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David Lee King

Answering the What Do I Have to Stop Doing Question



I’ve heard this question a couple times, and heard it asked again at ALA2008 during the OCLC Symposium. The question usually goes something like this:

“We’re being asked to do all these new things, and we’re already extremely busy. What did you have to stop doing in order to start doing these new things?”

I didn’t get a chance to answer it (we moved on), so I thought I’d tackle it here.

A couple thoughts

Usually, the person asking the question (when I’ve heard it, anyway) comes from a more “traditional” branch of librarianship, and hasn’t really tried out “new” things like blogs or IM reference services. And they (like many of us) feel that what THEY do is extremely important stuff. So when they ask, they’re usually seeing all the daily work they do, how important and satisfying they find that work to be, and start thinking… “well, what does he (ie., the speaker) expect me to give up? It’s all important stuff, and I don’t have enough time in the day to add something else to my already busy daily schedule. What does he expect me to drop?”

I think they’re asking the wrong question.

Why? That question is focused on ME. What I’m doing. It’s focused on librarians and departments and “the way we’ve always done things.”

How about re-framing the question? Instead of focusing on the work we already do, why not focus on meeting the library’s priorities? What are the goals of the the library? The organizational priorities? Figure those goals out, then work to meet those goals.

Will your daily work change? Maybe. Will some things that you currently do not get done? Maybe – but that’s ok. Because you’ll be focused not on “doing stuff,” but on moving the organization forward.

So yes – the less important, non-prioritized stuff will either get done or get forgotten – and that’s ok. Because you have reframed your question.

How would YOU answer this question? I’d love to know!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Gina Millsap

    As a library director, I’ve also heard this question many times over the years. I agree with David that “What do you want me to give up? isn’t the right question. The right question is “What are the library’s priorities and is what I’m currently doing addressing those priorities?” Underlying that question is an important assumption — that the library organization has worked together (staff, trustees and customers) to determine priorities and that there is a plan or blueprint in place for addressing them. Further, everyone must know what they are, leadership must work with staff to define the work to done and apply the right resources to get it done. THE most important resource is —- US! Also, important to this process is the constant environmental scanning that gives us the context for trying new service delivery methods or other new “stuff.” One thing is clear — if we aren’t experimenting with technology-based service delivery methods like IM and other web tools, we are essentially opting out from serving some of our customers. Ultimately, that is not in our or their best interests. And it’s in conflict with one of our fundamental values, equal and equitable access.

  • http://tscott.typepad.com/ T Scott

    For many years now, I’ve been putting it this way: “Our job is not to build a better library, but to use our unique talents and skills to help our communities manage knowledge. Sometimes that’ll mean we keep doing the things librarians have always done, but sometimes it means we have to stop doing things that have always been associated with libraries. And sometimes it means taking on things that no one ever thought of asking a librarian to do.”

    But as long as we keep focusing on “the library’s priorities” or the “goals of the library” rather than focusing on what librarians can do to help the members of their communities meet their goals we limit our thinking.

  • http://tscott.typepad.com T Scott

    For many years now, I’ve been putting it this way: “Our job is not to build a better library, but to use our unique talents and skills to help our communities manage knowledge. Sometimes that’ll mean we keep doing the things librarians have always done, but sometimes it means we have to stop doing things that have always been associated with libraries. And sometimes it means taking on things that no one ever thought of asking a librarian to do.”

    But as long as we keep focusing on “the library’s priorities” or the “goals of the library” rather than focusing on what librarians can do to help the members of their communities meet their goals we limit our thinking.

  • http://atwood.tumblr.com/ Gary Atwood

    I agree with your conclusion that the people asking this question are focused on the wrong issue and that they should be focusing more on the library’s priorities. In fact, I think that this “it’s the way we’ve already done things” mentality is a red flag that the institution either hasn’t set proper goals or administration hasn’t communicated what they are to the staff.

    That said, I’m not sure that this question is always off base. I believe that there are libraries out there that are being asked to do more then their human and fiscal resources can handle. Either due to staff or budget cuts (or both), they are barely able to keep up with the minimum tasks needed to keep their library operating. When people ask them to add a service, they realistically can’t do more and shifting priorities isn’t really an option, because to do so would negatively impact a core service.

