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library mgmt

building solid ground for constant change

I mentioned in my last post that I’m working on condensing the ideas of the book into a 5-minute lightning talk for the Blank consortium. The slides and a pretty-much-final script of my talk are below. It was interesting to target this beyond just libraryland–I hope the ideas resonate with other educators as well.

Btw, if you’re thinking this all sounds an awful lot like strategic planning, that’s because it is. 🙂 On one hand, I’m trying to make the idea sexier for people who roll their eyes at the term; on the other, the process I’m describing will make for a great strategic plan.

You might be asking yourself, “Okay, why is a librarian talking to me about change?” Well, does anyone know where this is?

old boston public library johnson building

That’s the Johnson Building of the Boston Public Library, and this photo was taken in 2010 or so.

This is the same area of the library today. You can orient yourself with the dome-shaped windows.

boston public library children's room

This kind of huge transformation has been happening in libraries all around the world. Libraries don’t just change their look and feel–they also have been keeping up with changes in technology and their communities, which have grown increasingly rapid in the last 30 years.

Libraries that have succeeded in adapting to change have one thing in common: they are continuously asking and seeking answers to these three questions, all while keeping their communities at the heart of the process:

what do we aspire to do and be? what do we value? how do we make it happen?

This can help in many contexts: in classrooms, businesses, and for individual use as well. I want to note that I am saying the word “user” as a catch-all for community members, students, co-workers – all the kinds of people we do things with and for.

What do we value and aspire to be? This is high-level, conceptual stuff – your vision and mission. What do you care about and why? This isn’t just a time to praise yourself. What are you not doing? What’s not working and how can you fix it? Social infrastructure, to be welcoming & safe, and to be inclusive & do outreach are library examples; I would guess some of these resonate with you as fellow educators as well.

What do our users want? Where are you putting your energy–does it connect to what they want? In libraries, people want our help accessing information, community space, and creativity and learning opportunities. Even if we think we know what our users want, we still need to ask them.

How do we make stuff happen? The following steps are what I’d tell librarians to do, but I’d be willing to bet the same advice would work in many other types of situations. As I mentioned, we need to ask our users what they want, and we need to involve them in the process of creating and embarking on our goals. We stop doing more with less, meaning we figure out what we value, who we are, and what our users want, and use that to allocate our resources more appropriately. Last but not least, we need to view this process as continual – it’s not linear, it’s circular.

With self-awareness, we know how, where, and what to change. Even if we don’t know what will come next, or know what the long-term impacts of the current change and uncertainty we’re in right now will be, we can figure out who we are, what our users want, and what we mutually value.

2 replies on “building solid ground for constant change”

Directors and others can sabotage this process at any point, including putting it off, saying the staff won’t like it or the library is doing well as it is. The process needs to be a widespread management practice, as it will work in the libraries of the future. Good luck on the talk.

I agree – since it’s a five minute talk and not library-specific, I’m trying not to get too bogged down about the potential ways things can go off the rails with this. Directors that insist they know whether or not something will work or whether it’s worth doing, without making any attempts to reach out to staff or patrons/community about it, really need to shift their perspective. It’s more important than ever that we use real feedback/info from real people to guide priorities; otherwise, we’re doomed to do more with less forever.

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