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Pivotal Change

by on March 19, 2013

Continuing my series on harnessing change (for a recap visit my previous posts), let’s turn our attention to pivots for change. I borrow this concept from renowned thinker and best-selling author Seth Godin. He suggests that major overhauls tend to be overambitious and overwhelming. As librarians and library staff, I think it’s safe to say that we’re just plain over it. Large-scale change is overrated. As an alternative, Godin recommends that organizations root change in existing assets and strategically tweak select elements. I like to think of it as the keep/change framework based upon the phrasing of his examples:[i]

Keep the machines in your factory, but change what they make.

Keep your technology, but use it to do something else.

Keep your reputation, but apply it to a different industry or problem.

The Unquiet Librarian applied this model to school libraries and came up with some examples of her own:[ii]

Keep books and print materials in your library, but add and promote the formats in which their content appear (i.e. audio books, databases,  e-books,  downloadable books…).

Keep teaching information literacy skills, but focus on… helping students devise personal learning networks that they can apply to any learning situation.

With that pattern in mind, I will venture to suggest a few keep/change principles that could be applied to public libraries:

Keep offering reference services, but deliver them in convenient modalities (via text message, using e-mail, through IM chats).

žKeep collecting print materials, but promote them in appealing ways (announce “Exciting New Titles” on Facebook, tweet book reviews in 140 characters or less, apply merchandising formulas in the stacks).

žKeep teaching technology, but think beyond software (creating WordPress websites, LinkedIn for job seeking, personal digital archiving).

žKeep connecting people with information, but compile it in easily digestible formats (consider tailored “reports” as opposed to unwieldy piles of books or long lists of unintelligible URLs).

Keep planning programs, but engage local groups and interests (co-sponsor events in the community, partner with arts and culture organizations, invite clubs to host workshops at the library).

Keep your service desks, but staff them differently (cross-train employees, rove during slow shifts, combine Circulation and Reference into one-stop service point

The goal is to shrink change into manageable adjustments that dovetail familiar policies, procedures, and situations. In doing so, libraries may ease the pain associated with disruptive change while still moving toward our full potential in the modern world.

[i] Seth Godin, “Pivots for Change,” Seth Godin’s Blog, accessed March 10, 2013, http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2009/03/pivots-for-change-swords-and-plowshares.html.

[ii] Buffy Hamilton, “Pivots for Change and Libraries,” The Unquiet Librarian, accessed March 10, 2013, http://theunquietlibrarian.wordpress.com/2009/07/25/pivots-for-change-and-libraries/.