Six More Signposts

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

Properly handled and managed, adaptation to change ensures our survival

Last month, we presented six mile markers for your transparent library. Here are six more.

Have an open-door policy.
You have to listen to be heard. And you have to be out there to be noticed. Whether you’re a director, leader, or manager, listening to your community and working with other leaders and managers is the only way you will remain relevant and grow stronger as a leader and help build a stronger organization. Seth Godin reminds us in his book Tribes (Portfolio, 2008) that anyone can become a leader in this new, connected world. All it takes is a shared interest and a way to communicate.

We must listen in every direction, using both old and new tools. We need to hear our users and staff when they ask for new tools or services. And we must listen when they tell us that things are broken. We, of course, notice the loud voices, but we also need to hear the concerns and needs expressed in quiet tones.

Participate in the conversation.
As we previously observed, people are sharing reviews and observations online about your facilities, staff, and services. We must participate in these forums; it should be part of your duties. In fact, the truly transparent library might find ways to facilitate, encourage, and nurture the conversation. Why couldn’t a thriving “ask the experts” site like MetaFilter be duplicated in the library setting, tapping into user knowledge and expertise?

Measure progress.
You can’t review and change those services or tools if you aren’t measuring their progress. Almost all technologies-web pages, blogs, and library catalogs-have some method or means for quantifying usage.

Ed Byrne, senior librarian (web services) at Dublin City Public Libraries in Ireland, recently reminded us that many of these new tools are so new that we don’t know everything there is to know about them. So, while allowing time to analyze these new measurements, be sure to collect anecdotal evidence about usefulness, time saved in the process, and any other benefits. Look for ways to solicit comments and feedback. Mine your library users’ behavior by watching what they do and how they interact with your building, collection, and computers. Engage them in impromptu dialog, both online and in person.

Serve all of your user groups.
Review your mission and vision. Are you serving all of your users? Sometimes the easy route is to cater to those already using the library. Consider commuter students, teens, twentysomethings, and online library customers. Do you have designated positions and services for them?

We’re reminded of library efforts to ban social networking sites on public computers, or to ban young people during school hours to prevent truancy. Don’t forget that these users will someday decide the fate of the library as they vote for funding or expansion. If you show them the door today, they may never return.

How do you reach out to nonusers? Are they aware of your offerings? Position the library where these individuals will find you. The librarian who frequented a local Panera Bread outlet, promoting the library, answering questions via a laptop, and signing up people for cards is a great example.

Check your ego at the door.
Good leaders don’t surround themselves with “yes” people. And good leaders know that if their message is not being heard, or it’s being heard incorrectly, then the fault does not lie with the listener but with the speaker. Stop worrying about the snarkiness of survey responses and start worrying about the meaning behind those negative comments.

Be sure to listen through the criticism.
Behind relatively unconstructive criticism may lie a real concern. Show those critics you can listen, and show them that you’ll respond.

Recognize and grow your talent.
Talented staff reflect better on you. Talented staff can help you take your organization places you didn’t think possible. However, if you view talented staff as threats, or, worse, ignore them completely, then you are doing a disservice to yourself and an injustice to your organization.

Embrace change.
Build change into everything you do. Don’t plan, implement, and forget. Recognize that the tools will change, but the purpose and mechanism will stay the same. Not trying a library blog because “next year there’ll be something new” is not a workable excuse. We need to communicate now with our users.

At a recent conference, we overheard someone say, “Every time people really like something, we get rid of it.” Wouldn’t a better solution be to examine the reasons that something becomes popular or well used and find ways to deliver it as much as possible, be it Facebook access, more tables and chairs, or niche materials?

Properly handled and managed, adaptation to change ensures our survival. You can build that change into your organization through the use of review teams and community forums, drawing on staff and users alike.

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

December 1, 2008 Library Journal