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Thoughts on foundational readings: Take-aways and mullings

photo taken from the article: Wilson, B. (2019, Spring). Making the Impossible Possible: Rock balancer Patrick Catalde finds joy and balance of his own process. IN West County, 8-10. Retrieved from icmags.com

I so appreciate that this class has exposed me to these foundational readings. I may have picked up the articles by Brian Mathews (2012; 2017) on my own but, based on the publication dates alone, I would never have read either Buckland (1992) or Casey and Savastinuk’s (2007) pieces. While these two pieces are older, it is interesting to see how some things have changed and others not. When Buckland defined the purpose of libraries as providing “a service: access to information” I immediately thought about how we could change or expand on this based on what libraries are doing today. However, I love his focus on the user and the way he distinguished between the means and the ends. While Casey and Savastinuk mention a few things that are outdated like MySpace, the framework of their method is still solid. I feel that both articles are still very relevant to where we are now and I’m glad I was exposed to them.

A few take-aways:

There were so many great ideas to think about in these readings. Here are just a few that I want to hold onto:

Focus on the mission: All of the readings made a point of saying that change should not be made just for the sake of change. Change should be made with a specific goal in mind. This entails knowing the difference between the ends and the means and focusing on your users’ needs. This also means that you need to know your users well.

Don’t rule out any options even if they are set aside for a time: If the focus is on what we want to accomplish, we shouldn’t rule out any method of getting there no matter how crazy it may seem at first or if it has been rejected in the past. Everyone’s ideas should be taken seriously no matter where they come from.

It’s not about having one spectacular idea; It’s about community and creating a culture of innovation: Everyone within the organization should have the opportunity and be empowered to be involved. This means creating an environment where people feel safe to put forth their ideas and have the mechanisms in place to do so. It is also about a culture that allows for and encourages collaboration. I am continuously asking my student workers about their ideas and perspectives on things from a student’s point of view. I really should establish a way that they could provide input anonymously.

Communication is key: In order to encourage participation and buy-in, everyone needs to understand the what and why of changes in the institution. Thinking of my own department, this can be a challenge. When you have individuals working multiple shifts and days with little overlap, finding ways to communicate should be a priority. Add the complexity of multiple departments and this becomes even more important. Finding ways to create teams from all over the organization and putting them in one place would definitely be ideal.

Rethink/reevaluate everything: When it comes to improving library services, nothing should be sacred. In his introduction Buckland points out that “we adapt to what we adopt. What is familiar tends to be transparent”. It’s so easy to cling to what we’ve always done without even realizing we are doing it. Perhaps this is where having an outsider’s perspective is important.

Things I’m still mulling over:

Strategic plans: Both Mathews and Casey and Savastinuk were against the idea of using strategic plans. I understand their point of what a huge production the process can turn into sometimes creating a tome that ends up sitting on a shelf. Additionally, institutions would not want to be tied to it as a to-do list that cannot be deviated from. Looking at it from the lens of an institution that currently has no mission statement and needs a major overhaul, however, it seems like a strategic plan would provide a good starting place.

While I’ve read about ways that the strategic planning process can be misused, these articles were the first time I had read criticism of going through it altogether. It seems like, if done intentionally, it could still be a good process to go through on a cyclical basis if only, in the case of an academic library, to better align the library with its parent institution’s strategic planning. I believe that Anne Marie Casey (2015) at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University provides an example of what can be accomplished using strategic planning especially when you bring the entire staff in on the process. I wonder how their decision-making and assessment policies align with the Library 2.0 idea?

Library organization: The other thing that I am still working through in my head is the idea of changing library organization to better enhance the culture of innovation and assessment. Mathews remarks that he felt like organizational structures in libraries were akin to “running an obsolete operating system” (2017, p.13). From my perspective, I believe that this sentiment is true. At my library we have certain people who are sitting around with little to do and others who can barely keep up.  Part of the problem, however, may be that we are unionized. The only way that I have seen the library be able to update job descriptions is when someone leaves and when positions open up, they go first to whoever has the most seniority regardless of whether they are best suited for the job. I’m not sure what the best way is to work around this. Another part of the problem is that some people enjoy the low expectations and hide behind the outdated job descriptions. There has to be a better way, though.


Buckland, M. (1992). Redesigning library services: A manifesto. Retrieved from http://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/sunsite/Redesigning%20Library%20Services_%20A%20Manifesto%20(HTML).pdf

Casey, A. M. (2015). Grassroots strategic planning: Involving library staff from the beginning. Journal of Library Administration, 55, 329-340. doi:10.1080/01930826.2015.1038935

Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Medford, NJ: Information Today.

Mathews, B. (2012, April). Think like a startup. Retrieved from https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/bitstream/handle/10919/18649/Think%20like%20a%20STARTUP.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Mathews, B. (2017, September). Cultivating complexity: How I stopped driving the innovation train and started planting seeds in the community garden. Retrieved from https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/handle/10919/78886

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9 thoughts on “Thoughts on foundational readings: Take-aways and mullings

  1. Rebecca Fisher on said:

    Hello Heather,

    You bring up so many good points from our readings! One item that has been most relevant with my own work experience is the creation of a strategic plan. I agree that they are important aspects of organizations, and these plans should not entirely disappear. Strategic plans are very time consuming, bur I believe adaptions can be made that still exhibit the organizations goals and action plans.

    Right now, my program is currently creating a logic model. This is a very simplified version of a strategic plan that focuses on bullet points of:
    – who we serve
    -activities we provide

    This is a fancy little chart that we can easily refer to to remind us of what we want to accomplish. If we have a community member who wants to partner with us, we look to our chart to see if this new partnership will align with our goals. This is something to consider!

    Here is a video explaining the logic model:

    • Thank you so much Rebecca @rnfisher!
      I was recently asked to be a part of a new assessment committee at work and I would love to take a look at our current services and user needs. This looks like a good way to do that. In the past committees like this just went over things like LIBQual and pretty much just used the results to justify doing things as they had always been done. I would love to start looking ahead to get a better feel for who our users are and what they really need.

      • Lisa Semenza on said:

        I love the idea of the “logic model”. We are always struggling with a “5 year plan”. Yeah, we know, we want a bigger building. But this model explains what we are really trying to do. Give our patrons better service while working within our current constraints.

  2. Rebecca Fisher on said:

    I hope this helps with your new committee! I am still learning about this side of organizations, and how our mission, values, etc. create a culture for our workers. It is fascinating the innovations that have been done to structure these foundations. If I find any more helpful resources, I’ll send them your way!

  3. KristinS on said:

    I read your reflection after exploring some of the content in Module 3 and was struck by how relevant the video “Library of the future in plain English” (found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iLelhZHb3G8) was to your post. In the video they literally brush away a typical hierarchy map and instead show chains of molecules flexibly interacting. Library 2.0 is all about purposeful change, and I think this kind of organizational change is overdue in library systems.

    I recently ran into a problem on a committee that perfectly reflected all the topics Michael discussed in the Module 3 lecture: information silos, hierarchy and rule adherence, embedded staff–the whole thing. After watching the “Library of the Future” video and the lecture I’m not able to articulate why the whole episode was so frustrating. What do you think would have to happen in our organizations to make these huge changes? Also, I haven’t heard much about unionized library employees. How does that work? I’m so glad to hear that you’re on an assessment committee and I really hope you’re able to have a positive impact.

    • Hi Kristin @kristinspencer05,
      I completely agree that a hyperlinked/library 2.0 model would be a great improvement. I’m sorry that your committee experience was so disappointing. It’s definitely doesn’t sound like the best environment to get things done.
      I’ve run into a lot of the same problems. We have two unions at my library. The professional librarians are part of a faculty union and the staff are part of a state employee union. One of the problems with this is that the unions get upset if “staff” is doing something that is traditionally done by a “librarian”. If we follow the strict rules, I have to send our patrons to a librarian even for low level reference questions meaning. Most of our librarians aren’t too worried about this, though, especially since we have fewer and fewer professionals as librarians have retired and not been replaced.
      It has been a problem in some committees, though. We had a collection development committee that had both staff and librarians. The librarians made it clear that, while staff could suggest ideas, they had no voice for what got items were put forth for purchase. This is despite the fact that both staff members involved have their MLS’s and are really no less qualified to make such decisions.
      The other problem is that, when staff positions come open, whoever has been working in the union the longest gets first option for them. While this prevents problems like favoritism, it also means that we don’t always get the best fit for the position. Sometimes folks take positions that they don’t even enjoy just because it’s a little higher up the pay scale and they figure they can move into something else eventually.
      This is where I think the hyperlinked library would be better, though. Breaking down the barriers of departments, and job descriptions and using a team format could help harness individual strengths. I’m still trying to figure out how a pay scale would work, though… I’m so used to a hierarchical set up that it’s hard to wrap my brain around a flatter organization. I would love to talk to someone who’s library has made this shift- especially in academia.

      • KristinS on said:

        That is all fascinating!! We have had a few discussion about “job creep” but nothing to the extent you’re describing.

        I will admit, I have applied for positions I’m not really interested in because I wanted the pay raise and title. However, the interview committee knew me too well, and realized I wouldn’t love the job and be passionate about it, so I didn’t get the job (which is all for the best).

        Since I work in a public library it’s always interesting to hear about academic libraries. It’s a bit of a different world and I always learn a lot in these types of discussions.

  4. Greta Snyder on said:

    I particularly like your point of not ruling out options. It is important to be decisive, but not to eliminate ideas without seeing if they might be useful at a later date.

    Thank you!

  5. The conversation here is wonderful! 🙂

    I re-evaluate the Library 2.0 book every semester and, as you noted, the core concepts transcend time more so than some of the other library tech books published at the same time.

    You point out some very real issues. “Another part of the problem is that some people enjoy the low expectations and hide behind the outdated job descriptions.” Perhaps it will take time, a change in management styles and leadership etc.

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