I just read a post by Lorcan Dempsey about Good to great : why some companies make the leap–and others don’t by James Collins and it sounds like an interesting read. In a time when libraries are trying to Borderize themselves, it might be worth reading what Collins has to say.
We must reject the idea – well-intentioned, but dead wrong – that the primary path to greatness in the social sectors is to become “more like a business.” Most businesses – like most of anything else in life – fall somewhere between mediocre and good. Few are great. When you compare great companies with good ones, many widely practiced business norms turn out to correlate with mediocrity, not greatness. So, then, why would we want to import the practices of mediocrity into the social sectors? [Page 2]
The fact is that libraries are built on a different model that Borders or Barnes & Noble. Collins goes on to say that social sector organizations should be driven by (are driven by) missions, not profits. I’d argue that while that is true – taking pointers from how businesses are being run isn’t a bad thing (having not read the whole book yet, I don’t know if that’s Collins argument or not). I think there are a lot of great things libraries can learn from for-profit businesses, but I totally agree that you can’t make an a direct comparison between what they’re doing and what we have to do to stay in business. Lorcan sums it up nicely:
We often hear that libraries ought to be run more like businesses. But this is silly. Libraries should look for good models in business as well as in other social sectors. And increasingly, libraries and library organizations need to look to a variety of expertises – technical, logistics and supply-chain management, marketing – to improve their services. They ought to be well-run, which means being clear about what value they create and working towards it with the best available models and expertise. It does not mean being ‘more like businesses’.
PS. For those non-programmers reading this – “!=” means “not equal.”