library mgmt

a few thoughts on change stuff

I’m giving a talk for the consortium in a couple weeks, and it’s a lightning/ignite style presentation: just five minutes to pack in an introduction to a concept or idea. I’ve been working on trying to dump the key lessons of the recently published book I co-authored, Responding to Rapid Change in Libraries: A User Experience Approach, into this five minute chunk. I’m also trying to retool the content for non-librarians. It’s been tricky, but ultimately it’s helping me see the stripped down version of the book’s thesis, which I think is encouraging people in the field (and beyond) to ask themselves the following questions:

  1. What do we aspire to be?
  2. What do we value?
  3. How do we make it happen?

Can a thesis be questions? Probably not, so maybe it’s more like what’s at the core of what we’re prompting people to try to do. Change is inevitable, but if we can get ourselves to a place where we can answer those questions without racking our brains, we’re going to do a good job responding to it.

1. What do we aspire to be?

This question comes first so the answer to #2 (hopefully) doesn’t reshape it. Here’s where you don’t just recite the ALA Code of Ethics or buy into the general “libraries are and have always been emblems of democracy” self-praise. You think about what you’re not doing. You think about what’s not working and how you can fix it. If you’re saying you’re a welcoming safe space that’s free and inclusive to all, are you really providing that, or is it only an aspiration at this stage? #2 and #3 will help you make it real.

2. What do we value?

What are you spending time and money on? How does that relate to what you identified as what you’re aspiring to above? Libraries are continually being asked to “do more with less,” but it’s time to stop doing some things and start doing other things strategically (see #3). Now’s your chance to think about the Library Bill of Rights, intellectual freedom, and social responsibility. Which of these ethics and positions help us advance what we say we’re aspiring to do? As hinted at in describing #1 above, this isn’t a time for self-celebration; this is a time to think critically and deliberately about what is important to us and why.

3. How do we make things happen?

You need a strategy. How do you get one? Co-design with community feedback. Surveys and focus groups. Post-it notes. Bulletin boards. Get community experts on staff, or foster a culture of creating that expertise. That isn’t to say “keep everyone forever;” rather, hire and train people who connect with your aspirations and values and want to stick around long enough to help you get there. If you think you don’t have time to make your aspirations happen, unpack why that is. You can likely find things you can stop doing. Don’t think of it as sacrifice if you stop doing something because the feedback says you should be doing something else.

I’m just starting to explore this perspective, but I think I’ll get there. The bottom line is we need a mission, and we need self-awareness, if we’re going to endure change.

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