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Libraries: Rewiring our Thinking

My “must” reading for the past 15 years has been Harvard Business Review. About 6 years ago I added Rotman Rotmanfrom University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management to the “must” list. To be honest, there’s nothing else on that list. Just these two journals. The articles are often based on solid research, usually incredibly interesting, and frequently force me to think differently. These journals target business and management leaders. Many of the influential stakeholders for libraries in the public, academic, government and profit sectors are business and management leaders. We need to know how they think. And we certainly need to think differently.

Joe Rotman, a highly successful, respected businessman and philanthropist died recently. Roger Martin, renowned management author and thinker, and the 1st dean of the Rotman School, wrote in the Spring 2015 Rotman issue of how Joe Rotman “rewired” Martin’s brain. Given that the library sector is essentially shifting below our feet, it behooves us to consider the 4 fronts on which Rotman changed Martin’s thinking and use these to change our own thinking:

  1. Nothing is Not-doable

There’s 2 parts to this truism: first, that if you want to “do” it, then do it. In 1998 when Martin became dean of Rotman, that management school wasn’t even in the rankings or the radar with its competitors. Joe and Roger envisioned it in the top 5 – which most people thought was crazy – ‘not-doable’ for sure. Yet Joe taught Martin that anything is doable so long as you imagine and “do” different approaches and possibilities. It isn’t about working harder – usually we work harder at the same things, just like a hamster on a wheel.

Working harder on the same library models, services and approaches isn’t going to move libraries forward. Doing things differently – like those libraries initiating LibHub to get library holdings surface on search engines – will move libraries forward Finally! How do we expect to know libraries have the books or know-how people want if the Google search doesn’t pull up the item or service? We’re off of Google, which means we’re off the radar.

  1. The Intelligent Organization of People is Key to Success

The largest percentage of any library budget is people. It isn’t the ‘stuff’ (i.e. books and digital resources), but rather the staff. And yet training is often the first thing on the budget editing floor – and many libraries design their organizations about once every 8 years. Understanding the human dimension of how a library work (or not), and investing in the continuous development of that human dimension is critical.

The Galbraith model, which we’ve used for years to help libraries design their structures is a superb tool that forces libraries to consider the people, rewards, skill requirement and technology implications of any new strategy.

  1. Very Little That is Really Good Happens Quickly

“Big change just plain takes time, and it does not happen on a clear, linear path.” Focusing on big, transformative goals is more important now than ever. The changes libraries must experience will not occur over the duration of a 3 year strategic plan. Hence – why strategic goals should be at least 5 years or more. Yes, this means the goals will span a few Boars for public lbiraries and perhaps a few university librarians in the academy. But good things come to those who wait.

  1. Hold People to Their Promises

Why hold a person to their promise? Rotman taught Martin – and it rings very true for me, that when we hold each other to our commitments, it shows the person that they follow through. As a result, it builds their confidence – and makes them a person willing to commit and follow through. It also shows us that we can trust them, and rely on them to deliver.

This adage goes hand-in-hand with #3: that nothing good happens quickly. To purposefully, progressively, and pragmatically change our business models, we must follow through on our commitments to the organizational vision, to each other, and most importantly, to our residents, students, faculty, clients, and council members.

There are many librarians who are working very hard to explore new business models: Rebecca Raven CEO @ Brampton Library, Scott Hargrove CEO @ Fraser Valley Regional Library, Moe Hosseini-Ara Director of Culture at the City of Markham, and me – Director Services @ Brampton Library. Join us at Internet Librarian in Monterey, CA on Sunday October 25th for a full day workshop to discuss and, most importantly, practice implementing 4 different yet complementary models.

Begin the morning by working with Gartner’s Magic Quadrants to identify where your library leads. Then map out how to use the customer service approach of successful retailers with staff equipped with headsets, mobile devices, and internal instant messaging. In the afternoon, explore how the service portfolio management model can help your library identify the services to grow, maintain, or divest, and investigate form and function in organizational structure as well as staff development models that incorporate learning as a part of daily operations.

Register here for Business & Customer Service Models for Libraries. ,

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