Tag Archives: change

Change is Inevitable, but is Transformation?

12 Dec

Maria Sibylla Merian [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

My colleague, Mary Piorun, is defending her doctoral dissertation this afternoon. (Woohoo!! Go, Mary! Go!) To help her get ready, a bunch of us listened to her give her presentation earlier this week. Her topic is on transformational change in organizations, in particular, this type of change in academic libraries today. I found it to be pretty interesting stuff, not just as it relates to our work in eScience and data management (the focus of Mary’s research question), but the bigger topic of how organizations change, in general. Transformation suggests significant shifts in one’s thinking, behavior, environment, etc. How do such changes happen? What are the components of the change and how do leaders usher their organization through them? Don’t ask me, ask Mary. She’s the one who’s spent the last several years reading and thinking and writing about it. You can reach her at… 

But seriously, as a librarian in today’s changing environment, as an exercise physiologist who encourages behavior changes around exercise and diet, and as a member of a committee at my church called the “Transition Team,” I can’t help but be curious about how and why we change. And how and why we don’t. 

We often hear that change is inevitable and I won’t argue that, but there are lots of different levels of change. Compared to changing an institutional mindset, choosing a salad for lunch is pretty easy. Relatively speaking. Libraries – at least my library – are undergoing some significant, likely even defined as transformational changes. We have reorganized a few times since I came on board 9 years ago. We have made some big shifts in the services we provide and how we provide them. However, the latest changes require a different level of shifting and adjustment. We are, in many ways, redefining what it means to be a librarian on this campus. This is certainly the case for my role as a librarian here. I do very different things today than I did a couple of years ago. I think of myself and my role in very different ways than I did then. I operate with a different mindset – some days clearer than others – than I did before. As Mary outlined the process of this kind of change during her talk, I could see how it has played out in my own career the past years.

I remain curious, though, of how many times and how many levels of an organization have to go through this process before the whole of the institution experiences transformational change. I asked Mary this question and she said that it’s an area that certainly needs research. As a result of leadership taking us through transformation, I may experience a real shift in my understanding of who I am as a librarian. Similarly, our library, as a whole, over time, will hopefully achieve the same. But what’s next? Who is next? Because we are an organization within a larger institution, it seems to me that our work isn’t finished here until we can change the whole of the institution in how it perceives the library and librarians. It’s a big job ahead, no doubt.

Maybe we’ll get Mary to take it on as soon as she finishes up that defense! 


23 Aug

Changes“The only thing in life that is permanent is change.” Someone said that. I’m not sure who, but I surely know that I didn’t think it up on my own. Regardless of who first uttered the truism, its truth remains unchanged, change after change after change. The only thing that we can ever really count on staying the same is the fact that things will always change.

I write this not because the summer season is coming to a close and new students are arriving at my university, but because new chapters are beginning here in the library where I work. I went on vacation a few weeks back aware that some restructuring would happen during my time away. I returned to learn the details – at least as many as we know so far – of the reorganization of services, roles, missions, and personnel. It’s not really a very easy time here at work right now. I’d be less than truthful if I said differently. The restructure means the loss of jobs for some, changing roles for others, and a very different way of thinking about the library for those of us still here. As my library director, Elaine Martin, stated in her presentation to the staff, we are now in a time where we will focus on 4 Rs:

  • Reject outdated notions and ideas of what libraries are.
  • Rethink how we do things – EVERYthing, if need be.
  • Redo our modes of operation, focusing on those areas that are now our priorities.
  • Rejuvenate our careers, our mission, and our professional goals as we move forward into a very new world.

If you’ve been a follower of this blog over the past year, you know that my thoughts and beliefs about my profession and the work that we do fall pretty much in line with these “Rs” that my director is calling the staff to focus on now. I’ve been saying for a long time that I believe our ways of doing many things in the library have left us outdated and irrelevant. We need to change and, as was noted by my director, not in small ways. We’ve been tweaking for years. We’ve been cutting out nickels and dimes as needed. But now… now we need to do something much bigger, much more radical, and much more progressive. And for all of the talk that I’ve talked over the years, when the change really hits, it’s not always so easy.

How did we get to this place? Anyone who works in academic and/or health sciences libraries surely knows the answer to this question. At my own institution, we’re facing a $20 million deficit that results in 5% across the board cuts to all departments. The sequestration at the Federal level affects us via major cuts to NIH-funded research. We’ve also lost money from the state government. Our clinical partner, UMass Memorial Health Care, faces their own financial crisis and this, of course, has repercussions on us. Couple these revenue losses with unceasing (and way too often, unfounded) astronomical increases in journal subscription costs and key clinical resources and… well, this is where we are. It’s where many of us are.

