AALL Leader Profile: Susan Nevelow Mart

CoALL member Susan Nevelow Mart was recently profiled in the AALL Education Update [See January 2021 Update].

Susan Nevelow Mart
Professor and Director of the Law Library
University of Colorado Law School
William A. Wise Law Library


What does leadership mean to you?
It means a having a vision for the law library. There is internal and external leadership. The external vision for me is being part of the scholarly discussion about issues important to our profession. Internally, it means enabling others to succeed in their areas of expertise. I think everyone who is a professional librarian has things that they are passionate about. We’re not a profession without scholarship, but not everyone wants or needs to contribute as a scholar. But everyone can contribute in some way by being on committees, by being on taskforces, by getting involved in AALL, and by presenting on topics. All of these things are elements of outreach for our profession that are important.

As example of leadership, I started the “Boulder Conference on Legal information: Scholarship and Teaching,” because there was no place for librarians to meet with people who had the scholarly background to help them. Librarians are generally very curious and broadly-educated people. Encouraging that curiosity is really a wonderful thing.

How do you help others develop their leadership skills?
I try to be a mentor in my own library. That can be hard to implement in the flat hierarchal structure that exists in so many libraries. So to me, being involved in professional development opportunities is really important to develop leadership–that means working on committees. There are law school committees and university-level committees. There is AALL. If you are curious and involved, you will become a chair of a committee, and you will get training in leadership skills. I have also mentored through AALL, offering encouragement in the same way.

What is one thing you’ve read about leadership that stuck with you? Why? Is there a particular AALL product/program/article that was especially helpful for you as you developed as a leader?
There was not one thing. What I did when I became a librarian was to delve into library literature. I started reading about teaching and about working in libraries. I read everything that I could get my hands on. For me, reading the existing literature was about getting up to speed on where my profession was when I entered it. Also critical for me was attending AALL and going to lots of programs about how libraries work. It was about learning about management and leadership, including the political aspects of being the librarian. It’s kind of like being a lawyer–you enter the profession at a certain point in history, and you need to figure out what that history is so you can figure out how to shape it and move forward.

What is the best advice regarding leadership or being successful in your work that you’ve ever received?
Be kind! I don’t think I started by being very kind. I had been a trial lawyer. There was a transition for me, which many people helped me with–from being adversarial to being thoughtful in my scholarship and kinder in my interactions with people.

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