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Positive Vision and Questions in Libraries

“All we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” -Buddha

“A vivid imagination compels the whole body to obey it.” -Aristotle

I just began a 6 week online workshop on Appreciative Inquiry conducted by David Cooperrider at Case Western University’s Weatherhead School of Management. Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is an organizational development model and a way of implementing change that focuses not on the problems or deficits of a group or organization, but instead focuses on the positive and increasing what they do well. I recognized right away that this workshop was going to be exploring a lot of questions that I have recently been dealing with, especially the importance of questions in the change process.

One of the interesting elements of AI is called the Anticipatory Principle. This principle states that our current actions and behaviors are guided and deeply influenced by our images of the future. An example of this is Pygmalion Effect in pedagogy. Research shows that students will perform better if their teacher has higher expectations of them. The same is true with organizations or institutions. And of course examples like the Pygmalion Effect or the Placebo Effect are instances of self-fulfilling prophecies. If we have a positive vision of the future we will create that future. If we have a negative vision of the future, that is what we will get.

Then I come across sentiments like this:

I remember coming across this tweet a couple of months ago at the Library Technology Conference, and it seemed pretty spot on. There’s a lot of hand-wringing that goes on in librarianship. We see a “crisis of identity” and “low self esteem.” There’s a lot of hype that libraries are doomed or that the library “empire” is declining and falling.

It’s easy to focus on problems, a future of obsolescence, budget cuts, or change resistant colleagues. But there is a problem with that. If we focus on obsolescence or resistance to change, that is what we’ll get. Focusing only on fixing what’s wrong with libraries is a waste of energy. There will always be more problems. Instead we should be focusing on the strengths of libraries, capitalizing on them and innovating in those areas.

This is a really exciting time in the history of humanity and there is so much potential, not just for libraries but also for human curiosity. There are tons of examples of libraries and librarians innovating, creating new service models, and meeting the changing needs of their members. When libraries are at their best, they are funinspiring places, that foster community and civic engagement, empower citizens of all ages and cultures, and promote literacy and scholarship.

How can we shift our professional discourse away from all the problems facing libraries and instead think about questions like “what do libraries look like when they are at their best” and “what would an ideal library look like?”

 

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2012 ACRL Excellence in Academic Libraries Award

This past week our library was  awarded the 2012 ACRL Excellence in Academic Libraries Award in the College category. Our team is all really honored and excited here. We’re looking forward to the party that we’re going to throw in celebration of it, because after all there ain’t no party like a library party. I’m also really grateful to ACRL and YBP for this recognition. This is one of those moments that makes it all worth it.

The process of writing the application involved significant effort, but was very valuable. First, it was exceedingly collaborative. Multiple people wrote sections of the narrative. We also had an all staff meeting where we took time to think about how we meet the needs and serve the mission of the college. All of our staff’s voices were represented in the final application and this made the final application that much stronger.

Second, it was valuable to think of what value we provide to students, faculty, and staff and then prove it. Our thinking was closely related to the Value of Academic Libraries Report that came out last year. Instead of thinking of inputs (how many books we own, amount of funding, etc.) we thought about outputs (the impact that we make on faculty, staff, students, and ultimately the college as an institution). We had to give evidence of that impact. That evidence came in the form of both statistical data such as information literacy assessment data and Noel-Levitz data, but it was also anecdotal and included quotes and tweets like the one below directly related to academic success.

 

We were all ecstatic to have won the award, but even if we hadn’t I knew that we had a great team doing some special things together and a document that we could be proud of. We’re a “small but mighty” staff and we have a lot of fun in the work that we do together. Being able to articulate that in a way that proved our value to others and brought all of our staff’s voices together was extremely rewarding.

3

Getting Past Misunderstanding

different perspectives

On Friday I was at the LJ/Temple Library Future Symposium. I was on a panel with some great folks about bridging the culture gaps in our libraries. Courtney Young, our moderator framed the panel in terms of misunderstandings, and I found this to be really enlightening. Many of the problems we face when groups interact with one another, whether it’s the library vs. IT, change agents vs. resistors, or librarians vs. students, stem from these groups having different perspectives and a lack of mutual understanding of those perspectives.

Let’s take change agents vs. resistors as an example. For this example we’ll use changing the food policy as the conflict (though any change could be substituted here). On one side, you think that the food policy is outdated and that food and drink should be allowed in the library. On the other side there is a group resistant to this change who believe that it shouldn’t change. In order to get past this, there needs to be clear understanding on both sides.

You should first try to understand the other person’s perspective. And don’t just pretend to listen while dismissing what they say in your head. Pay attention and genuinely understand their concerns. Are they concerned about damage to the books or computers? Are they concerned with messes? Are they concerned with the smell? These are all genuine concerns and should be (and can be) addressed. Get to the bottom of why they are resisting the change. When you understand concerns you can then address them.

Then you need to communicate clearly to them why you think the policy should change and make sure that they understand your concerns. Do you think it will create a more welcoming environment? Do you see it happening other places (bookstores, etc.)? Are your users asking for it? Make a clear case for why you think the change is necessary. In discussing the change and coming up with solutions together make sure that their concerns are addressed. You can say something like, “I understand you are concerned with damage to our collection. I don’t want anything to get ruined either. Do we think that will happen a lot though? It seems like Barnes and Noble is not concerned with food or coffee ruining their merchandise. And at home I drink coffee and read books all the time. Does the benefit of making the library more comfortable and welcoming outweighs the risk of a few damaged books? Is there a way that we can limit damage while still allowing food and drink?”

Too often we assume that something is obvious or that someone is just obtuse when in reality we just have differing perspectives. The above approach might work and it might not, but it will be a lot more effective when we try to understand others and address them in terms of their concerns instead of only ours.