    I’m not suggesting that everyone with the “I can’t do more!” attitude are in this position. In the majority of these situations, something can be done to accommodate the changes being requested. I’m just not 100% sure that it’s always possible.

  • http://atwood.tumblr.com/ Gary Atwood

    I agree with your conclusion that the people asking this question are focused on the wrong issue and that they should be focusing more on the library’s priorities. In fact, I think that this “it’s the way we’ve already done things” mentality is a red flag that the institution either hasn’t set proper goals or administration hasn’t communicated what they are to the staff.

    That said, I’m not sure that this question is always off base. I believe that there are libraries out there that are being asked to do more then their human and fiscal resources can handle. Either due to staff or budget cuts (or both), they are barely able to keep up with the minimum tasks needed to keep their library operating. When people ask them to add a service, they realistically can’t do more and shifting priorities isn’t really an option, because to do so would negatively impact a core service.

    I’m not suggesting that everyone with the “I can’t do more!” attitude are in this position. In the majority of these situations, something can be done to accommodate the changes being requested. I’m just not 100% sure that it’s always possible.

  • http://littleapplebookworm.blogspot.com/ Rhonna Hargett

    We started a reader’s advisory blog here at Manhattan and I have been surprised at how it has helped make my tasks in the library easier. I’m more aware of what my coworkers are reading and have a handy resource to pick out books for a RA question. It’s also nice that I hear once a week or so “I read that book you mentioned on the blog and I loved it!”

  • http://littleapplebookworm.blogspot.com Rhonna Hargett

    We started a reader’s advisory blog here at Manhattan and I have been surprised at how it has helped make my tasks in the library easier. I’m more aware of what my coworkers are reading and have a handy resource to pick out books for a RA question. It’s also nice that I hear once a week or so “I read that book you mentioned on the blog and I loved it!”

  • http://deborahfitchett.blogspot.com/ Deborah Fitchett

    As Rhonna says, often doing something new makes old tasks more efficient, or even redundant. I think blogging (and other tools) can communicate information to more people more quickly than telling everyone individually face-to-face or by email. My library recently started texting about overdue hourly loans and overdue requested books, and though I’m not directly involved I get the impression that it saves a lot of staff time — we used to have to phone people individually and now we only have to phone some.

    So maybe the question should be “What won’t I have to do anymore?”

  • http://deborahfitchett.blogspot.com Deborah Fitchett

    As Rhonna says, often doing something new makes old tasks more efficient, or even redundant. I think blogging (and other tools) can communicate information to more people more quickly than telling everyone individually face-to-face or by email. My library recently started texting about overdue hourly loans and overdue requested books, and though I’m not directly involved I get the impression that it saves a lot of staff time — we used to have to phone people individually and now we only have to phone some.

    So maybe the question should be “What won’t I have to do anymore?”

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  • http://roytennant.com/ Roy Tennant

    David, you hit the nail on the head. I’ve often said the very same thing in response this recurring question, at least as far back as 2002 — see http://roytennant.com/column/index.cgi?fetch=data/65.xml for evidence. If you focus your efforts on the top priorities whatever doesn’t get done shouldn’t.

  • http://roytennant.com/ Roy Tennant

    David, you hit the nail on the head. I’ve often said the very same thing in response this recurring question, at least as far back as 2002 — see http://roytennant.com/column/index.cgi?fetch=data/65.xml for evidence. If you focus your efforts on the top priorities whatever doesn’t get done shouldn’t.

  • http://www.maintainitproject.org/ Brenda Hough

    Interesting topic, David — we were talking about the very related topic of time on the MaintainIT blog recently, too — http://www.maintainitproject.org/blog/tips-on-time — focusing on how do we find the time to keep up. It’s a challenge — professionally and personally. I’m pretty good at making the time to try new things, but not so good at letting go of old things.

