Interviews with Library Directors Suggest That Political Capital is Linked to Reputation


  • Laura Costello Rutgers University Libraries



A Review of:

O'Bryan, C. R. (2018). The influence of political capital on academic library leadership. Library Leadership & Management, 34(4). Retrieved from


Objective – To understand how library directors use political capital to overcome challenges and reach goals in their libraries. The author defines political capital as social power that is amassed through reputation and alliance building. This social power can be used to influence decisions and change at an organizational level.

Design – Narrative interview.

Setting – A large state university system in the Northeastern United States of America. The system includes a network of 64 independent campuses serving different communities with a total population of 460,000 undergraduate and 420,000 graduate students.

Subjects – 12 library directors from within a single state university system.

Methods – The author conducted in-depth narrative interviews with participants focusing on critical incidents throughout their careers and recent events. The author used restorying, reorganizing the data into chronological order before coding, and thematic analysis, using a software program to code the data and then revisit all the data with finalized codes to make any adjustments.

Main Results – Several themes emerged in the interview data including interactions with administration, methods for building political capital, applying and using political capital, and building reputation. Within the interactions with administration theme, the author observed a strong connection in the hierarchy of the institution. Directors expected a high level of engagement and support from their direct reports and felt that providing this type of work to University administration would provide a return on investment for the library in terms of budget and support for new efforts or HR challenges. The theme of administrative turnover emerged as a possible barrier to establishing this relationship. In terms of building political capital, most participants did not set out to do this purposefully but instead sought to develop a reputation as a "team player" willing to participate in campus-wide initiatives and who would return positive outcomes. Participants expressed that it was difficult to know how much political capital they had acquired until they attempted to use it towards a goal. Eight of the participants provided narratives that included applying and using political capital, with two reporting that their political capital diminished after they had applied it towards a goal. Other participants suggested that applying political capital increased their store when it was spent toward accomplishing higher-profile goals. The importance of communication was clear in the building reputation theme, several participants indicated that their communication skills helped establish a reputation for competence and credibility in interactions both up and down the chain of command. Communication was a key factor in developing relationships across the institution, particularly with high-level administrators, and developing relationships was another area of importance for participants.

Two of the participants indicated that they had and used political capital in specific areas and for smaller, day-to-day changes. Eight participants used their political capital for bigger initiatives, such as budget, human resources, and library space.

Conclusion – While a few of the directors explicitly linked their activities to political capital and felt that applying their political capital increased their standing with stakeholders, most participants did not generally link the development of political capital to individual events. Instead, they suggested that generally establishing reputation and trust through excellent communication and relationship building would help them achieve success toward their goals.


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Author Biography

Laura Costello, Rutgers University Libraries

Virtual Reference Librarian




How to Cite

Costello, L. (2019). Interviews with Library Directors Suggest That Political Capital is Linked to Reputation. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 14(1), 56–58.



Evidence Summaries