Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant
Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date.
Factoring in the Only Constant
The only constant is change. This is surely no truer than in the process of creating and managing digital libraries. Until recently, though, change came rather slowly to libraries; one could even say that change (at least in the form of deteriorating collections) was viewed with some animosity. Over the last few decades, libraries have weathered a series of revolutionary changes: converting our catalogs from paper to digital form; collecting a much wider range of materials (some in short-lived formats); and facing a world in which our collections and services are increasingly delivered to a remote clientele. If these changes were all there were, we might see the light at the end of the tunnel. But they are just the beginning. Meanwhile, our organizational response to these watersheds has mostly been stopgap in nature. We continue to act as if significant and rapid change is a temporary condition rather than a permanent one. Owing to that, we never address the required organizational changes. Learning to "zoom" In the article "Surviving Is Not Enough" (Fast Company, 1/02), Seth Godin describes how a culture of stability also affects businesses. Whereas entrepreneurs welcome change because it creates new opportunities, well-established organizations tend to stultify and resist change once they occupy a successful niche. Godin advocates training employees to make small changes constantly--a process he calls "zooming." By establishing an organizational culture of "zooming," he asserts, the organization itself can begin to respond quickly to change on an incremental, evolutionary basis. Such an organization will tend to go where it should much sooner than one that resists change. Those organizations that resist change until it becomes inevitable are likely to face dramatic (read: painful) changes that are probably too late to be effective. Godin describes how the culture that resists change springs from the erroneous assumption that "someone is in charge, that the world is stable, that you get to choose what happens next." Chaos, after all, is the natural state of the universe. Our profession is not ignorant of organizational change--far from it. Our professional literature is replete with articles that talk about "managing" or "coping with" change and its apparent evil twin, "stress." (Recently, "stress" has been updated with a preface of "techno-.") It's as if change could be managed and stress were a natural and inevitable response to it. Neither is true. Managing our response Change defies management. The best we can do is to manage our response to change, by creating organizations that foster it and helping staff make it a part of their lives. The myth of change management is predicated on the principle that we can see exactly where we want to go and therefore we can manage a process to get there. The problem is that by the time we get there, we are no longer where we need to be. Change is constant, and therefore our response must be as well. Stress is not an inevitable by-product of change. Some people thrive on it. And even those who do not thrive on it find that they must at least deal with it. The good news may be that our children, who are growing up in a world of change (e.g., "serial employment"), are more likely to adapt. Those of us who grew up in an era when our parents worked at the same job for life tend to have the most trouble. For managers & employees Since change is inevitable, you must strive to build organizations in which change is second nature. This means creating flexible management structures, such as task forces that are given a specific charge and then dissolved upon completion. It means communicating frequently and well, both up and down the organization's hierarchy. It means rewarding innovation and punishing loitering. It means supporting staff with training opportunities to help them use new applications. It means giving staff the power to suggest change and the responsibility to carry it out. It means taking risks and gracefully accepting the inevitable failures. Be flexible In a world of change, flexibility and adaptability are essential. Your job description is a starting point, not a contract. Sometimes you will stop doing something you like in order to do something you don't. Other times, it will be the opposite. If your boss gives you new duties but does not tell you to stop doing what you have been doing, it may be because he or she wants you to figure it out. Do what is most important to meet the goals of the organization, and don't feel guilty about those things you can't get done. You are responsible for your own education, which may range from requesting training from your organization to keeping up with the professional literature. You must keep up with the changing needs of your organization and the people it serves and how best to meet those needs. You are responsible for telling managers what they need to know about your work and how it needs to change to serve your clientele better. You are responsible for suggesting a solution for every problem you raise. You are responsible for not whining. Do not manage change; foster it. If change is the only constant, factor it in. __________________________________________________________________ LINK LIST Survival Is Not Enough www.fastcompany.com/online/54/survival.html