A Reflection on our Foundational Readings

These readings remind me of just how trendy it has become to embrace change—concepts like disruptive innovation and flat hierarchies are all the rage. Are they more than buzzwords? Buckland’s manifesto opens with the blazingly simple but often overlooked principal of making a distinction between means and ends. In essence: change for change’s sake is dumb. Surveys performed by Casey and Savastinuk found that employees are fed up and demoralized by this kind of reactive behavior fueled by “technolust”, as Michael Stephens so aptly puts it.

Mathews talks about this too.  I think Mathews probably succeeds in getting most readers excited about innovation, but his bass note is clear: “Our focus can’t just be about adding features, but about redefining and realigning the role and identity of the [academic] library.”  The message that most resonated with me from Mathews’ work was that we must “test and validate our assumptions.”  What’s crucial about that concept is that we not only do the research (environmental scan, sound assessment) but also that we give new ideas a real go of it.  Here Mathews takes it one step further than Buckland, who describes innovation as “selecting or rejecting available options.”  Thinking like a CEO of a startup, Mathews urges us to actually implement…quickly and without fear.  And then refine and re-implement indefinitely.

This is where his fail faster, fail smarter concept comes in, and where, I suspect, the whole thing comes crashing down.  I think people will buy into this idea intellectually, but what will it look like in real life?  People don’t like messy.  Frontline workers certainly don’t like messy, and administrators like it even less.  Implementing innovation (i.e., “crazy ideas”) on an organization-wide scale is a tall order.  And don’t forget that you are also asking patrons to play along.  This fail faster fail smarter concept probably represents the biggest leap of faith for all involved. And if you involve everyone, as you should, then it’s a gigantic leap.

Mathews writes, “The Roomba is a revolution! It’s a new way of thinking. It’s solving a problem in a different way.”  Well, it also creates new problems, as identified in this video:

The Wrong Automation by Kaseyacorp

Still, we can’t stop progressing and trying new things for fear of unintended consequences. So, ultimately I’m with Mathews.  I’m just not sure how we get everyone on the bandwagon on a meaningful timescale. It’s a matter of culture, and we all know about cultural lag. Gosh, what a downer I am! Easier to criticize than move productively forward, eh? Allow me to make an attitude adjustment:

We’re up against some sticky issues. Just to name a few:

  • the shifting of authority structures in an increasingly participatory information culture;
  • information overload and ‘ubiquitous computing’ (and the concomitant problem of teaching new information literacies);
  • the breakneck pace of technological change

But there must be ways to leverage these problems into solutions. Certainly, we can begin by turning many of these ideas on their heads, re-framing them into something more palatable: collective intelligence sounds better than dumbing down (or, to reach way back to de Tocqueville: the Tyranny of the Majority); Big data is so much more optimistic than information overload, and the term innovation has a nice way of restoring the personal control that is so sorely absent from the word change.

See? I can be cheerful.  This is all well and good from the comfort and safety of my little theoretical bubble, but how would I act on this in the workplace? What if my boss was a dud and sent suspected change-agents straight to the gallows? What if my boss was awesome but my co-workers lacked enthusiasm?  What if our library lacked sufficient time, money, and expertise? None of these what-ifs are that far-fetched, except maybe the gallows bit.

How would I go about effecting well-targeted, warranted, meaningful change quickly and without fear in my workplace?  The short answer is, I have no freaking idea. The more proactive-yet-still-totally-vague answer is that I would start at the end. What kind of impact is my library having on its end users (which, by the way, include people who do not actually use the library)? Starting at the end means recognizing that the real value-add of a library is not measured only by service-quality, user-satisfaction and efficiency, but also, crucially, by what it can do in its community-at-large. I’m thinking partnerships forged, novel ideas enabled, safe social spaces created.

Maybe I could use Twitter to get a dialog going between civic groups, library patrons, and local government that would help align library programs more closely with public policy goals, which would in turn help justify budget requests. That seems like something that could be done on the cheap, instantaneously without too much disruption. Oh, and I dig that commenting-on-a-card-catalog idea they did at Ann Arbor District Library (Casey & Savastinuk  p. 68-69). The point is, just ask. And then listen. And then do.

Foundational Readings:

Buckland, Michael. Redesigning Library Services: A Manifesto. Retrieved from  http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/Literature/Library/Redesigning/html.html

Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Medford, N.J: Information Today. (Provided by the instructor.)

