I came up with the diagram below while I was thinking about library management during a lull in traffic at the reference desk recently. My original intent was sort of wryly humorous (it is hilarious, don’t you think?) but the more time I spend looking at it, the more I think it’s a potentially valuable tool for helping give shape to conversations about priority-setting and decision-making in libraries, and maybe in other organizations as well.
Can, Should, and Will, Part 1: Because What Libraries Need Is One More Venn Diagram | Peer to Peer Review
When you apply for any kind of managerial or administrative job, there’s one interview question you can always count on: “Tell us about your management style.” I hate that question. Not because it isn’t a fair and legitimate one, but because (in my opinion) a good manager won’t be able to answer it.
We can’t handle more than a tiny, tiny sliver of the world’s information output. One thing I believe it implies is that we might want to raise an eyebrow at the Library of Congress (LC)’s decision, a few years ago, to become the permanent archive of Twitter.
I’m becoming increasingly convinced that everything we do in the presence of others is, among other things, language—and in the academic library, virtually everything we do is done in the presence of others. we are constantly doing things that send a message—sometimes explicitly, but more often implicitly. In fact, everything that we do sends a message. If we don’t pay attention to what I like to call our “organizational body language,” we run the risk of sending the wrong message inadvertently.
Everyone agrees: libraries are critical institutions. Librarians certainly feel that way, but so does the general population and even (mostly) politicians—especially if asked publicly. But since I’m kind of a fussbudget, I can’t help wanting to drill down into that sentiment a bit. What do we mean when we say that libraries are “critical,” particularly when we’re talking about academic and research libraries?
The concept of surplus value clearly works well in a marketplace context, where goods and services are exchanged for money in real time, making it easy and intuitive to think in terms of value versus cost. But what relevance does it have in the library context, where services are (or seem to be) provided at no charge?
We all know the story of Procrustes: he was basically the Basil Fawlty of Greek mythology, a terrible hotel owner with a single iron bed. He would invite passersby to spend the night as his guests, and would then either stretch them or cut them to fit the bed. In academic libraries, the temptation to take a similar (if more gentle) approach to our patrons and their research needs is great.
Sometimes I tell people that I’m haunted by the iPod. When it first came out, most of us looked at it and basically said “Oh, how fun; it’s a digital Walkman.” We figured it would do just what a Walkman did—give people an easy and private way to listen to their albums while they walked around—the difference being that it could hold multiple albums at once and the music would be loaded and saved digitally. And that was a perfectly reasonable assessment of the situation; there was no particular reason to expect that the iPod was, in fact, going to take us from an album-based music economy back into a song-based one and thereby massively disrupt the record industry (before giving birth to the iPhone and thereby revolutionizing both mobile computing and the marketplace for telephone services).
Over the past couple of decades, we in libraries have been asking a lot of soul-searching questions about how we can best carry out our functions in a radically changed (and still-changing) information environment. This self-examination has led to many interesting conclusions and some pretty dramatic shifts in the ways libraries do business—almost always in the context of reaffirmations of the library’s core mission and values. Less frequently have we asked ourselves whether the core principles that underlie traditional library service remain relevant and essential in and of themselves.