Rilke Would Have Loved It
What Makes Us Great?

Audacious Planning

I was particularly taken with the notion of setting up a consumer health library in Zambia (where my university has a major AIDS research operation).  Not just for the audaciousness of the original suggestion, but for how seriously the rest of that particular group took up the suggestion and started refining it.  (Incidentally, when I mentioned it to the Dean of Public Health last evening, he took it quite seriously as well...  "Couldn't we put all the information on iPod nanos and hand them out...?  How will we do the training...")

This occurred during one of the all-staff strategic planning sessions that we held last week.  We were doing the small group thing, and the first of the discussion questions was to imagine yourself home for Christmas in 2008, telling your mother about the greatest new project that had been undertaken at your library in the past year.    A smaller group of us will go for a one-day retreat in a couple of weeks for the next round of planning and the ideas that came up during the all-staff sessions will be part of the package of inputs that we'll use for that discussion.

There were lots of great ideas besides the Zambian consumer health library.  But what impressed me even more than the individual ideas was the general level of engagement and creativity.  I had required all library faculty to attend (believing that it is part of their responsibility to help shape the future of our organization), but left it optional for the paraprofessional staff.  Still, most of the latter came, and their contributions were every bit as bold and intriguing as those coming from the degreed librarians.  To be honest, I found it all to be quite inspiring.

It did strike me afterwards, though, when reviewing the flip charts, that very few of the suggestions were technology-focused.  There was mention of implementing search systems that could do some analysis among concepts in order to guide the searcher better, and somebody talked about re-doing the web page to include mashups and multimedia, but if there was a common thread in all of the discussions it had more to do with identifying programs and services with which to engage our community.  The focus was not on the tools to use.  I think that it is simply taken for granted that when we dig further into the challenges of implementation, we will use whatever tools are available and appropriate to get the job done.

We had started the sessions with a general discussion of values -- just quick brainstorming on the things that are really important to us, and that we need to keep in mind as we proceed with our planning.    Lots of "service" words came up, of course -- "user-centered", "friendly", "welcoming", "excellence".    Being on the cutting edge of technology was perceived as a value, as well as being innovative and willing to take risks. 

A major part of my job is to do what I can to encourage an environment in which those sorts of things are perceived as values, and, at least based on what happened during those sessions, I think we're doing a pretty decent job.  But it is something that takes a lot of work and a lot of time.    And the task is never-ending.

So I think about those brilliant young librarians whose blogs I come across, who are trying to figure out how to introduce innovation (usually technological) into their organizations, but keep running up against roadblocks of apathetic or uninterested colleagues, or administrations that seemed dogged down by their own bureaucracy.  What advice can I give them that will help them hang on to their idealism and keep from being pushed into cynicism by their own frustrations?

One is that you simply have to take the long view and accept that organizational change is tough and takes a long time.  One of my frustrations with some of the "Library 2.0" discussion is that it sometimes gives the impression that you can shift a moribund organization into a dynamic one by pushing flickr and IM, when actually it's the other way around.

Another, I think, is to be very thoughtful and careful about the job moves that you make.  Certainly we all have personal constraints that may limit how far afield we can go looking for jobs, and, particularly when one is a fresh graduate, just about any professional position can be of value.  But as your career progresses, you need to give more thought to the kind of organization that you want to be a part of, and recognize that when you're going out on a job interview, you're looking at the organization as hard as they're looking at you.  Does it seem to be a place that is supportive of the kinds of things you're interested in?  Will you be able to grow and learn there?  Will you be able to have fun?

And in the meantime, recognize that every person working in the organization can be a leader, and that leadership is about listening and about finding opportunities to help somebody else shine.  Become the person that other people want to work with, because they know that it'll make them better.  Be that person, and you'll find that introducing new technologies becomes a whole lot easier.


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