Credit: keetra dean dixon @

by Valerie Ridgway.

Thank you, Val, for creating this blog post.  For those of you who may not know Val, she was formerly Deputy CEO at Pickering Public Library and is an expert in terms of HR practices, policies and management. During the past 15 years she has developed the initial collective agreements for large public libraries, created their staffing competencies and can write role descriptions in her sleep. I’ve had the absolute honour of working with Val on three organizational structuring projects for progressive public libraries who know they must align their organization and roles with their strategies if they ever hope to execute those strategies. In other words, Val knows her stuff, and is delightfully candid, as demonstrated below:

Ongoing reorganization of library staffing structures and relationships is a fact of contemporary life. Or it should be. Libraries embark on new strategies and exciting initiatives, but the restructuring so critical for implementing these is often deferred, diluted, dreaded, distorted, deserted, and with good reason. Employees en masse, in almost all organizations – not just libraries – are inherently conservative:  people will agree that change is needed, but when moving from the general to the specific changes for them as individuals, raise objections and barriers. It’s sometimes very difficult for employees to see the “big picture” driving the changes and, most importantly the WIIFM factor, “what’s in it for me”. Let’s face it, even those employees who exclaim “I love change!” only embrace those changes for which the WIIFM factor is clear. Yet without staff on board, the reorganization will stutter and need constant life-giving care, and the refocusing will be blurry for both the library and its users.

Having faced this dilemma in many workplaces we’ve employed the following tools to manage the solidity of staff resistance and, slowly but surely, develop staff engagement among the majority of employees:

  • Use conventional approaches (individual and/or group discussions – hopefully as conversations; surveys; town halls; collaborative virtual spaces, etc.) to discuss what’s driving the changes, gather staff insights and build understanding and acknowledgement of upcoming changes
    • Hopefully a strategic plan, based on a solid environmental scan, is in place and is the principle catalyst for organizational changes
    • If there isn’t a current strategic plan, use staff input to develop a multi-year service plan
    • Use this to identify the known changes, but also to highlight the “unknown unknowns”, likely to be our future, and to highlight the service concept underpinning constant renewal, i.e. this is not one re-organization every 7 years, but the first in an ongoing process; as the environment changes, our services change, and so do our work processes, roles, competencies and structure for accomplishing this work.
  • Identify those individuals who can break out of the masses; new staff, older staff who have shown an interest in new technology or services; staff with non-library backgrounds and perspectives. They can become key supports and help educate and involve their colleagues.
    • If you are fortunate, there may be one individual who can be entrusted with change management to lead or co-lead through the initial phases.
  • Consider having a specialized and cross-functional unit that will take on all pilot projects and innovations. The unit staffing should not be permanent and static. Project staff can be brought in as their skills match the tasks at hand.  This is also a way to use individual staff who are change-positive.
  • Make use of pilot projects: this is useful in getting staff used to a different mode of doing things – as well as teasing out any problems with the service change.
  • Move at a realistic pace: it is sometimes better to use a multi-year approach to take advantage of staff vacancies,  building or IT changes, etc.,  and to introduce changes piecemeal than to do it in a shorter period of time, with the entailed disruption and stress.
  • Re-assess all job descriptions: the specifics of today will become the dinosaur tasks of tomorrow!  Content should be light-touch, general and articulate roles, not tasks – there may not always be a desk, or a department, or permanent methods of doing anything.  All professional job content should include research, outreach, performance measurement and proper professional development requirements.  Job descriptions are within management’s autonomy, so they can be changed with consultation.  For new hirings they can be developed unilaterally by management.
  • Ensure that competencies are spelt out in job descriptions – they will take you further than an inventory of tasks. A flexible, self-assessing professional will be open to new directions and tasks.
  • Do look for professionals outside the library world – those educated and experienced in social work,  IT, recreation, retail, business, marketing and publicity all provide the skill sets libraries need now.