Living Out Loud

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

You’re “out there” whether you want to be or not. In the March 2007 Wired cover article, “The Naked CEO,” Clive Thompson illustrates that corporate blunders, missteps, and outright lies are exposed every day. One of our favorite examples is Diebold insisting that its voting machines are safe and secure while YouTube hosts a video of how to crack its security.

It’s similar to a child standing in front of you and saying he has not eaten a candy bar when you can see chocolate all over his face. We can understand lies from a four-year-old, but from an adult or, worse, from a large corporation, we cannot. And the public cannot, either.

It’s the cover-up

Transparency and arrogance are like oil and water–the two simply don’t mix. This is a very good reason for encouraging transparency in any organization. It’s very difficult for a transparent library to lie and shy away from the truth–the structurally transparent organization protects people from themselves. But the idea that transparency builds morale and creates buy-in is less known and worth exploring.

How do libraries embrace this idea of transparency? Part of the Library 2.0 mission is to involve the community in creating and evaluating library services. It’s simply not possible to include a community in this sort of service evaluation without providing honest numbers and evaluations. Transparency in service review is critical to its success.

What should stay private?

We think many personnel issues and financial dealings need some level of privacy or discretion. However, sharing big-picture thinking with staff is beneficial because it moves the library forward, and it is always best to be honest. If you talk to staff openly as employees or contributors who can innovate, meet user needs now, and eventually move into positions of leadership, then you’ve done succession planning correctly.

Are you promoting people because of their contributions and potential to lead or is someone being put into a management job “because she’s been here the longest”? We would certainly want potential management candidates to be clued into the library landscape, having already participated in the creation of services or enhancements to existing services.

Buy-in creates success

It’s easy for staffers to give lip service to an idea they don’t believe in and then step back and watch it fail because they had no input or information or, in some cases, not even an inkling that a new service or technology was coming.

Corporate blogs and wikis–and any other tools that create transparency in the organization–foster the concept of vertical teams, where front-line staff have the ability to communicate and cooperate with top-level administrators. This internal openness is as important as external transparency. Building morale within the organization–and sharing the big-picture ideas with everyone who will listen–creates a stronger and more motivated work force, one willing to participate and share new ideas. Such internal openness will translate into external transparency, which is vital to the library’s future.

This column, like Clive Thompson’s article, began on our blogs. Jeff of commented, “I think the transparent manager has to be able to open the decision-making to his or her staff and be able to handle criticism openly. Managers must remember that if they don’t open up decision-making, often the decision may not be followed.”

Lies unwelcome

Thompson correctly points out that secrecy is sometimes required in any organization–he uses the excellent example of Steve Jobs and the iPhone. But Thompson says that “it’s not secrets that are dying”; it’s lies that are no longer tolerated in the transparent organization. Openness is a one-way street; there’s no going back. Your public, your customers, expect it and will hold you to it.

Link List

Diebold Machine Flips Votes

Gather No Dust

Library Crunch

Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.

June 1, 2007 Library Journal