which consists of an additional 14,000 physicians, nurses, and staff.

Including grant-funded positions, the Library has 32 FTE and a budget in the range of $8 million (USD) annually. Core services include educational and clinical outreach, research and scholarly communication support, in-person library assistance, interlibrary loan functions, and archive and institutional repository services, as well as support for a series of regional and national outreach grants. The Library is at the heart of student life on campus, averaging 850 walk-in visits daily. Students visit the Library to meet friends, collaborate on projects, use specialized software, socialize, and find quiet study space. Conversely, researchers and clinicians often visit the Library through virtual means, preferring to access the Library’s extensive electronic collection of journals, books, and databases.

In early February 2020, like many academic health centers in the United States, the University was closely monitoring the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the potential impact on the delivery of educational programming and clinical care. In the Library, managers were monitoring staff who had upcoming travel and conference commitments and questioning whether staff would be permitted to attend. Staff were advised to consider bringing laptops and critical files back and forth with them on their work commutes as the situation was changing rapidly. This was the extent of the Library’s preparedness when the University issued a work from home (WFH) order beginning March 14, 2020 with no specified return date.

As the numbers of COVID-19 cases began to rise, Library staff members faced many challenges. There were concerns for their individual safety and that of family members, friends, and work colleagues. Although many staff anticipated being sent home, no one was prepared for what this would mean in practice or in the long term. Besides the basic issues of food and safety concerns, there were issues of childcare, computer hardware and software needs, limited Internet access, having an appropriate place to work, serving users from a distance, and the need for information on what was happening in the present and what would occur in the future.

The Library’s mission is to be “an essential partner exercising creative leadership to provide equitable service to all in teaching, learning, and accessing information in support of education, research, and healthcare” (Lamar Soutter Library, 2020). Like other health sciences libraries during the emerging pandemic, Library staff felt they had a critical role in providing accurate and timely information to the clinical system and research community, as both sought to bring the pandemic to an end as soon as possible. Also, the Library was called on for additional support to fulfill the curricular and research needs of students who were mid-semester in their studies. Most importantly, the demand for online clinical resources to support clinical education was mounting, and the Library was key in locating, vetting, and providing access to these specialized resources and providing literature searching to inform the rapidly evolving clinical policies.

The Library Management Team (Director, Associate Director, and Financial Officer), along with the Supervisors Team (six Department Heads), met to discuss the situation and assess staff’s ability to work remotely. At that time, making a conscious decision, the principles of servant leadership became the framework for how, as a team, the Library would see its way through the pandemic.

Servant leadership emphasizes that leaders are attentive to the concerns of their followers and empathize with them (Northouse, 2019). The theory states that a person emerges as a leader by first becoming a servant. The focus is less on institutional or position power, but rather, authority is shifted to those who are being led. Servant leadership values everyone’s involvement in the community, because it is within the community that one experiences and builds respect, trust, and individual strength (Greenleaf, 1977).

Key Terms in this Chapter

What the Heck: Another variation of the Picture Game where unusual or antique items are shared, and staff are asked to identify the object and its purpose.

Lunch and Craft: Library staff are invited to spend their lunch break together and work on a craft-based project and discuss anything and everything. Crafting not required. Meetings are held once a month.

Goat-to-Meeting: A special staff meeting was scheduled in which a representative from Sweet Farms in Half Moon Bay, CA USA provided a virtual site visit of the farm and farm animals ( https://www.sweetfarm.org/goat-2-meeting ).

Picture Game: Staff are encouraged to take a photo of something in their house, yard, or neighborhood and submit it to be included in a short game played at the end of each staff meeting where their fellow staff members are asked to guess who took the photo. The owner of the item then explains the history of the item and any special significance.

Close Up: A variation of the Picture Game where the photo taken is a close-up of an item, or a small portion of that item, and staff are asked to identify the object.

Trivia: When there was a shortage of photos available to play the Picture Game, trivia questions were utilized. Questions were on a wide range of topics.

We Are Here Video: Library staff lent their voices to a short video to be distributed in the University community to remind faculty, staff, and students that the Library staff were available to support their information needs during the pandemic ( https://library.umassmed.edu/news-events/lsl-now/we-are-still-here-for-you ).

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