:: Digital Libraries Columns


Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant

Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date. :: Digital Libraries Columns

Factoring in the Only Constant


   The only constant is change. This is surely no truer than in the
   process of creating and managing digital libraries. Until recently,
   though, change came rather slowly to libraries; one could even say that
   change (at least in the form of deteriorating collections) was viewed
   with some animosity.

   Over the last few decades, libraries have weathered a series of
   revolutionary changes: converting our catalogs from paper to digital
   form; collecting a much wider range of materials (some in short-lived
   formats); and facing a world in which our collections and services are
   increasingly delivered to a remote clientele. If these changes were all
   there were, we might see the light at the end of the tunnel. But they
   are just the beginning.

   Meanwhile, our organizational response to these watersheds has mostly
   been stopgap in nature. We continue to act as if significant and rapid
   change is a temporary condition rather than a permanent one. Owing to
   that, we never address the required organizational changes.
   Learning to "zoom"

   In the article "Surviving Is Not Enough" (Fast Company, 1/02), Seth
   Godin describes how a culture of stability also affects businesses.
   Whereas entrepreneurs welcome change because it creates new
   opportunities, well-established organizations tend to stultify and
   resist change once they occupy a successful niche. Godin advocates
   training employees to make small changes constantly--a process he calls
   "zooming." By establishing an organizational culture of "zooming," he
   asserts, the organization itself can begin to respond quickly to change
   on an incremental, evolutionary basis. Such an organization will tend
   to go where it should much sooner than one that resists change.

   Those organizations that resist change until it becomes inevitable are
   likely to face dramatic (read: painful) changes that are probably too
   late to be effective. Godin describes how the culture that resists
   change springs from the erroneous assumption that "someone is in
   charge, that the world is stable, that you get to choose what happens
   next." Chaos, after all, is the natural state of the universe.

   Our profession is not ignorant of organizational change--far from it.
   Our professional literature is replete with articles that talk about
   "managing" or "coping with" change and its apparent evil twin,
   "stress." (Recently, "stress" has been updated with a preface of
   "techno-.") It's as if change could be managed and stress were a
   natural and inevitable response to it. Neither is true.
   Managing our response

   Change defies management. The best we can do is to manage our response
   to change, by creating organizations that foster it and helping staff
   make it a part of their lives. The myth of change management is
   predicated on the principle that we can see exactly where we want to go
   and therefore we can manage a process to get there. The problem is that
   by the time we get there, we are no longer where we need to be. Change
   is constant, and therefore our response must be as well.

   Stress is not an inevitable by-product of change. Some people thrive on
   it. And even those who do not thrive on it find that they must at least
   deal with it. The good news may be that our children, who are growing
   up in a world of change (e.g., "serial employment"), are more likely to
   adapt. Those of us who grew up in an era when our parents worked at the
   same job for life tend to have the most trouble.

   For managers & employees

   Since change is inevitable, you must strive to build organizations in
   which change is second nature. This means creating flexible management
   structures, such as task forces that are given a specific charge and
   then dissolved upon completion. It means communicating frequently and
   well, both up and down the organization's hierarchy.

   It means rewarding innovation and punishing loitering. It means
   supporting staff with training opportunities to help them use new
   applications. It means giving staff the power to suggest change and the
   responsibility to carry it out. It means taking risks and gracefully
   accepting the inevitable failures.
   Be flexible

   In a world of change, flexibility and adaptability are essential. Your
   job description is a starting point, not a contract. Sometimes you will
   stop doing something you like in order to do something you don't. Other
   times, it will be the opposite.

   If your boss gives you new duties but does not tell you to stop doing
   what you have been doing, it may be because he or she wants you to
   figure it out. Do what is most important to meet the goals of the
   organization, and don't feel guilty about those things you can't get

   You are responsible for your own education, which may range from
   requesting training from your organization to keeping up with the
   professional literature. You must keep up with the changing needs of
   your organization and the people it serves and how best to meet those
   needs. You are responsible for telling managers what they need to know
   about your work and how it needs to change to serve your clientele
   better. You are responsible for suggesting a solution for every problem
   you raise. You are responsible for not whining.

   Do not manage change; foster it. If change is the only constant, factor
   it in.


   Survival Is Not Enough