I made this on Canva.com.

In watching this week’s lecture (Stephens, 2017) and contemplating the materials, what I kept thinking about was that participation is a two-way street. Much of our educational focus in this program is patron-centered and dedicated to how we can get user participation. I think to ensure success we also need to consider how to get staff participation so that these interactions work well from both directions.

In my experience in a variety of work settings, not just at libraries, ideas often come from administration or supervisors with staff members lower in the chain of command responsible for implementing the new ideas. If the staff is not engaged in the idea for whatever reason, then the new program probably won’t work, even if patrons like it. For example, one library I’m familiar with (I’m not naming names) had a top-down request for improved social media engagement. Staff members at individual branches were in charge of implementation. Many didn’t use social media beyond Facebook in their personal lives, so weren’t familiar with Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or other forums. And some who were using these platforms in their personal lives didn’t see how it was relevant for libraries and assumed that patrons weren’t interested. The general staff-level feeling was that this was not a good use of time, with many people saying exactly what Casey (“Revisiting participatory service in trying times,” 2011) said was a common complaint – social media is fleeting and it’s impossible to stay on top of the changes. Needless to say, the social media efforts of this library have not been very successful.

I wonder how this could have gone differently… Perhaps starting with a survey of patrons asking them about social media, how they use it, which platforms they like best, and how they would recommend the library participate would be a great first step. After that, maybe bringing staff together to discuss the survey results and come up with implementation strategies would be a good idea. If staff can see how patrons feel about it and then be involved in the planning, maybe they will feel more excited about participating in it themselves. Sharing pieces like Casey’s blog post (2011) mentioned above, pointing out how social media is not going anywhere, coupled with great examples of other libraries using social media, would likely be helpful as well. After the group develops a strategy and the staff who will be in charge of implementing it are chosen, some training and planning sessions would a great follow up.

Dixon’s (2017) article on eliminating fines reminded me of another example of failed staff buy-in. Another library system I’m familiar with is part of a consortium. About half of the libraries in the consortium would like to eliminate all fines. The other half of the libraries will only agree to eliminate fines for children and teens. There are complicated reasons for this involving different tax and funding streams for the two sets of libraries. As a result, the half that wants to eliminate fines has told its staff that it’s “not a priority” to collect fines for their own books – so they are allowed to waive fines for books they own, but not books owned by the other libraries. It’s complicated. Anyhow, the reason I bring this up is because there has been resistance from some staff members in the half of the consortium that wants to eliminate fines altogether. I think because the library is not able to make a “rule” about waiving fines, it is left up to staff members to use their judgment. This has allowed staff members who think that fines are a good idea to continue collecting fines, which is not what the library wants.

Again, I’m only an outsider looking in, so I am sure the issues are more complex than I’m presenting. However, I think it illustrates my larger point about participation being a two-way street. If staff does not buy in to policies or programs, it is unlikely to be successful. As future managers and administrators, when we are planning changes and programs, we need to put as much time into considering staff participation as we do into patron participation.

 

References

Casey, M. (2011). Revisiting participatory service in trying times. Retrieved from http://tametheweb.com/2011/10/20/revisiting-participatory-service-in-trying-times-a-ttw-guest-post-by-michael-casey/

Dixon, J. (2017). Nashville, Salt Lake City, Columbus Eliminate Fines. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2017/07/funding/nashville-salt-lake-city-columbus-eliminate-fines/

Stephens, M. Module 4 lecture.

4 comments on “Participation is a Two-Way Street”

  1. It is complicated! The fines issue you share with the consortium boggles my brain a bit. I hope they can work this out. I wonder if patrons who have overdue materials often have learned who NOT to approach at the desk when fines are involved.

      • That is an interesting situation. I am hoping that my library is moving towards eliminating fines right now. They have introduced an “accessibility” card for patrons who need a little extra time with books. No fines are charged for items that are returned and an account is only blocked when an item goes to “lost” status. This is ostensibly for patrons who have a hard time getting to the library or who may have certain handicaps that make it difficult for them to return items on time. However, there is no way to discriminate between patrons who are eligible for the accessibility card and those who aren’t, so my manager thinks it is the first step to eliminating all fines.

        • I haven’t heard of accessibility cards before. That’s an interesting concept. It does seem like a step toward eliminating fines altogether. Fine-free libraries seem inevitable, it would be nice if changes came sooner. I know a lot of people who avoid libraries because of fines, which makes me sad. Random thought- I wonder if instead of fines, which implies a punishment, they were framed differently if people wouldn’t be so scared of them. For example, the book is free to borrow for three weeks and then it costs $0.25 cents a day to keep borrowing it. That doesn’t sound as scary.

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