April 19, 2018

Challenged by Change: The Most Difficult, and Important, Part of the Job | Blatant Berry

It takes me a day or more to adjust to and relearn my computer systems after they are automatically “upgraded” or “improved” by the vendors. When they decide to replace an old system totally with a new one, I get lost in dysfunction for months. In some cases, I never master all the bells and whistles, and I always end up wondering why some of my favorite features needed to be “improved.”

These reactions are probably owing to my advanced age and my experience back when most systems were processes we executed with typewriters, pens, and, gasp, even pencils. When I began as an editor, our first digital system delivered the characters in shining green from a black screen. Once we completed the editorial end of things, the whole shebang was sent off to typesetters and printers, who sent it back on paper. Today, we do it all on our computers, and when we’re done, we click the mouse and the pages appear on the screen exactly as they will on the web or in print. I’m still impressed by this modern magic.

These technological transitions have been the most difficult and yet the most exciting part of my library and journalistic career. I am constantly amazed at how much more I can do digitally than I could before the new technology.

Change comes much more frequently in this digital era. Sometimes it is expected and invited, sometimes not. Nearly every change brings opportunities to work better in our personal and professional lives. It is difficult and challenging to keep up with change, but it is also necessary. Librarianship as we know it is about to be transformed into something that would be unrecognizable to my early mentors in the profession as they moved from rubber stamps on the end of pencils to machine-based circulation systems. At the time, I didn’t believe the machines were better. I thought they were attempts by our managers to be current and “cool.” I was wrong.

I recently wrote about the little Boundary County Library District (BCLD), in Bonners Ferry, ID, named the Best Small Library in America 2017 (“A Culture of Opportunity”). Due to the vision of Sandra Ashworth, director of BCLD until she retired last year, that institution leaped over years of digital progress to re-create itself in ways that make it far more connected and vital to the community it serves today. Ashworth saw the opportunity in change. BCLD is still a library we would all recognize, but down in the basement is the library of the future, using the newest technologies to create opportunity in Boundary County.

I don’t suggest that this is the only model for the future of libraries, but it is definitely one version of where we are headed. Personally, I wouldn’t quite know what to do in BCLD’s FAB Lab, with its 3-D printers, milling machines, and vinyl cutters, but I know I would undertake the struggle to find out and understand how it all functions and why it is transforming Bonners Ferry.

Now, as always, keeping up with change is possibly the most difficult task of a librarian. The traditional view of what a library is suggests a quiet, unchanging, pleasant place to seek knowledge. But I learned way back in that library with the rubber stamps that change is rarely quiet, and often unpleasant, but it is the key to survival and progress. Clearly crucial to a successful career in librarianship is not only keeping up with and accepting change but getting involved with and mastering it. It isn’t always easy or fun, but it is what keeps us and our libraries alive and growing.

This article was published in Library Journal's October 1, 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

John N. Berry III About John N. Berry III

John N. Berry III (jberry@mediasourceinc.com) is Editor-at-Large, LJ. Berry joined the magazine in 1964 as Assistant Editor, becoming editor-in-Chief in 1969 and serving in that role until 2006.



  1. Stephanie says:

    Change is what attracted me to this profession in the first place! I must admit that I do bore easily – but never in my life have I been bored while working in a library.

  2. This must be accompanied by training and support (and time to learn). Too many organizations, and managers, and “change agents”, ignore this.

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