Foundational Readings: a management perspective on change

In which this heat wave gets to my brain, the gamer takes a back seat,  and then I ramblog on about management ideas.

One of the things that stood out in our foundational readings was not just how far we’ve come in the past couple decades, rather how far we need to go just to catch up to where we should be. Perhaps that is why we are all here in this class: looking for ways to catch our libraries (and ourselves) up with all the current technologies, while anticipating necessary changes for the future. While written over two decades ago, the piece by Buckland (1992) seemed to predict the transition to the Electronic Library and the types of service that we could provide. Casey and Savastinuk (2007) take it a step further, exploring not only what Library 2.0 is, but mapping out a plan for the future as well. So how do we get there?

The majority of the time since Buckland’s piece was published, I have spent in some sort of management role in the retail/restaurant sector. I have come up with the following observations about change. First, change is necessary. Even if not everyone agrees with those that make decisions, even if the change does not produce the desired results (think of epic fails like Apple Maps), it’s good to shake things up from time to time. Second, change has to be managed correctly. What exactly does that entail? For starters, our libraries (and other organizations) need to have a vision and a clear mission. This needs to be the foundation to all decisions that will be made. In the realm of libraries, we are lucky in that we already have a built-in mission statement. As Buckland states in his introduction:

Library services have two bases:

the role of library service is to facilitate access to documents; and
the mission of a library is to support the mission of the institution or the interests of the population served.

Interpreting these two general statements for any given situation provides the foundations for effective library service.

Casey and Savastinuk explore this much further in Chapter 3, but I feel in the absence of a library-specific mission statement, we can always fall back on this. When managing people, and addressing changes, I have always come across resistance. Anything your organization does should draw from the mission statement. Why are we getting a Twitter account? Because we need to support the interests of the population served. And our population served wants frequent updates via social media. Why are we collaborating with outside vendors to use their products? Won’t that run our library into the ground? No, our role is to facilitate access to documents, and sometimes these are the best means to access obscure documents for our users. They will keep coming back. We are, as Casey and Savastinuk put it, “keeping our current customers satisfied and reaching out to serve the broader market.”

Third point I want to bring up about change involves how much change is occurring at once. If we wait to test the waters before implementing change, we run the risk of having to play catch up once we implement these changes. We also run the risk of larger amounts of resistance from both our staff and our customers if the change is either too drastic or affects a wide range of services being offered. Casey and Savastinuk bring up Constant Change. From my experience, this is something that only works well if they changes are meaningful and have clear direction towards improving your organization. Seven years ago, I worked for an up-and-coming company. Over the course of two years, they went from having one store to nearly two-dozen locations. Change happened, and it happened a lot. The problem was that most of these changes were simply reactionary, a quick fix to some one-off that occurred at one of the locations. They weren’t well thought out, and usually did not have a positive impact on most locations. Changes like these have immediate and long-term effects. First there is a disruption to the way we operate. While usually small, they can affect the service we provide our clients. Second, if changes are not meaningful, any future change is bound to be met with resistance, and a “here we go again” attitude.

If we already lay the ground work for Library 2.0 through our mission statement and already have made some meaningful changes (getting our libraries to their current level of technology usage), then we shouldn’t have much trouble taking the next steps to providing a broader spectrum of services to our clients. For libraries who have not begun this journey, I plan on exploring the idea of Leveling Up our Libraries in a follow up post.



5 thoughts on “Foundational Readings: a management perspective on change

  1. I agree with what you have said. I think we need to be forward thinking and open minded when it comes to moving our libraries forward. What I have seen is that the difficulty comes when you have a library system that has a large number of branches of varying sizes. Because all managers have to deal with every issue that comes up not enough time can be spent at each branch. So some branches get left behind. They never get a clear picture of the library’s goal and mission. Also depending on the level of management the information often passes so many people that by the time the front line staff hear it they don’t understand it and when they ask questions it is perceived as complaining. I totally agree with the feeling of changes when it is not meaningful. It starts to get to the point when I just say ” Just tell me what you want me to do”

    • @jorginasoto
      I think you are right that large systems with many branches are difficult to manage. I think it becomes problematic when we strive for consistency between branches. What works at one branch may not work at another. Even if they are in the same system, it is unlikely that every neighborhood has the same needs. We need to recognize the different populations and their individual needs, rather than look at the entire library system as one homogeneous population.

  2. Planned change often is too slow and abrupt change is disconcerting and may have unintended results or consequences and change for change sake is always disparaged as it is perceived as a form of falling in line without consideration of purpose or end result. Yet I would say that any change can be mined for lessons to be learned. I think there should be a space (mental and physical) that will allow for an exploration of ideas and a way to experiment with those ideas, though maybe on a smaller scale, like beta applications and prototypes. One of our fellow bloggers mentioned her library just adopting Facebook. While probably millions of people currently use Facebook it is an application, at least for my my daughters age bracket (15-18), that is substantially less relevant than it was just a year ago. For her age group Facebook was an application they began using in elementary school and it is no longer flexible enough for their current needs. Twitter allows instant abbreviated and concise verbal communication and Instagram posts snapshots and videos of their lives as they live it, their visual life. Waiting to thoroughly weigh the pros and cons may mean a library misses out on a substantial demographic of their user population. If change is viewed as a transformative opportunity rather than a possibility for failure we become accustomed to looking for what works rather than how we failed. Those kernels of positive results set precedent for further exploration, new experiments, and possibly transformative experiences. But if we stifle change because we might fail, well then we already did fail as we failed to embrace what if, the very core of positive transformation.

  3. ” If we wait to test the waters before implementing change, we run the risk of having to play catch up once we implement these changes. We also run the risk of larger amounts of resistance from both our staff and our customers if the change is either too drastic or affects a wide range of services being offered. ” So true! I call this techno-hesitation. Even experimenting with a new tech instead of full scale implementation can be a bridge to the next thing and the next thing. I appreciate your “ramblog” reflections! Hope it cools off.

  4. I completely agree with your discussion about change and the importance of understanding *why* changes are happening and what benefit they have.

    I am willing and eager to try out new things that will benefit our library and users, but when changes come about that just seem like change for the sake of change, and nothing is communicated to staff about the purpose of the change, I become very disgruntled and work begins to feel like an “us and them” mentality where only management has a say in the direction of the library.

    One of the most exciting things about the hyperlinked library model is that it calls for participation from users AND staff. Staff are actively called upon for input rather than simply being told, “here is what we are going to do. Make it happen.” Everyone who visits or works in a library is invested in some way and we all have ideas for how to make our library a better place.

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