Inspiring Words for New Librarians, and My Help too?

T. Scott Plutchak the Director at Lister Hill Library of the Health Sciences, has a highly inspirational entry in his blog about creating and fostering a change-friendly organization. I think there is advice in there for young and not-so-young. As a so-called “accidental library manager” I was glad to read his advice because my position is a) to be the one to give credit to the people who do the work and to take credit when things go wrong and b) to try and establish credibility and to be the one that is trusted enough to be given any task and to come through.

Here are some my words as a new manager trying to evoke change in an organization.

  • You do not have to break the wall to overcome it.

My favorite change analogy is the “brick wall.” As in, “I nearly got <technology x> established in my organization and then I hit a brick wall.” Trying to be “The Other Librarian” now, I say to the myself: “What business did you have trying to run into a brick wall anyway? Didn’t you see the brick wall before you charged into it?”

Organizations need brick walls to survive. Walls are not necessarily a bad thing. Look at beautiful Quebec City: it has walls and is all the more charming because of it.

My mistake earlier on was that I thought the wall was the problem. In fact, it was my own resolve that was the real problem. Maybe a better idea would have been to walk up to the wall, check for loose bricks and then poke a hole in the wall. With that hole, maybe I can make a bigger hole and then crawl through. Maybe I can use the hole to climb over the wall. Maybe I can use the brick to dig a hole under the wall. Who knows? The point is that there are many options to overcome a barrier. You don’t have to play “Juggernaut” every time you want to bring change to an organization.

  • Do not let “Issues” and “Impacts” change your direction.

When you have an idea, you may begin to think “oh but if we do that, then we’ll have to do this, and that has impacts on x, y, and z.” Maybe the issues are money-related or staff time, but, in the end, an “issue” is often another word for “work.” And, (surprise!) “work” is what you were hired to do!

The way around this, is to write the issues down, and separate them from your recommendation. Think about your recommendation in terms of benefits first, then costs and “issues.” If you think the benefits are worth the costs, then go ahead and propose it. The “issues” column will be there to help you plan ahead, but it should not scare you off your idea. Don’t let it.

  • If you can’t make it happen now, what can you do to make it happen later?

Ok. You came up with this great idea that could revolutionarize librarianship forever, but when you proposed it at the last meeting your colleagues looked at you as if you were from Mars. Maybe your senior management team says “good idea, but this is not a priority right now.” The winds are now out of your sails, right?

Hold on. Priorities are important. Libraries have limited budgets and often would rather put them toward a small number of really important things than a whole bunch of mundane activities. But making priorities sometimes means a medium-important thing does not make the list. The good news is that it is not off the list forever.

So, what can you do? Spend a half-hour and create a mini-plan for your idea. Identify the premise of the idea and its benefits, and estimate costs, timeline, target audience. Then put it in your files in a folder called something like “ideas for later.” Then wait.

One day, your boss will walk into your office and say “I just got this pot of money from a grant (or donor or end-of year or whatever) and I am stuck with no plan or ideas on what to do about it.” Or “We just hired this intern and I don’t know what to do with him/her). That’s when you will put your hand in your file cabinet and hand your miniplan to your boss. The plan might or might not be a fit, but having these little plans will go a long way toward convincing him/her that you are a person that will make things happen in your organization.

That’s that for now.


2 thoughts on “Inspiring Words for New Librarians, and My Help too?

  1. “You do not have to break the wall to overcome it.” That’s excellent! A wonderful way of putting it that I had not heard before. I’ll be using that one….


  2. Thanks!

    I used to say “push at the bricks and see if something budges” but it always seemed a little wishy-washy to me. As if you shouldn’t be assertive when you are sure something is the right thing to do.

    I guess the principle’s the same though. Better than talking about skinning cats. 🙂


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