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TL=thought leaders (and light bulbs)

Are you a TLOutside of our own little world, the letters TL do not obviously identify us.

In her opening remarks at the Library Managers’ Congress of the big eduTECH Conference this past week, chair Karen Bonanno not only pointed to this confusion.  She shed light on it.

While my notes are a little sketchy, here are Karen’s thoughts as I best remember and grew them.

Karen asked: As a teacher librarian are you also that other kind of TL?

Are you a thought leader?

Recently, on two occasions and in two separate environments, I heard the reference to teacher librarians as being thought leaders. Was this coincidence or something I should take notice of?

As Karen spoke I considered a long and growing list of TLs who are truly also TLs.

Thought Leaders are considered knowledgeable, authoritative sources of new ideas or intellectual trends.  The are the go-to people in their fields of expertise. Often, they have to work against the status quo.

TLs challenge norms and conventions. They inspire.  They have a fan base, a team, colleagues.  They inspire and are inspired by them.

I’ve been thinking about the three characteristics of thought leadership Karen suggested:

  • they’re visionary: Thought leaders get involved in ground-breaking stuff and they are able to describe and share their vision with their teams.
  • they’re innovators: Though leaders are creative. They break tradition.  They examine and implement alternate models.
  • they’re problem solvers: Thought leaders analyze issues and playfully consider cutting edge programs and projects to help their organization further its goals.

Karen extended her TL metaphor to light bulbs, pointing to their evolution from the obsolete inefficient traditional bulby version to the new energy-efficient spiral design.

One of the new bulbs does the work of ten of the old.  They are full of productivity. Based on average use, the globe life of a new one  is around five years at 5.5 hours a day, over 10,000 hours.

It is true that you might need to move on after 10,000 hours.  But in the box you’ll find another thought leader from which new light will emerge.

Because the library does not have a curriculum of its own, TLs can focus their energies on what real learning looks like.  They can illuminate areas not necessarily seen before.

Light bulbs and TLs make connections. They are plugged into their communities. When you talk about TLs as TLs, you think about them not as information service providers.  Instead, you think about illuminators, about inspiration service providers.

Are you both a TL and a TL?

For a little more inspiration, check out Knowledge Quest’s 30 second survey on thought leadership.


Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Myra Zarnowski says

    Thought Leaders are exactly what we need in libraries…and in classrooms too. What a great way to inspire us all. What if we spent time each day gathering our new, original, even newly emerging thoughts?


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