At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that people use libraries very differently than they once did. In our setting, students, faculty, researchers, and clinicians do not need/want to check out materials. The resources that they need most are available to them online and if not, they pressure us to make them available that way. Fewer people come to the library needing library assistance. Note that this doesn’t mean that our gate count is down and/or that we’re a quiet, deserted enclave on campus. We are an incredibly busy place, but the reason that our patrons come here is not necessarily related to the fact that librarians and/or library staff are here. By and large, they come to use the non-human resources that we provide. Yes, THAT is a frightening thought when you’re a human resource. And yes, it is a driving factor in the changes we’re now making.

For a number of years, library administrators have been able to refine and retune services, dropping many things that were at one time standard operations in favor of more efficient and less costly alternatives. However, there comes a point when there is nothing left to cut in these areas. There’s very little left to “stop doing” so that we can focus on new things. There comes the time when some really big changes have to happen. There comes that time when the cost of fixing your old car just doesn’t beat out buying a new one. Here in my Library,  we reached this point. We’re trading in our old model for something new.

In short, a half-dozen colleagues that I have worked with for many years now, will not have jobs at the end of next week. To say that these are difficult decisions and that this is a difficult time in the library is an understatement. Neatly stated, the work is no longer there – circulation, cataloging, binding, interlibrary loan, and even ready reference – to financially justify employing full-time staff to manage it. It is really difficult to make an argument against these facts. But neat and tidy justifications are never such when people are involved. Despite the number of times that it is said, truthfully, that the decisions are not personal, they are. People are losing their jobs. This cannot not be personal. Everyone recognizes this.

I’m not sure what all of these changes will mean for me directly. Fact of the matter is, no one really knows. Not here in my library, nor in our profession as a whole. We’re a work in progress, this profession, and no one is quite sure how all of the new ideas and roles and work will play out. Still, I believe that more often than not, it’s a lack of risk taking that does a person – or an institution – in. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Another good quote from someone other than me.

There are an awful lot of BIG questions facing health sciences libraries today. Our changes highlight this fact. I have to say that the one question that keeps milling around in my head during this particular time is this – Does a librarian really need a library any more? While it’s pretty clear that our patrons certainly need library resources, do they still need the human resources of the library when they come here? I like my cubicle as a place to sit and work, but does it need to be here in the library? With a heightened emphasis and dedication upon embedding librarians in research projects and teams, in curriculum and classrooms, and in physical sites outside the library itself, are librarians themselves now another library resource that can be divorced from the library? I know that my library isn’t the first one to experiment with embedded models and thus it’s unlikely that I’m the first librarian to ever think about this question, but right now, it’s what I’m wondering. For me, it’s the biggest question that I wait to see answered in the coming months and years as we explore new ways of doing things here at my library.

Time will give me the answer to this question, as well as to others I have. And in the meantime, I’m remembering to tell myself that the changing day-to-day aspects of work that may cause some bumps and bruises and slight headaches along the way, these are but that – bumps, bruises and headaches, and simply part of my job. In times of change, it’s good time to remember to keep all things in perspective. (Note: I’m speaking only for myself and not minimizing the much bigger unknowns that some of my colleagues face. To do otherwise would be a very callous thing to do.) 

Elaine Martin has graciously offered to make her presentation available for readers to view, in hopes that it provides clarification and further detail as to the changes made, as well as a reference for others in similar positions at this time. Additionally, in next week’s post, I will describe the new programs and models that we are launching during this transition, along with a presentation from Elaine on that topic. Stay tuned.

The Potential to Have Potential

19 Dec

A quick keyword search of the word “potential” in the books collection at Amazon yields 35,937 results including such bestsellers as:

  • Boundless Potential: Transform Your Brain, Unleash Your Talents, Reinvent Your Work in Midlife and Beyond by Mark S. Walton
  • The Soul of Leadership: Unlocking Your Potential for Greatness by Deepak Chopra
  • The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth: Live Them and Reach Your Potential by John C. Maxwell
  • Achieve Your Full Potential: 1800 Inspirational Quotes that will Change Your Life by Change Your Life Publishing
  • Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential by Joel Osteen

Be it business, education, health and diet, parenting or investing, we are at no loss for advice on how to be our very best; how to reach our full potential.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines potential as “existing in possibility: capable of development into actuality.” Potential is the promise of everything that we could do or be or become.

In 1998, the Indianapolis Colts of the National Football League used their first pick in the draft to select Peyton Manning. The San Diego Chargers chose second, selecting Ryan Leaf. Prior to this draft, there was a great deal of discussion and analysis ad nauseum regarding the professional potential of these two young men. In my opinion, it’s probably the best example one can offer to show that potential is just that – potential. It is not without significance, but alone, it really proves little of nothing in terms of what a person will become. Even the most casual of football follower likely knows that Manning is a future first ballot Hall of Famer. Ryan Leaf, last I heard (early in the summer) was, sadly, off to jail. Again.


