The Library Director’s Perspective: Beyond Survival

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a Library Connect event hosted by PALINET. The topic was “What’s Next? – Embracing Change” – the perfect topic for me!

In his introduction, John Tagler, VP of Customer Marketing, Academic & Gov’t Libraries at Elsevier said we’re all dealing with change and we have to “face it and embrace it or we’ll all fall behind” – what a great way to start the event and such a true statement.

The first speaker was Rush Miller, University Librarian at Hillman Library at the University of Pittsburgh. The title of his talk was: “The Library Director’s Perspective: Beyond Survival”. Rush is so passionate about change that he sometimes made me cringe! That said, he was an awesome speaker and the fact that he went off on tangents didn’t seem to bother the audience (or myself) one bit.

Rush started us off by talking about how librarians handle change. He told us this great story of how when he was given his first director job, the technical services librarians all brought him back to the storage room and said “Now if there is a fire, we all run in here and grab the shelf list”. Apparently, this shelf list was nothing to scoff at – big and heavy. Years later when electronic catalogs were available, people still kept their shelf lists because they didn’t trust the new technology. Rush asked a great question – did the librarians really think that if the library had a fire the administration was going to re-order every book that was on the shelves? For years, librarians fought change – it was technology that forced it on them.

He told a great story of how a friend gave him a disk years ago and said “here, you’ve got to try this, it’s a graphical interface for getting on the internet” – that disk had Mosaic on it – and Rush was unable to install it on his work computer because he didn’t have Windows. Why not? Cause his IT staff it took up too much space and was a passing fad! See – it’s not just librarians how fight change – we all do – we fight until we’re bruised and broken and then we have to give in – wouldn’t it be easier if we acknowledged that change is scary and that we’re terrified, but go with the flow anyway??

He talked about how he hated going golfing without a full group of friends because eventually someone was going to ask – “so what do you do” and he’d have to tell them he was a librarian. This would lead to a discussion on whether people actually use libraries anymore – if they’re really necessary and so on. The fact of the matter is – that if we don’t start making the right arguments – people are going to believe that they’re not necessary!! Here’s where Rush and I part ways a bit. Rush feels that it should all go digital – that books are on their way out – slowly – but on their way out. He mentioned that at Pitt they’re closing departmental libraries with no opposition from the departments – he said that book usage is going down (a stat that is the complete opposite of another I recently read).

That said – his next point is right on track – constantly claiming the value of libraries and making arguments is not going to get things done – we have to demonstrate to others how it works.

He then proceeded to give us 8 ideas for changes:

  1. User-centric not user-focused
    Provide multiple channels for information delivery and rethink our processes and services. What’s important is what they think not what you think!
  2. Re-think our mission
    It’s not about books anymore and it’s not about organizing information, it’s about connecting people to what they want to learn. In short – it’s about people!
  3. Re-engineer our operations
    Stop worrying about the quality of the data in your catalog – it’s not the center of the universe
  4. Re-think how space is used
    Allow cafes in the library – stop worrying about the stupid carpets! (I actually thought it was worries about the books that made us stop people from drinking in the library – but when we did our renovation it was also about the carpets – why???)
  5. Collaborate and innovate
  6. Communicate our message
  7. Build expertise
  8. Change the culture of our libraries
    Stop rewarding the people who won’t change in your library and start supporting those who will. Rewards should not be given on the basis of who’s been there the longest.

So, overall – a great presentation by Rush!! And lots of great info. I’ll provide a link to his presentation as soon as it’s available.

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