  • http://www.maintainitproject.org Brenda Hough

    Interesting topic, David — we were talking about the very related topic of time on the MaintainIT blog recently, too — http://www.maintainitproject.org/blog/tips-on-time — focusing on how do we find the time to keep up. It’s a challenge — professionally and personally. I’m pretty good at making the time to try new things, but not so good at letting go of old things.

  • http://librarianbyday.wordpress.com Bobbi Newman

    I’ve seen some examples where they haven’t had to give up anything. For example I spent some one on one time with staff members, teaching them about feed readers and setting one up for them. We add 5 library blogs I recommeded based on their interests. Then we added other sites that they use. The best example is the collection development librarian checking so many sites for information about books and reviews, now that information comes to her. She even has time to read the 5 blogs!

  • http://librarianbyday.net Bobbi Newman

    I’ve seen some examples where they haven’t had to give up anything. For example I spent some one on one time with staff members, teaching them about feed readers and setting one up for them. We add 5 library blogs I recommeded based on their interests. Then we added other sites that they use. The best example is the collection development librarian checking so many sites for information about books and reviews, now that information comes to her. She even has time to read the 5 blogs!

  • http://www.oclc.org/nextspace/008/1.htm Tom Storey

    Here is advice from Leslie Crutchfield, co-author of “Forces for Good The Six Practices of High Impact Nonprofits”

    To libraries, Crutchfield asks: What are you trying to achieve? What is the real change you want to see in the world—and how does what you are doing today lead to more impact tomorrow?

    “Think deeply about what your mission is and how your institution can be part of driving that cause forward—then make it visible,” she says. “That’s one of the most elemental factors that distinguish great organizations from the average. Successful organizations have a very strong sense of purpose and are clearly driven by causes.”

    She also suggests ‘staying close to your customer.’

    “Define your customer as broadly as you need to and understand what drives them. What are their needs and what can the library provide, or start to provide, that meets those needs?”

    In addition, Crutchfield says it is important to be willing to let go of things that might not be as relevant, or that libraries may not be the best to provide. “Cutting off programs or services that were useful in the past, but aren’t relevant to the future, can be painful—even wrenching. But often it is the only way to free up treasured resources—money, time and intellectual mindshare—and focus them on what will work in the future.”

  • http://www.oclc.org/nextspace/008/1.htm Tom Storey

    Here is advice from Leslie Crutchfield, co-author of “Forces for Good The Six Practices of High Impact Nonprofits”

    To libraries, Crutchfield asks: What are you trying to achieve? What is the real change you want to see in the world—and how does what you are doing today lead to more impact tomorrow?

    “Think deeply about what your mission is and how your institution can be part of driving that cause forward—then make it visible,” she says. “That’s one of the most elemental factors that distinguish great organizations from the average. Successful organizations have a very strong sense of purpose and are clearly driven by causes.”

    She also suggests ‘staying close to your customer.’

    “Define your customer as broadly as you need to and understand what drives them. What are their needs and what can the library provide, or start to provide, that meets those needs?”

    In addition, Crutchfield says it is important to be willing to let go of things that might not be as relevant, or that libraries may not be the best to provide. “Cutting off programs or services that were useful in the past, but aren’t relevant to the future, can be painful—even wrenching. But often it is the only way to free up treasured resources—money, time and intellectual mindshare—and focus them on what will work in the future.”

  • Sarah Nagle

    So are the resources (staff time, equipment, tech help, etc etc etc) made available to these people so that they can help make the organization move forward according to the goals? Or is it just another case of talking about “hidebound staff”? Are 2 and 2, previously supposed to add up to 7, now required to add up to 9?

  • Sarah Nagle

    So are the resources (staff time, equipment, tech help, etc etc etc) made available to these people so that they can help make the organization move forward according to the goals? Or is it just another case of talking about “hidebound staff”? Are 2 and 2, previously supposed to add up to 7, now required to add up to 9?

  • http://walt.lishost.org/ walt crawford

    The question I keep asking (not on my own behalf, but on behalf of those being told to Do This and Do That) is quite different:

    What services do you stop providing (or shortchange) in order to do X–and can you make the case that X matters more to your community and your patrons than those services do?

