Library Leadership as Performance Art

Last night during a really awesome #libleadgender discussion on Twitter, my friend @erinaleach posed this question:

Gendered expectations for leaders is one version of performance. How else do we ask our leaders to perform? #libleadgender

It took me a minute. And then it made my brain explode in that way where I think “I have to get this out and write it down.”

I feel like almost every day I am performing a role as a Library Director that can sometimes feel not very authentically me. I’ve written before about expectations and certainly the reasoning behind #libleadgender was really how I felt I was expected to perform in a certain way as a leader because of my gender. But, the thing that clicked in my head last night was more about how I perform as a different version of myself because I have to sometimes.

And I also wonder now if I feel like I perform because what I’m doing is acting “differently” or more towards my gendered expectations that others have for me as a female library director. This question really got me. It seemed to get some other people, too.

This is also because I perform so many other roles and they define me and the roles bleed back and forth from time to time. I can’t divorce myself from my gender, my role as a mother, my status as a partnered person or a divorcee. All of this constructs I live in are a part of my daily performance.

Here’s my list of “performances” I feel like I’ve put on this week *just* at work. Head cheerleader, advocate, peace maker, mentor, strategist, decider, friendly colleague (this one is easiest) and good old bosslady. I have sat in meetings this week where I’ve held my tongue because I didn’t feel qualified, lead other meetings, and finessed my way through countless conversations advocating and listening.

At least once a week, I am expected to put on a performance as a Miracle Worker who makes it happen and makes money fall from the sky.


In some of these roles, I feel supported by colleagues in similar positions but not in all. Sometimes, I feel like I’m out there on my own and I cannot see if the audience is pleased or not. Other times, with those I really trust, I feel like I do not have to perform. I can just contribute. I do not know how and when and if I will ever feel like that most of the time.

So, the question I pose to you….what roles do you expect your director or dean to perform for you? For others? How do we get to a space where we are all more authentically ourselves? Is that possible?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *