Meredith Gorran Farkas
Head of Instructional Initiatives at Norwich University in Vermont and is also an adjunct faculty member at San Jose State Universityís School of Library and Information Science.† You can read more of her insights on here blog.
Change is Possible (and Necessary!) in Every Library
When I look back, over the past month, there have been †a lot of changes here in my library. First, we changed the way that we keep reference statistics, moving from Word documents to Zoho. Next, we implemented a new procedure for processing requests or books from distance learners. We also made changes to our catalogís interface and search options. Finally, we moved our instruction schedule to Google Docs and completely changed the way we do instruction statistics. Weíre also in the process of launching a new website for our distance learners. Itís funny that it only seems like a lot of change when I look back on it, but thatís probably because weíre so used to it here. Because weíre librarians. And change is pretty much the only constant
in our profession.
That being said, I know my library is not typical. I feel very lucky to work in a setting where there is a real change culture Ė from our director on down to the staff members whoíve been here for decades. Not every staff member may necessarily be a change agent, but they are open to change that improves workflows or services to our patrons. I can definitely say that workplace culture is the #1 reason why so many changes can happen here without most of us blinking an eye.
Iíve worked at and have interviewed at other places, and I know that, at some libraries, the pace of change can be measured in geological time. Some libraries have to form committees to discuss the possibility of making a minor change in a minor procedure. Some librarians give up on their ideas when they realize how many layers of bureaucracy they will have to go through to even reach a decision-maker. Some librarians are just so married to doing things the way theyíve always done them that they will try to prevent change of any kind, even when that change could improve the way we serve our patrons. †I have given talks on library technologies and organizational culture all around the world, and Iíve heard plenty of negative stories from people who are passionate about their work, but are so frustrated by their change-averse colleagues or the culture they work in.
I wish I could say that there was some magical thing you could do to make change happen in change-averse organizations, but organizational culture is one of the most difficult barriers to creating change. Still, cultures can change. It will take time, of course, but Iíve seen it happen here. For the first couple of years at my current place of work, I was pretty much the only one pursuing a technological change agenda. I redesigned two websites, developed the IM reference service, got us a server off-campus and managed it, developed a quicker way for us to get books to distance learners, and so much more. It was exhausting to be the only person really promoting change (and often implementing it too), even though my colleagues were not averse to the changes. Over the past 2 1/2 years, weíve gotten new staff members who are tech-savvy and are at least as interested (if
not more) in improving services as I am. Now, the push for change is coming from many places and with the energy and effort of many minds (and bodies), we are moving faster than ever towards improving services to our users. Itís a really exciting time!
Even in a library that is not as change-oriented as my own, change is possible, and librarians can and must push for changes at will improve the way our libraries provide services. It takes skill to present an idea in a way that will encourage buy-in from staff and administration. You have to know your audience and present your idea in a way that speaks to what concerns them. One person may be most interested in how it will improve services for patrons. Another may be most interested in ROI and statistics that they can show to the library board or administration. Another person may be interested in how much or little the change will impact their workflow. You need to tailor your message to the interests of those you are speaking to. But also, whatever youíre suggesting needs to be truly useful. It either needs to fill a need/want or consist of a necessary improvement. Just because you think a new technology or service is cool doesn’t mean that it’s worth implementing at your library. You really need to be able to show why there is a need for this and how it will improve services/workflow/etc.
Just because I work in a change-oriented institution doesnít mean that we change for the sake of change. Not every idea for change that Iíve had in my 4 1/2 years here has been met with enthusiasm. And for good reason. Some of my ideas havenít been good ones, were solutions for problems that no one had, or werenít the right idea at that time. Some ideas had to marinate a while before the time was right to try and get them implemented. And some of the things we have tried over the years have failed, but weíve learned things about our students from those failures that we never would have known otherwise, and that knowledge has helped us to improve our services in other ways.
I think to be a successful change agent, you have to be alternately patient and impatient Ė willing to wait until the time is right to promote an idea, but unwilling to give up when you know the time is right. You need to be passionate about your ideas, but also be able to speak to the needs and concerns of the people whom the change will be impacting. You need to know a lot about technology, but also be able to see it from the point of view of an intimidated novice. Most importantly, you need a real understanding of what your patrons and colleagues need and want, and how they use the services/resources they currently have. If you donít know a lot about your users, how do you know what should change?
The information landscape is changing faster than any of us can truly keep up with. The technologies available to us for providing library services are constantly growing. Our patron population is changing, as are their needs and the ways that they use libraries. We simply canít provide the best services to our patrons if we arenít changing along with them. While we may not all be in a position to change our libraryís organizational culture, we may be able to promote small, incremental changes that will make a difference to our patrons. Because sometimes a small change in signage, in a policy, or in the organization of links on a website means more to our patrons than a new library catalog or a redesigned reference desk. Change is possible (and very, very, necessary) in all of our organizations.