As library systems struggle with finding their relevance within the continuously and rapidly changing digital world, there are a number of things which we (library staff) all need to keep in mind.
The first point is probably the hardest thing to digest – to a certain extent it doesn’t matter what we think – what matters is what others think of us. As libraries move to re-invent ourselves, which I would say we are doing at a relatively more rapid pace than we have in decades, stop any person walking on the street and ask them what they think of when they hear the word library. I will put my money on one of the following three responses – books, fines or librarians shushing.
This provides us with what at times feels like an insurmountable set of issues to overcome. Not only do libraries need to re-invent themselves, we also need to do it while conveying the message externally (in a way that addresses some of the traditional perceptions of libraries the community has come to know – an institution where people still experience barriers to accessing information or having social exchanges).
For this post – I want to write a few thoughts about how to influence change within libraries. I think it is important to identify the types of attributes the ‘ideal’ staff member would have to possess in order to be able to work within an environment where change is occurring, to address and influence the above issues….
- A person who sees the need for change and innovation, not only from the perspective of staff but through the lens of library users and non-users. Now it is important to acknowledge that there is a clear delineation between innovators and leaders verses managers. Innovators and effective leaders who can drive a change process can come from anywhere within an organizations structure. The issues is, do we allow that to occur – or do we limit it to the detriment of libraries? Lets use private industry as a case study – if someone on staff within a large corporation has a great idea – would they stifle it because of the ‘level’ the person is within the organization? For profit industries have a motivation (money and profit) which drives improvement. Public service organizations also have a motivating factor – better customer experiences.
- A person who is able to be humble and move beyond their role as ‘expert’. Becoming an expert in engaging, finding the appropriate role for facilitating the link between people and information (or maybe even people and people), and linking and visualizing the role in which libraries can play in community, is a different kind of expertise that being a spokesperson who informs people of information or existing programs.
- Someone who can move beyond the perceived barriers to community led work (resources, role of services, the unknown), and not allow these barriers to stop them from trying it.
- A willingness to seriously accept trial and error – and report on the learnings that occurred when trying new and innovative approaches to working with community. Anyone who says they ‘have got it’ to working with community – needs to re-evaluate. When one person has always ‘got’ the answer for community – they need to review the concepts behind the engagement process.
- A willingness to shift library based responses from ‘no’ it does not fit within our mandate – to how can we work with the community based information needs to make it (or them) fit within the libraries mandate. If community members are expressing that they see a link between the library and their need, we should be encouraging staff to find the linkage – otherwise it is another lost opportunity for library service development.
- An acknowledgement that the penalization of community and the concept of librarians as stewards (keepers and holders of information) is outdated. Libraries once possessed warehouses of information – which community members can now find on the click of an iPad or laptop. We are no longer entitled to creating barriers to large numbers of potential library users – especially when we should be trying to entice them to use library services, rather than limiting community use.
- It is important for the ‘ideal’ community based library staff member who wants to be innovative to think about our role in the information exchange and how we engage with community outside the confines of the physical library branch.
This is only a starting point – and is internally focused…. Next we need to convince the really important people, community members, about the changing nature of libraries and our continuing relevance in their lives.
If they still only view libraries simply as a ware house of books, of late fines and fees or shushing when people talk in the library……. then we have a future..