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David Lee King

How Can We Change the Unchangeable, or David’s Rant



I learned one other thing at Computers in Libraries this year, and I’d like to share it in the hopes of starting a healthy discussion (and hopefully to collectively start figuring out how to fix this problem).

Here’s what I experienced during my Change Management talk:

Personally, I thought this talk would attract a smaller audience – I was wrong. I believe I had over 200 people in attendance… it was certainly a packed room! When I saw how many people showed up to hear about change, I decided to ask a couple of questions.

First, I asked if attendees had learned something innovative or new at the conference that they’d like to take back to their libraries. Almost everyone raised their hands. Then I followed up with this question: how many will take that cool, innovative idea back to their libraries, and hit a brick wall with administrators when they try to implement that idea.

ALMOST EVERYONE RAISED THEIR HANDS.

This is not good.

Why? Well, during my Q&A time at the end of the session, the whys started coming out. Techie librarians are discouraged. Many have administrators and/or managers who don’t want to change, who refuse to learn new technology and who refuse to implement new ideas.

What happens to those discouraged techie staff? Probably one of two things:

  1. They’ll realize that library customers want to participate online (which should be obvious – just take a peek at Amazon or eBay if you don’t believe me), but their library won’t be implementing online participation any time soon. So they’ll settle back, and either simply stop caring, or wait for the administrators to move on to other libraries or retire. Or worse yet (but great for libraries that actually WANT to innovate), they’ll…
  2. Find a more innovative library, and move on. Some libraries (ie., Darien Library, McMaster University, and Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library are examples of this) are realizing that there’s a huge technology shift happening with online social tools and expectations, and will take steps to meet those changes. Some of those steps have turned into new, emerging jobs that are just waiting to be filled with an innovative thinker… who’s probably working at your library RIGHT NOW.

I have a question for the library administrators who sent staff to Computers in Libraries, but who also don’t plan to do anything with the new knowledge their staff gained from the conference. Why did you send them? Why did you pay good money for the conference, for the hotel, for the food, for the flight… probably $1000 or so – to go to a conference that’s geared towards sharing best practices for implementing emerging technology in libraries?

Why send them if you don’t plan to do anything with their new knowledge?

Now on to the final point of this rant… Readers – how can we change this? Does anyone have any ideas on:

  • Steps to take to convince administrators that the library world is different than it was in the 1970’s?
  • How to convince administrators that constant change and innovation is good, and that it’s also a necessity in our new millenial world?
  • How can we become change agents in a field that’s apparently not used to changing?

I’d like to hear your thoughts – comment here or blog your response. Either way, I think this is a hugely important topic, and I think it’s one we need to tackle NOW.

Comments on this entry are closed.

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  • http://newcybrary.blogspot.com/ Terry Dawson

    The problem is too much work and not enough time. Even when administrators are championing change, sometimes the staff response is “We have no time!” and “Stop changing things!” Indeed, unless administrators can figure out how to make the patrons go away and give the staff some free time, or can get governing authorities to sanction service cuts, it’s hard to press for innovation.

  • http://newcybrary.blogspot.com Terry Dawson

    The problem is too much work and not enough time. Even when administrators are championing change, sometimes the staff response is “We have no time!” and “Stop changing things!” Indeed, unless administrators can figure out how to make the patrons go away and give the staff some free time, or can get governing authorities to sanction service cuts, it’s hard to press for innovation.

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  • http://www.myrcpl.com/ Scottie

    Sorry for bringing back an older post, but I think this is the ultimate challenge for library marketers these days.

    I’ve been butting my head over the processes and traditions that have tied my hands since taking on the task of making a new website.

    My solution started with the ground up- working with the departments and getting their support. Then I created a presentation for my boss and my bosses boss (who didn’t need much convincing since they hired me in the first place!)

    Then we took it straight to the top dog, our director, who was convinced that it is time to make serious changes.

    My advice: Don’t give up til you reach the top decision maker. Think through the benefits and approach it from a long-term viewpoint. Argue your case by using the benefits to staff and patrons, not just saying “because it’s new” or “everyone else is trying it.”

  • http://www.myrcpl.com Scottie

    Sorry for bringing back an older post, but I think this is the ultimate challenge for library marketers these days.

    I’ve been butting my head over the processes and traditions that have tied my hands since taking on the task of making a new website.

    My solution started with the ground up- working with the departments and getting their support. Then I created a presentation for my boss and my bosses boss (who didn’t need much convincing since they hired me in the first place!)

    Then we took it straight to the top dog, our director, who was convinced that it is time to make serious changes.

    My advice: Don’t give up til you reach the top decision maker. Think through the benefits and approach it from a long-term viewpoint. Argue your case by using the benefits to staff and patrons, not just saying “because it’s new” or “everyone else is trying it.”

  • davidleeking

    Scottie – good advice – that’s where the buck starts/stops, and that’s who can get everything started.

  • davidleeking

    Scottie – good advice – that’s where the buck starts/stops, and that’s who can get everything started.

  • Justin Sager

    Anyway, Reply To Me As Soon As Possible. What Did You Mean By How Can We Change The Unchangeable? I Think People Change All The Time. People Can Change If They Want To.

  • Justin Sager

    Anyway, Reply To Me As Soon As Possible. What Did You Mean By How Can We Change The Unchangeable? I Think People Change All The Time. People Can Change If They Want To.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com/ david lee king

    Justin – thanks for the comment. If you re-read my post above, it’s all there – I’m talking about technology change, administrators that don’t understand and don’t want to make those changes, and an industry that tends to be hesitant to be leaders in tech change.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com david lee king

    Justin – thanks for the comment. If you re-read my post above, it’s all there – I’m talking about technology change, administrators that don’t understand and don’t want to make those changes, and an industry that tends to be hesitant to be leaders in tech change.

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  • http://librarybytes.com/ Helene

    I think CIL/IL could use a whole track on this issue. But not only that, the profession needs more conference opportunities like the SirsiDynix Executive conference where Admin types can all be put in one room and be hard hit over the head with all this 2.0 stuff for two full days. :)

    Perhaps a gentler approach would be conference sessions on “How to be a staff hero and influence the library's destiny too!” I think many administrators don't know what they are missing out on if they'd only say “yes”