"Leading from the Middle," and Other Contrarian Essays on Library Leadership

by John Lubans Jr.


While liberating management theories are well known to the profession, the traditional command-and-control structure prevails, leaving many libraries as reactive—not proactive—institutions. How can libraries create encouraging workplaces that are collaborative in decision making and action taking, have a clear mission, and are committed to bringing out the best in each person?

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Cover image for "Leading from the Middle," and Other Contrarian Essays on Library Leadership

June 2010

Libraries Unlimited

Pages 298
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Management and Administration/General
  Librarianship: Philosophy, Values, and Issues/Leadership
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This compilation reveals how followers help an organization get better and how effective followers—leading from the middle—are essential to the best kind of leadership.

In "Leading from the Middle," and Other Contrarian Essays on Library Leadership, John Lubans, Jr., argues for democratic library organizations with shared leadership and decision making by leaders and followers. His book distills 15 years worth of leadership essays to advance a theory of a collaborative and empowering leadership, touching on such subjects as teamwork, empowerment, "followership," challenges, values, coaching, self-management, collaboration, communication, and techniques and tools.

Lubans's 36 essays draw new and insightful perspectives on leadership from disparate realms: travel, sports, music, retail businesses, and airlines. All of the essays have been edited and revised for this book and many have been extensively updated with new material and epilogues. The essays flow from the author's experience as a manager/leader, his teaching of the topic, and his research into and experimentation with organizational leadership. Insights and suggestions are tempered by a candid reflection on successes achieved and mistakes made.


  • has been created for the book and supplements the book in multiple ways, with essays, observations, media, discussions, case studies, and self help tests
  • Photographs and illustrations emphasize points made within selected essays


  • Offers a practitioner's experiences and reflections
  • Teaches how to become an effective leader in spite of yourself, as well as how to be an effective follower
  • Offers alternative ways to make organizational progress based on lessons drawn from other industries
Author Info

John Lubans Jr., writes and teaches about library leadership and teamwork. His career has included senior administrative posts at large research libraries, most recently as a deputy university librarian. For two decades, he was visiting professor at the School of Library and Information Sciences at North Carolina Central University. He holds master's degrees in library science from the University of Michigan and in public administration from the University of Houston. He has published extensively on management and leadership, Internet use, user education, and teamwork. Lubans received a five-month Fulbright lecturing grant, effective February 2011, to teach library management and leadership at the University of Latvia.



"Lubans' writings, in addition to being engaging and entertaining, communicate the key theme of empowerment of self and others. . . . A key takeaway is that organizations, regardless of industry, need to become more self-managed and proactive to be competitive, take advantage of opportunities, and meet customer demands. Coaching and collaboration can bring organizations closer to those goals."
Library Leadership & Management Journal

"A good addition to the management shelf, along with standard texts."American Libraries

"Great reading and will be both enjoyable and instructive for anyone trying to provide top-notch library services."Booklist Online

"This refreshing, thought-provoking collection is highly recommended for library staff at all levels, as well as library school students."Library Journal

"This collection of essays written by a library administrator could be useful for any librarian. . . . This is a very thought provoking title and worth reading and discussing. Recommended."Library Media Connection

"This is not a traditional management text; however, the author's emphasis on the responsibilities of both managers and workers in an organization encourages self-reflective thinking and inspires transformation."VOYA

"Leading from the Middle is a well-written, readable tome that offers food for thought and conversation that will be helpful to any leader who seeks to understand what it is they do and assess how what they do works. I strongly recommend it."The Journal of Academic Librarianship

"It is both readable and 'thumb-able,' meaning you can just open it up, start reading, and become absorbed into the narrative. There may not be a better recommendation than that for professional reading."
College & Research Libraries News

"[Lubans] brings these narratives to life in a witty, self-effacing way. [He] has crafted an excellent primer on embracing organizational change in libraries. Librarians of all stripes are encouraged to read these essays."Project MUSE


"Lubans' essays are highly readable and, in contrast to other books on library management and leadership, he integrates into each narrative insight from a variety of professions and pursuits that are far from the traditional library world. His ideas are applicable in almost any library setting, and instead of thinking ‘outside the box,' Lubans draws a new framework for thinking that doesn't include boxes or other impediments. Whether it is experience gained from the Outward bound program, travel to other countries, management processes at Southwest Airlines, or organization of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Lubans uses lessons from all that inform his ideas about leading ‘from the middle.'" —Eric C. Shoaf, Assistant Dean, University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries

"John Lubans was the most consistently popular feature writer for Library Administration & Management during my term as editor. His insights were always perceptive; his opinions were thought-provoking; and his anecdotes were illustrative and entertaining. John Lubans has long been a voice, advocate, and source of practical advice for the oft-overlooked department heads and assistant directors who keep our libraries running from day-to-day. This collection of his works captures the breadth of his intellect in a way that will benefit librarians, library administrators, and library and information science students contemplating careers in library management."
—Gregg Sapp, Dean of Library and Media Services, The Evergreen State College

"The minds of the staff are the most valuable resources of a library. Yet, library managers continually fail to liberate this potential. John Lubans' writing in Library and Administrative Management brings this truth and the means for improvement to light through engaging stories and descriptions of personal experiences. I am delighted to see that these essays will become available to a broader audience."—Robert F. Moran, Jr., editor, Library and Administration Management 2002–2004, Librarian Emeritus, Indiana University

"John Lubans' message about 'leading from the middle' should be heard by library administrators and staff alike. These beautifully written essays explore the theory and practice of participatory management and are based on his extensive experience as a Deputy University Librarian at Duke and a library professor at North Carolina Central University. Essential reading for any course on library management."
—Marta Mestrovic Deyrup, PhD, Associate Professor, University Libraries and Codirector, Elizabeth Ann Seton Center for Women's Studies, Seton Hall University

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