Bubble Rock, Mount Desert Island, Maine. Credit: dgrice

When I studied the concept of energy transfer in exercise physiology (probably physics, too), I learned about potential energy. It’s often described using the example of a boulder resting on the edge of a cliff or water at the top of a hill, before it goes over a waterfall (McArdle, Katch, and Katch, Essentials of Exercise Physiology, Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 2006). The boulder and the water have to fall, in order for any transfer of energy (potential to kinetic) to occur. If someone cements the boulder in place or builds a dam above the waterfall, the energy will remain potential. Nothing but potential.

As I slogged my way through David Haynes’, Metadata for Information Management and Retrieval yesterday (Note: The use of the word “slogged” is a reflection upon the reader more so than the author of the text.), I underlined several passages that refer to the library profession’s attention to metadata, the debate(s) over the differences between creating metadata and cataloging resources, and the emerging place of metadata in the curriculum and syllabi of courses within information science degree programs. Haynes’ book was published in 2004. The debate, he writes, began in the 1990s. When I read this last statement, I wrote in the margins, “And it continues today.”

Talk about potential. In fact, talking about our potential seems to be exactly what we’ve been doing in this area for 20+ years. Talking. However, inroads made in educational programs and an entire new field, information science, have risen from the discussions, and the more traditional skills of librarians are now being augmented with ones that prepare them to work as informaticists, informationists, and/or metadata librarians. Small cracks in the dam are appearing, as we start to really tap into the potential once trapped upstream.

With an old year ending and a new one about to be upon us, it seems appropriate to both think and write about potential. I walked into work this morning in front of a few med students on their way to an exam. They were jokingly (I took it as a good sign) quizzing one another on different aspects of diabetes that they’d been studying. The beginning of a new semester always marks a time of great potential – things to learn, assignments to be done, projects to complete. The end marks the time when we can measure how well one lived up to his/her potential. When you look back on the previous months, did you learn everything you’d hoped? Did you make the best use of all of your time? Can you now, at the end of the class, clearly explain to another person what the subject is all about? Did you reach your full potential or do you look back with regrets?

The end of a calendar year is the same. We make all kinds of New Year’s resolutions, often based upon things that we wished we’d accomplished the year before. This striving to be better is what drives the self-help industry. So many people so deeply desire to reach a higher height. We want to be more fit, lose some weight, remember people’s names. We want a promotion or a raise, a better job, something that makes us feel like we’re making the most out of our days and our talents. We have so much potential.

We have so much potential.

Do you ever wonder why there are so many folks ready and willing to tell/sell you how to reach your potential? Is it, perhaps, because we so seldom fall off the cliff? Is it maybe that we like the dams that we’ve built to hold us in place?

Leaving the library, inserting one’s self into a research team, taking the risk to say you’ll do something that you may not be the most expertise in… these are acts of falling. Learning new skills, seeking out new challenges, and redefining our profession release our potential energy. They involve movement and action. They involve change. Perhaps the reason so many people make so much money off of our desires to change is because deep down, we really don’t want to change. And so we don’t. And we buy another book or join another gym.

Carol Dweck, the well-known Stanford psychologist and researcher (and author of a few self-help books), has devoted her career to studying mindsets, particularly fixed versus growth. Libraries, from both inside and out, have been saddled with a fixed mindset. I say “from both inside and out” because it isn’t librarians alone who have a fixed idea of what a library is. In fact, from where I sit (in an academic library), it’s often our patrons who have the more permanent idea of what a library is and what a librarian does. We often say, “They don’t have a clue what we do!” (I’m not going to go into why this might be. Not in this post, anyway.)

In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (How we can learn to fulfill our potential),  Dweck explains why those with a fixed mindset have such a difficult time taking risks. The reason, she states, is because “effort is only for people with deficiencies.” She goes on to say:

When people already know they’re deficient, they have nothing to lose by trying. But if your claim to fame is not having any deficiencies – if you’re considered a genius, a talent, or a natural – then you have a lot to lose. Effort can reduce you. (p. 42)

Truthfully, I don’t know many librarians who believe they are geniuses. I do, however, know a profession that believes it’s greatest value is expertise, particularly expertise in locating, organizing, and providing access to information. But the truth is that this expertise is valued less and less today. In a world of networked knowledge, knowledge itself is redefined. Everyone is an expert. (For more on this, read David Weinberger’s, Too Big to Know.) And so perhaps the biggest challenge we face as librarians and/or informationists is the challenge to put forth the effort; to take the risk that comes with trying.

We probably all know a person for whom we have said or heard, “She has so much potential.” Who knows? Perhaps it’s been said about you. Too often, I’ve noticed, we hear or say that phrase with a tone of regret. “She could have done so much here.” “He could have been so successful.” The “could haves” and “would haves” of life are often tied to untapped potential and untapped potential is often tied to lack of effort and/or the fear of taking a risk. The higher the cliff, the harder the fall.

Libraries and those of us who work in them are filled with potential. It’s my own hope that when I come to next December and I look back on my full year as an informationist, I will see that I’ve fallen down a lot.

(Find out more about Carol Dweck’s work, particularly as it relates to students and learning, at Mindset Works.)



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