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Jun 28 / Christine Illichmann

SLIS Leader: Dr. Sandra Yee

The SLIS Leaders Blog Post Series highlights library and information leaders and seeks their insights on leadership and LIS trends. Our first interview features Dr. Sandra Yee.

Dr. Sandra Yee is Dean of the Wayne State University Library System, a role in which she oversees operations of both the University Libraries and the School of Library and Information Science. She has worked in the field of academic librarianship for over 35 years and will be retiring from the position of Dean in August 2017. We caught up with her to get insights about libraries, leadership, and where the LIS professions are headed.

You can read Dr. Yee’s faculty profile on the Wayne State University Libraries website.

Photo - Dr. Sandra Yee, Dean of the Wayne State University Library System

Dr. Sandra Yee, Dean of the Wayne State University Library System

Over the course of your career you’ve seen a great deal of change in libraries – whether that’s policies, technology, or other trends. What recommendations do you have for library professionals who have to adapt to and manage change?

Stay informed, stay current.  Continuously learn about trends in the profession.  Go to conferences, read, talk to colleagues.  Try new things, don’t be afraid. Force yourself to embrace new technologies and to try new things.  It’s important to understand the process of “failing fast”. Find a way to scale projects for testing and if they don’t work out, then learn from that. Take some risks but know when to dial back!

You have balanced many important roles in addition to your role as Dean.  Currently, you are Chair of the OCLC Board of Trustees, you’re a past-president and current board member of the Friends of the Detroit Public Library Friends Foundation and a member of the Wayne State University Press Editorial Board. Over the course of your career, you’ve held similar roles at similar organizations. How do you manage the demands of these various roles on your time and what recommendations do you have for LIS professionals who would like to participate more actively in organizations outside of their “day job”?

I recommend picking some organizations that you really care about and that have goals and values similar to yours.  Finding time and energy to work with professional organizations is easier if you are passionate about the organization and have a desire to help make it the best it can be.

As Dean of University Libraries and the School of Library and Information Science, you are a key stakeholder in many important decisions that have long-term impact on the university, its libraries, and SLIS. Do you have a particular process for making big decisions in terms of getting input and using data? How do you assess need and the potential impact of the decisions you have to make?

When big decisions have to be made I like to take some time and look at the whole picture.  That means asking for input from those who should know the situation, getting the important data and considering alternatives.  I try to consider what the desired outcome would look like.  In the end, I also trust my gut because I learned a long time ago, “if it doesn’t FEEL right, don’t do it!”

What do you think is the most underestimated trend in the LIS professions currently? Is there something that LIS professionals should be spending more time or attention on that is going unnoticed?

Customer relationship management and artificial intelligence.  I was just reading about not just self-check out at grocery stores, but NO check out.  All done through an app.  Are we even talking about this for libraries??? I think there’s a place for CRM systems like SalesForce and similar automated email systems in libraries, and some libraries are starting to use those for marketing and interaction. There’s a lot of activity with AI and libraries aren’t there yet. Libraries need to be really watching what’s happening out there.

I think it’s crucial to study library literature, but also study customer service, study inventory control systems, don’t just study library literature. Keep your mind open and read about other trends and technology because those things will influence libraries down the road.

When I was an undergraduate I studied creativity –I wanted to know how I could be more creative and what are processes of creativity – and that has helped me think in the way I do. It’s important to not just think critically but also creatively.

What additional advice to you have for library professionals who are interested in becoming excellent leaders?

It’s important for leaders to know what the people in your organization are doing. It’s important for a leader to know how things work. I think there is a fine line between micromanaging and knowing what people do. They are the experts, that’s why I hired them because they’re the experts. I want to know what they do so I understand what their challenges are and understand how they’re meeting those challenges. One semester I taught LIS 7060: Academic Libraries online and it was difficult. I had to learn about Blackboard and Adobe Connect.  I created video recordings as well as powerpoint slides, so it was a lot to prepare!  But I felt it was an excellent experience. I felt needed to do it so I understood what the faculty do and would know what faculty were going through when teaching online.   I knew what challenges they were facing.

I’m a pretty energetic person both mentally and physically – I believe it is important to maintain your energy.

What projects or highlights from your career are you particularly proud of?

One of the highlights of my career is the success of the University Library System and the School of Library and Information Science at Wayne State.  I have been able to move the libraries forward by partnering with students and faculty, bringing resources to them where they are, and providing a safe and inspiring physical environment.  We moved the Library and Information Science Program totally online in 2008, increased enrollment, and changed from Program to School.

At Eastern Michigan University I was deeply engaged in the development and building of the Bruce T. Halle Library which opened in 1998, with a new model for storing collections, the Automated Storage and Retrieval System which was the second one to be built in a library in the US.  It was an exceptional opportunity to work with faculty and students but also to work with that technology. It was a unique opportunity at the time to work with Voyager (the Integrated Library System) to define the specifications so that the automated system and Voyager worked correctly together so the software would identify the bin where the item was stored and place it at the retrieval system. I learned about logistics, I learned about inventory control and logistics and I learned there is so much more to it!

Are there any moments in your career that you would have approached differently?

For me, I’m happy with the decisions that I made. I stayed at one location for 19 years and at another for 16 years.  For others, I’d suggest moving to new opportunities more quickly if that is something that seems right.

What makes Wayne State special to you?

The relationship the University Libraries have developed with the Student Senate, in particular, is quite special to me. We really have reached out and had a partnership that is not always easy to accommodate in an academic setting. One thing I’m most proud of during my time at Wayne State is my selection as 2010-2011 Administrator of the Year by the Student Senate. It was the inaugural year for that award and I feel very proud that I was chosen for that honor. We’ve also been able to develop a good relationship with the university faculty members and that is extremely important.

I also feel I’ve had a really unique experience working with SLIS. Nowhere else is there an ARL library where a Dean can have dual roles in both the libraries and the library school. It’s been a unique experience and one I’ve embraced and treasured.

And last, but not least, if you were to start your MLIS studies in 2017, what focus area would you choose and why?

I would definitely take every technology course I could take, and focus on Information Management.  I think that the future of libraries is exciting but in many new ways, and I’d want to be prepared for whatever new ways were around the corner!