This March, in tandem with the association’s Spring 2019 Leadership Academy, the Public Library Association (PLA) hosted twelve librarians from Africa for an international leadership learning exchange and immersion experience. It also served as the capstone event for the first graduating class of the African Library and Information Associations and Institutions’ (AfLIA) leadership academy.
With funding and support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, PLA had partnered with AfLIA to develop an academy for African public librarians. The kickoff event for the inaugural AfLIA Leadership Academy (AfLAc) cohort was held Nairobi, Kenya, in January 2018. Eleven librarians from seven countries participated in the first cohort, and nine of them made the trip to the U.S.—accompanied by three AfLIA leadership coaches—for the capstone event.
“The purpose of the exchange was to create connections between AfLIA and PLA Leadership Academy participants while demonstrating to African librarians how U.S. public libraries meet community needs,” explains Mary Hirsh, PLA deputy director of programs. “We wanted to explore leadership models in different contexts, as well as the role of leadership in developing innovative services.”
The AfLIA leaders spent the first day of their week-long trip attending PLA Leadership Academy sessions in Chicago, IL. There, they learned about PLA’s new Leadership Model and heard illustrative stories from the field. That evening the AfLIA cohort joined their U.S. counterparts for an evening of improvisational comedy-based communication and networking exercises at Chicago’s The Second City Training Center.
For the rest of the week, the AfLIA cohort split from the U.S. librarians to tour four public libraries in Illinois and Wisconsin. They visited Madison (WI) Public Library, Columbus (WI) Public Library, Skokie (IL) Public Library, and the Chicago Public Library's Chinatown branch. Some of the areas the African librarians were most interested learning about included non-book-based services, supporting patrons’ creativity and personal expression, and service to vulnerable populations.