    It’s convenient to accuse staff of being “hidebound” because they’re still providing traditional services–but if those services are meeting the needs of your community/patrons, then the staff is not so much hidebound as service-oriented.

  • http://walt.lishost.org walt crawford

    The question I keep asking (not on my own behalf, but on behalf of those being told to Do This and Do That) is quite different:

    What services do you stop providing (or shortchange) in order to do X–and can you make the case that X matters more to your community and your patrons than those services do?

    It’s convenient to accuse staff of being “hidebound” because they’re still providing traditional services–but if those services are meeting the needs of your community/patrons, then the staff is not so much hidebound as service-oriented.

  • Anthony Adams

    Following up on walt’s comment, any time any new project or product has been introduced since the invention of stink, somebody somewhere has asked this question. Has nothing to do with computers, nothing to do with the 21st century. Change means panic for some people; always has, always will.

    For others, for example, me, change has to mean improvement, not just change for change’s sake. I’ve been the heel dragger a few times, and sometimes I was right to fight the change. Sometimes, I was wrong. But I fought the new, or surrendered to it, not because it was new, but because I didn’t see that it made life better for the library community I was serving.

  • Anthony Adams

    Following up on walt’s comment, any time any new project or product has been introduced since the invention of stink, somebody somewhere has asked this question. Has nothing to do with computers, nothing to do with the 21st century. Change means panic for some people; always has, always will.

    For others, for example, me, change has to mean improvement, not just change for change’s sake. I’ve been the heel dragger a few times, and sometimes I was right to fight the change. Sometimes, I was wrong. But I fought the new, or surrendered to it, not because it was new, but because I didn’t see that it made life better for the library community I was serving.

  • http://www.jasongriffey.net/wp Jason Griffey

    And in case anyone missed Clay Shirkey’s answer to this very question:

    http://www.shirky.com/herecomeseverybody/2008/04/looking-for-the-mouse.html

    Sometimes, “extra” time comes from a very simple change.

  • http://www.jasongriffey.net/wp Jason Griffey

    And in case anyone missed Clay Shirkey’s answer to this very question:

    http://www.shirky.com/herecomeseverybody/2008/04/looking-for-the-mouse.html

    Sometimes, “extra” time comes from a very simple change.

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  • http://thefishbits.wordpress.com/ Brad Fish

    I agree….the “what” of the things that we do is important. I might add to the conversation another word…”why”. Why do we do what we do? or… Why should I do that new thing?

    It seems to me…when you discuss the “why” of our actions, our beliefs, our library goals or even the “why” about what makes us feel passionate about our work, the true value and joy and meaning emerge.

    Next time somebody asks about giving up or adding the “what”….reframe the question into: “why” do you ask?, why should it matter?, why is that better….and most importantly….”why not”?

  • http://thefishbits.wordpress.com/ Brad Fish

    I agree….the “what” of the things that we do is important. I might add to the conversation another word…”why”. Why do we do what we do? or… Why should I do that new thing?

    It seems to me…when you discuss the “why” of our actions, our beliefs, our library goals or even the “why” about what makes us feel passionate about our work, the true value and joy and meaning emerge.

    Next time somebody asks about giving up or adding the “what”….reframe the question into: “why” do you ask?, why should it matter?, why is that better….and most importantly….”why not”?

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  • Gina Millsap

    As a library director, I've also heard this question many times over the years. I agree with David that “What do you want me to give up? isn't the right question. The right question is “What are the library's priorities and is what I'm currently doing addressing those priorities?” Underlying that question is an important assumption — that the library organization has worked together (staff, trustees and customers) to determine priorities and that there is a plan or blueprint in place for addressing them. Further, everyone must know what they are, leadership must work with staff to define the work to done and apply the right resources to get it done. THE most important resource is —- US! Also, important to this process is the constant environmental scanning that gives us the context for trying new service delivery methods or other new “stuff.” One thing is clear — if we aren't experimenting with technology-based service delivery methods like IM and other web tools, we are essentially opting out from serving some of our customers. Ultimately, that is not in our or their best interests. And it's in conflict with one of our fundamental values, equal and equitable access.