I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who read Stephen Bell’s article on change management in Library Journal and thought “Yes! Thank you!” Mr. Bell rightly points out that we do not live in an era where change has a start and end point. We’re never not changing. As soon as we give up on change, we run the risk of falling behind. Therefore, instead of change management we should embrace change readiness.1 But why do we think this is new for us? The change we’re encountering now certainly looks different than it did a century ago but isn’t change by its very nature, unfamiliar?
I spend a lot of time thinking about how to prepare my staff and community for change. I’m a big believer in trust, transparency, feedback, and letting the experts be the experts. As a trained librarian I wonder if we don’t give our profession enough credit for how intrepid we have been in the past and certainly can still be. For example, the MARC record would have never been introduced unless someone had realized that computing could greatly improve the way we locate and share resources. The Gates Foundation chose public libraries as early adopters of the personal computer because of their mission to equitable access to information.
I don’t believe library employees are any more reluctant to change than they ever have been before. I believe change-reluctance is human nature and as leaders we should always factor that reality into our plans. One way to address reluctance is to be clear that a new idea is not a judgment on past success or failure. An article by Rosabeth Moss Kanter from the Harvard Business Review states, “When change involves a big shift of strategic direction, the people responsible for the previous direction dread the perception that they must have been wrong. Leaders can help people maintain dignity by celebrating those elements of the past that are worth honoring, and making it clear that the world has changed. That makes it easier to let go and move on.”2
Change is simply an evolution of our current situation, whatever that may be. When we take good past practice and combine it with current technology and opportunities, we make something even better. This is something libraries have been doing well for a long time, and isn’t any different now. It’s time we brand ourselves as the innovators we have always been. Let’s reclaim this narrative and tell our story of transformation. We’ve done it before.