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Woman Standing With A Mug That Reads Like A Boss

Public Library Leaders program: Making connections, creating future leaders

By Lisa Radha Weaver

Many of us find that to become effective and successful leaders, we have to make an investment of time and energy over a certain period—we don’t step into leadership roles “fully formed” and ready to go. For those of us working in the public library sector, one option available to us if we want to formally strengthen our leadership skills is to enroll in the Canadian Urban Libraries Council public leaders program. Now in its fourth year, the program is gaining a reputation for preparing library managers to successfully advance to higher levels of leadership within their institutions.

The Canadian Urban Libraries Council (CULC) represents libraries across the country, serving populations greater than 100,000 residents. The Public Library Leaders (PLLeaders) program is one of the council’s flagship initiatives, first offered in 2016. Three cohorts have already completed the 18-month program, which is designed to:

Engage seasoned library managers who have the desire and potential for the highest levels of leadership in public libraries. It exposes them to themes, case studies, experiences, and relationships with outstanding current leaders to augment their preparedness.”

While participants usually receive institutional support via some time and funding, participants are usually required to cover some of the costs, and personal time is required for site visits and pre- and post-site-visit coursework. Graduates of the program are eligible for a University of Toronto Certificate in Public Library Leadership and become part of a cross-Canada network that includes graduates from previous cohorts, such as Michelle Sawh.

Rebecca Raven
Rebecca Raven, co-creator and program director of the PLLeaders program

Rebecca Raven is the co-creator and program director of the PLLeaders program. According to Rebecca, her involvement in the program has been one of the most rewarding activities of her professional career—find out why her commitment to the program keeps growing.  

“The ‘behind-the-scenes’ stories from senior teams about their successes and more importantly, their challenges has given me the courage and the confidence to take more positive risks in my leadership.”

The current cohort includes participants who work in libraries across Canada, from Nova Scotia to B.C., and includes a CEO, along with directors and managers. Some of the group members attended the Northern Exposure to Leadership Institute (NELI) and graduated from library school, and all are passionate about their jobs in public libraries.

I am one of the members of the 2020 cohort. We are a very diverse group in terms of our life experiences and roles, and PLLeaders brings us together to share our common challenges and unique ideas and to work together to lead public libraries across Canada. These conversations happen as we spend time together, to learn both formally and informally. Formally, we are together for:

  • class sessions led by current and retired library CEOs
  • site visits led by library managers
Collage of photo of Calgary Public Library on the left and the Halifax Public Library on the right
We have visited a number of public libraries across Canada including Calgary (left) and Halifax (right). Our latest visit was to Washington, and we will go to the Lower Mainland (Vancouver) and to Toronto in 2020. Images courtesy of the Calgary Public Library and the Halifax Public Library.

What we learn in formal sessions builds upon what we learned in library school and upon the insights we have gained by fulfilling our daily work responsibilities. We benefit greatly from hearing from one another and from library CEOs and managers. 

For example, we’ve already heard how some senior managers are planning and working with their communities on initiatives like food literacy. The managers have also shared current best practices in finance, governance, intellectual freedoms, capital planning and human resources. These authentic examples help us in our current roles and prepare us for future opportunities, while the required readings provide us with foundational information from which to grow and reflect. Cumulatively, this new knowledge benefits us at work, in part by encouraging us to take positive risks in our current roles. 

We also learn a great deal from our informal time together:

  • during site-visit evenings 
  • on our group e-community

Recently, we also realized our taste in television shows ranges from Nashville to Grey’s Anatomya fact which reinforces our understanding that leadership comes in many forms and flavours. 

There are many reasons people join PLLeaders. Laura Warner, Director of Collections, Technology and Facilities, Saskatoon Public Library, believes in lifelong learning and is enjoying the breadth and depth of knowledge covered in each of the modules.


Transcript: Laura Warner

Jorge Cardenas, Branch Manager, Burnaby Public Library, believes the program will help him be able to make decisions from a position of power, not just from “a position of work.”

Transcript: Jorge Cardenas


Marcus Logan, Manager, Community Development & Engagement for the Oakville Public Library

And last but not least, Marcus Logan, Manager, Community Development & Engagement for the Oakville Public Library, thinks that the program is helping him gain a much deeper understanding of all facets of work in a public library—find out more about why he is committed to the program. 

“To have access to the different systems and their projects and leadership is an incredible gift.”

I think that the best part of the course is the opportunity to create a nationwide network of colleagues that is invaluable. We share program ideas and look forward to future opportunities to work and learn together as professionals committed to lifelong learning and to our profession.

Commitment to diverse library leadership


The current cohort is hoping to launch a scholarship for candidates working in public libraries serving populations of up to 25,000 residents. We are committed to continuing to grow and diversify public library leadership in Canada.  

Lisa Radha Weaver, Director, Collections and Program Development, works at the Hamilton Public Library. Over the last 20 years Lisa has had the opportunity to work at both Public and School Libraries. Lisa’s passions include providing equitable access to resources and volunteering. Currently as a Director at Hamilton Public Library, Lisa is also volunteering with the Ontario Library Association Mentoring Committee, Super Conference Planning and Best Bets. Lisa can be contacted at lweaver [at]

Feature photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash




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