Scrap it

I just tried to write a post I’ve had floating around in my head about librarians as the social workers of the information economy. When I started writing, though, I found the comparison hard to justify, in that I felt like I was trivializing social work in order to make a point about librarians. It just wasn’t working. So I scrapped it. They were elegantly arranged words that I’d spent some time on, but they were just bad, when I looked at them with a critical eye.

It felt good to click “move to trash”.

There’s freedom in being able to declare that something isn’t working, and so we’ll move on now. This morning was our staff retreat here at Potsdam’s College Libraries, and I said that the interim system of meetings and communication that we’ve been operating under during the implementation of our re-org isn’t working — the Outreach Team is too big, communication has gotten muddied, and my informal approach to meetings has led to information gaps developing. So we need to change things. Move this system to the trash, and try something else. There’s no clear answer about what the new thing should be, but we had a good discussion that gives me lots of metaphorical modeling clay to work with. Throw out the old, dust off my hands and dig into a new pile of clay, and start molding.

It makes it easier to make decisions when you know that you can start again later. Our website redesign calendar includes “see how 1.0 worked out, begin working on 1.5”, we implemented last spring’s changes to our borrowing policies knowing that we could fix things this summer if they were to prove seriously broken, and our Bylaws Working Group is trying to streamline our bylaws so that we can make needed organizational changes on the fly with less complexity of process. The lesson? Facilitating change and innovation is easy if you’re willing to tolerate failure. That ability to openly tolerate failure and circular progress and some uncertainty is key if you want to operate this way, but let me ask you: what organization doesn’t already have failure and circular progress and uncertainty? Let’s just admit they exist, proclaim that we’re not perfect, and begin doing business as though we’re not ashamed of being human.

I mean, maybe the next thing won’t work either, but we’ll keep trying until something does, and isn’t that what life’s really like?

One comment

  1. spot-on. it took me three years of managing computing at mpow to learn this lesson. as i’ve moved back into libraryland this spring and summer, it’s refreshing to be able to bring that attitude with me.


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