‘Change’ Is Everywhere and How This Relates to Libraries

I was poised to write about change when I found Kate Simpson’s post: The Speed of Change. I agree with her that ‘change’ is the buzzword du jour and I have been encountering the word almost everywhere. Recently I listened to the keynote speeches and attended a track on change at Computers in Libraries 2014 and I took a MOOC about Library Advocacy which stressed that libraries need to change the way they do their advocacy. I want to share some of what I have learned.

My focus here is on change in libraries, which are viewed by non-librarians as being primarily book preserving institutions. The Pew Research Center’s survey on Library Services in the Digital Age was about perceptions of public libraries, but their findings are relevant to law libraries as well. What was also interesting is that people were often unaware of the many other services that libraries provide. The lesson we must learn from this and other research is that libraries must change or risk becoming irrelevant.

The theme of Computers in Libraries 2014 was Hack the Library and, as usual, the keynote speeches (which are available on the website) were innovative and inspiring. To me the most striking sessions were those that told the stories of real changes taking place in libraries, such as Mary Lee Kennedy’s keynote speech, Hacking Strategies for Library Innovation. She described the evolution of change at the New York Public Library. She outlined how they used the knowledge of the uniqueness their clientele to determine the target areas of opportunity and then made changes by doing pilot programs, assessing and evolving. And she stressed this change should be done while having fun. One example of a successful NYPL project was digitizing 433,000 New York City street maps from their map collection and then using crowd sourcing to layer the maps over time in each area.

Another outstanding presentation was the Tuesday evening session on Extreme Makeovers and Mindshifts. This featured three presenters, each of whom had a story about transforming their libraries. M.J. D’Elia from the University of Guelph, stressed that we need to change how we think and how we do. He recommended building the minimum viable product, then testing to see whether people adopt it. He advocated using a startup mentality to achieve this and gave examples of how he had done it. Nate Hill, from the Chattanooga Public Library, described how he turned an outdated central public library into a center of creativity by converting his fourth floor storage area into a vibrant lab for innovation. The third presenter, Erik Boeskesteijn, from the Netherlands, used the motto “innovate or die” to describe how he had collaborated to create another lively space which connects people with collections and stories. He also helped create a video series, This Week in Libraries, featuring stories about libraries around the world.

Michael Lydon’s final keynote speech, Hacking Library Spaces: Lessons from Tactical Urbanism, also was inspirational. He showed examples of small temporary changes that can transform areas and lead to long-term change. His motto was to build, measure and learn. These lessons could easily be adopted by library planners. The pdf manual on Tactical Urbanism 2 begins with a powerful quote by Jaime Lerner: “The lack of resources is no longer an excuse not to act. The idea that action should only be taken after all the answers and the resources have been found is a sure recipe for paralysis.”

The six week long MOOC on Library Advocacy Unshushed from the University of Toronto covered a wide variety of material. Its goal was to enable advocates for libraries to change their game by establishing a transformative advocacy plan based on forming and fostering personal relationships with those who have the power to fully support and fund libraries. One final point that resonated with me was that using social media as your primary way to build relationships will not be as effective as personal contact. An example of how this operates can be found in Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article Small Change. He posits that Twitter would never have created social change like the Civil Rights movement did because it was personal relationships that led people to take action, not media campaigns.

Finally, if you are interested in bringing about personal change, I would like to recommend this fifteen week Harvard MOOC, Unlocking the Immunity to Change. Led by two Education professors, the course will guide you through exercises designed to reveal the reasons your best efforts to change have failed. The course description includes this quote:

Do you have a personal improvement goal that has proven resistant to your sincerest intentions, smartest plans, and best efforts? Did you make a New Year’s resolution for 2014? This course invites you to take part in a world-wide experiment to see if Kegan and Lahey’s ground-breaking, award-winning approach can be deployed on-line to help tens of thousands of people make lasting changes at work or in their private lives.

Please let me know about other resources and stories about library change that I may have missed in the tsunami of information available out there.

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