Mathews, B. (2012, April). Think like a startup [White paper]. Retrieved from http://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/bitstream/handle/10919/18649/Think%20like%20a%20STARTUP.pdf?sequence=1

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6 thoughts on “A Reflection on our Foundational Readings

  1. You posted was very interesting and I spent a little time reflecting on your comments about change and how disruptive change can create fear up and down an organization. I think you are spot on in pinpointing an organization’s culture as a necessary partner for effective change. Kotter (2012) addresses culture throughout his book “Leading Change”. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to explore the concept of transformational change and how leadership is essential to success. Kotter notes that for change to “stick” it must be part of an organization’s DNA. I have to agree after experiencing years of change within Hewlett-Packard (HP). HP is a global organization with a proud culture best described as the “HP Way”. The HP Way was comfortable – it felt warm and cozy. HP had a tradition of rewarding its workforce with generous profit sharing and almost no risk of layoffs. I think it was 1999 when things began to change. HP had new leadership, merged with Compaq, and started to address rising costs with the first layoffs in HP history. These were challenging times for me as a new manager. I did not like the changes and I struggled. I missed the HP Way. But you know what? Eventually my attitude about change completely flipped. I am not sure how it happened but when HP acquired EDS in 2008 I was excited. I was able to see the benefits of change in many different ways.

    Here is an example. We used to use an order management system that was a beast. I had employees who worked with system for many years and were experts on how to make it work. These folks spent a lot of time doing data entry. Their job satisfaction came from being fast and error free. Well, things started to change. First, a new system was introduced that required advance planning before an order could be entered. The employee needed to do more than data entry – they had to consider the financial elements of the order. This required new skills and a major adjustment to their measure of job satisfaction. Why? – Because the data entry part of the job was outsourced to India and new technology enabled uploads of data to the systems. So my employees needed to develop new skills such as financial acumen, communication, teamwork, problem solving and creativity. This was a journey for my team and me but we made it through. Now these folks have moved beyond the role of a coordinator to valued specialists and in some cases managers. They get to work on custom solutions and now get their job satisfaction from being a trusted partner to successful account teams. Their new skills helped make them marketable both within HP and in the outside world. There were some people who could not adjust and they moved on to other jobs either by choice or unfortunately through a workforce reduction. The job they used to have did not exist anymore.

    So change is messy, disruptive and sometimes hurtful. But as leaders (and I consider all librarians leaders) it is our job to proactively nurture a culture where change is expected and equip employees with tools to help them thrive. I still hear people say that they miss the HP Way – but without change there probably would not be an HP.

    Kotter, J. (2012). Leading with change: With a new preface by the author. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your (very interesting) experience at HP, Susan. Very inspiring to learn that the affected employees actually were able to progress and expand their skills. We’ve talked (read) a lot about paying attention to what patrons need and want, and while this is obviously paramount, so are the employees. I think there is a lot of lip service about taking care of employees, but perhaps not enough real thought and action. ( @boblucore would probably agree- Bob? ). The book I’m reading for the book report assignment, Setting the Table by Danny Meyer, is all about taking care of employees who can then take care of patrons. We do this for our kids; we set them up for success, why not our employees?

  2. Great points and reflection! It’s so true, these readings can make it sound like it’s not so hard to implement change, here’s your recipe book, go! But when it comes to reality, it may be harder than you thought. The story that Michael told in one of his videos, about the young man who simply moved his chair around to the other side of the reference desk, and was fired, springs to mind. This was the simplest of change, had no impact on resources (financial or staff time), yet the consequences were dire. By the way, love the video!

  3. Hi, Tracy:
    Great post! I also liked Buckland’s argument about means and ends. What I took from it is also that our current, long-standing means can become invisible to us and we need to ask if they are the best way to reach our intended ends (mission, values). That’s why I especially liked his chapter on the Paper Library.
    As for the difficulty of implementing change and getting everyone on board, I totally agree that this is a real challenge and will often cause a lot of headaches. For that reason, I liked Casey and Savastinuk’s suggestions for making change a part of the organizational structure, the investigative, planning, and review teams (pp. 53-57). They ensure that the process has some structure and includes research into the viability of a change, careful planning, and involvement of folks from every part of the library. Sounds good to me. Wonder if it actually works or just devolves into mandatory meetings during which everyone just works on other stuff.
    Thanks for your thought-provoking post!
    Darren

  4. Absolutely a deep dive on the foundational readings. It made me realize that a big part of this class is about “constant and purposeful change” more than the technology tools of the day. This tools will come and go. The collective mindset of the organization is more important.

    Excellent comments too, all!

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