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The Weekend

Resistance To Change

Resistance to change is not peculiar to libraries and librarians.   It's an organization thing.  And it's not new.

Some of the posts coming out of CiL describe the frustration of some of the participants at their (perceived?) inability to get their organizations to implement some of the changes that they think are essential.  You'd think, from reading some of these, that it is only in libraries that these difficulties appear, that there is something particular in the "traditional" librarian mindset that makes them unusually unwilling to make the changes that are blisteringly obvious to the clear-minded techno-savvy youngsters around them.  It simply isn't so.

If one spends any time at all perusing the organizational/business/management literature of the past seventy-five years it is quickly apparent that change management has been a constant theme and that in every decade, in virtually every industry, there have been a few, just a few, innovators who were able to push their organizations forward to adopt new ways of thinking, planning, implementing, etc.   You can describe it with the typical bell curve -- there are always a few early adopters, a huge bolus that gradually gets pulled along, and a trailing edge that is dragged kicking and screaming.  It is a continual, never-ending process and it is inherent in the nature of organizations.

Frustrated with libraries?  Try implementing change in the medical school curriculum.  Or consider working for GM or Delta.  Take a close look at how your state government operates.  Or just go to the business section of your library shelves and peruse several decades of books purporting to guide the early adopters in how, why and when to implement change in their organizations.

The depressing part of this fact is that implementing change in libraries is a much more difficult and longterm process than simply beating troglodyte tottering library directors over the head with L2.0 slogans.  The positive part is that there actually is a rich literature on change management and that change does, in fact, happen.  But if you are of the early adopter temperament and mindset, it will never happen quickly enough or go as far as you would like.  Just get used to that so that you don't get too frustrated and burn out.  Realize that you're in it for the journey, as they say.

(I remember, years ago, when we had taken on desktop & server support for a couple of the schools at my university and had subsequently hired a new batch of computer techs, I ran into the manager of that unit at the elevator and asked him how it was going with the new crew.  "Pretty good," he said.  "We're accomplishing a lot and they're working well together.  There's only one problem."  "Oh?" I said.  "They think we're going to get done.")

It's tough enough to implement change from the top of an organization (let me assure you of that!), and it is even tougher when you have less apparent authority.  So I have a great deal of sympathy for the people attending David Lee King's presentation who knew that they were going to face resistance when they got back to their home institutions.  But I'm not surprised.

King's presentation on guiding change is pretty good.  (Although, I think he overstates the notion that change is happening faster now than ever before -- that's a common claim, and I've been hearing it for thirty years.  But there's little actual data to support it.  It just feels that way.)  But his closing slides do touch on the most important elements -- you need to understand the mechanics of change resistance so that you know what you're really dealing with and you need to be able to clearly and explicitly describe why a particular change is an important one for your organization. 

That last point is absolutely essential and I'm afraid the importance of it gets overlooked.  I put it this way -- you need to figure out what keeps the person in charge awake at night.  There are certain things that the leaders of every organization worry about and they're looking for solutions.  You need to understand what those things are, and be able to describe how you can solve them.  If you can't tie the implementation of a particular technology directly to the solving of a particular problem that the leadership of the organization considers crucial, you will not be able to get any traction.  So you shouldn't be asking yourself, "How do I get my organization to accept X?"  Rather ask, "What is one of the critical needs my organization has that X can help to resolve?"  And it has to be something that your boss sees as a critical need, not just you.

You have to recognize the hard truth that most organizations are not going to be on the leading edge, and that some of them will be on the trailing edge.  Most of 'em are going to be bumbling along in the middle.  Patience and a sense of perspective are essential for your mental health.  A good sense of humor helps too.

Remember that the resistance isn't a library thing.  It's a human thing and it is inherent in the organizations that humans build.  So don't let it put you off.  Get smarter about change management -- like I said, there's a rich literature out there.  Enjoy the small victories.  And don't ever stop trying.



I'm glad you reminded us that this is larger than libraries; it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your particular field is the only one that struggles with what are actually universal challenges.

Younger people--in any type of organization--are most likely to agitate for change and the least likely to have a sense of the impact of that change on the larger organization. More experienced people have a valuable sense of history and perspective, but can become too timid because of what has not worked before. So the challenge is to somehow find a way to productively balance these two tendencies. And to have patience. And to (yes!) take time to enjoy those small victories.


I think the library community as a whole is more in the front of the pack than the publishing community. It is indeed frustrating when you don't feel the adoption rate of these technologies is where it should be, but I know far more librarians who use these technologies than publishers.


One of the ways to push change is to show rock-solid examples of how it can work, or has successfully worked, in other libraries. Sometimes, people who preach change come off as so arrogant and shame-inducing that they intimidate people and create resistance in people who might otherwise listen. As a longtime librarian, I have found that management is all ready to hop on the newest, hip thing, but will not keep up technologies that are useful but not the "hottest and newest." The ultimate benchmark in what gets adopted should be whether is helps you meet the goals your libraries set.

T Scott

I recall someone making the point many years ago that most people are not, in fact, resistant to change -- they resist making changes that don't have any apparent benefit or show any obvious improvement over what they're being asked to change from.


You have to be able to sell your idea to your audience, whether it be your patrons or the higher-ups in your organization; just because some new technology tool comes along doesn't mean it automatically needs to be adopted. Usability can play a big part, additionally, in people's acceptance or rejection of the latest exciting technology tool.

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