Changing the Unchangeable

I have been following an interesting series of blog entries regarding change, innovation, libraries, and Web 2.0 (among other things). It started with a very interesting post by David Lee King. One of the big points he makes is that in the face of intractable management, innovative techie-type librarians will flee for greener pastures. He does a good job of stating the problem and challenges all of us to come up with solutions. His key questions:

  • Steps to take to convince administrators that the library world is different than it was in the 1970’s?
  • How to convince administrators that constant change and innovation is good, and that it’s also a necessity in our new millenial world?
  • How can we become change agents in a field that’s apparently not used to changing?

Various library bloggers have responded to his initial post, including Sarah Houghton-Jan, the LibrarianInBlack. But this thought-provoking post came today from Barbara Kelly in her Manage This! blog and it really grabbed my attention. The question she asked that made me think was:

What sort of leadership do we need from innovators and change instigators in librarianship and how can we as librarians learn the difference between leadership abilities and more traditional management/administrative skills? In other words does it take more than a presentation, plea or rant to decision makers on Web 2.0 tools to bring about change?

I think that is a key question, and in the library world a critical one. We as a profession have fallen into a tendency to view leadership and management as one and the same thing, and not a good thing at that. She mentions that when she was in library school, very few of her fellow students were interested in management or leadership; they just liked books and information. I had the same experience, and in fact would group myself in with those people. But if we just take a back seat (again) with the whole Web 2.0 revolution, it will be Yahoo! all over again. Librarians should have been the leaders in the development of tools like Yahoo! Instead, we ended up as an afterthought: the last hires rather than the fist hires.
For me a key question (and one that I don’t have the answer to) has always been: are leaders born or made? Managers/administrators are definitely made – through promotion or appointment. But a leader – that’s a different thing. Sarah Houghton-Jan’s key question is:

…Think about how you (yes, you) could be blocking change and innovation in your library. Think about why you’re doing it. You may feel that you have very good reasons (budget issues may be one of those). But you may be doing things subconsciously or as a knee-jerk reaction without thinking. Just do some self-reflection here.

Change is undeniably hard. Bureaucracy makes it harder. But change can also be exciting. Here’s a first step: the next time you hear about a new technology, rather than think about the problems it presents for your library, let yourself think about how the technology could be used to benefit your library. Give yourself (and your library) a chance to dream. I know, I know, that’s a pie-in-the-sky approach. But isn’t it worth a try?