cart-before-horse-cartoon

In the years that I have worked as a Library and Information Professional, I have had the pleasure to collaborate and network with professionals in myriad sectors – university, educational, independent, corporate, and many more. One common complaint I have heard amongst librarians in this diverse field has been the feeling that libraries, perhaps, aren’t appreciated or understood across their sector, institution, and/or amongst particular members of their organisation. Evidence certainly suggests that librarians must demonstrate their value and advocate for their significance in this evolving techno-centric world, and should likewise anticipate the need to do it with increasing vigour in light of tightening budgets, time-constraints, and then some.

However, I contend it is also important to ensure that, in our enthusiasm for ensuring that we are valued, understood, and appreciated, that we also aim to understand the bigger picture in which we operate. These two thoughts have been percolating in my mind for a number of years now:

  1. Change is an essential part of the Library sector, and we should anticipate that, in order to progress in this world, change will be an expected bedfellow to ensuring Libraries remain relevant influential.
  2. Change must be catalysed in collaboration with the aims, vision, and wider strategic aims of the organisation/institution in which the Library is located.

The means by which this potential tension is understood, appreciated, and navigated by those in our profession can make a huge difference regarding how our libraries fare in the long-term. We need to ensure that we are demonstrating value and advocating for changes which reflect the growing trends in the profession, and likewise that we can appreciate the trends which are current in our institution as well. If we want to effect change, we must work within these boundaries – don’t assume that because something is trending in the library and information profession that it will be likewise trending at the wider institutional level. I have attended many CPD events in which I have heard numerous complaints about this dissonance – wherein librarians feel that their institutions (from a range of different sectors) simply do not understand the changes which are needed to keep up with new library trends.

Instead of feeling discouraged by this tension, I believe that we can work within it. And here are my four tips for how:

  1. Get to know your organisation. What are its aims, and strategic visions more generally? Do they have a 5-year plan? What are some of the ‘buzz words’ which have arisen recently?
  2. Make a list of the current trends in your library sector – what changes and improvements you would like to enlist – include the ideal ways you would like to see the implemented in your organisation.
  3. Compare these two lists – in what ways can you modify the action points on the second in order to ensure they meet the aims of the first? What changes that you would like to implement could contribute to the wider aims?
  4. Build up a network. A network of other librarians in your sector and in other sectors from whom you can garner ideas and share your experience. Likewise build up a network within your organisation who can support you, collaborate with you, and move your synthesised ‘changes’ forward. (This was recently touched upon very adeptly in ‘school libraries’ blog post by Amanda Deaville – whose points could easily encompass other sectors).

Indeed, in any organisation or institution – change rarely comes like a hurricane, instead it usually comes as a trickle. Of course, this is not always true; in every institutions, there will be occasions when change of great magnitude is timely and appropriate – though the general points I have covered in this post will, I believe, still apply…the change must be relevant not only to the library services – but also to the wider organisation/institution itself. We must avoid putting the cart before the horse and ensure that the library is a part of the body of your institution – not an entity with a mind of its own.

Following the above, I believe, will allow us to instigate improvements to our services and provision in our libraries in a way which best marries our vision with that of our employers. It is in this happy medium, I believe, that we can make the most impact – and in which long-lasting change resides.

Written by Angela Platt
Librarian & Archivist at Ibstock Place School
@acplatt87