Change Agents in the Library

Photo by Sergiu Nista on Unsplash

With web 2.0, the general public can comment on blogs, communicate with celebrities on Twitter, rate products, add to wikis, and tag things (i.e. photos on Flickr) in ways that make sense to us as users. There is no need to ask permission or wait for a major publisher to sanction your contribution. “In Web 2.0 the motto is: everything is beta” (Matthews, 2012, p. 5). Like web 2.0, participatory service harnesses the insight and needs of the users to shape how the library operates. This is a process of adapting to what is inevitable–change. By adapting, libraries will stay relevant. And in order to adapt, librarian professionals must become change agents. 

Libraries want to appear stable and provide consistent, measurable outcomes to justify their funding. However, only focusing on appearing stable can be myopic. “We don’t break out of our comfort zones. We don’t seek out disruption. We’re too focused on trying to please our users rather than trying to anticipate their unarticulated needs” (Matthews, 2012, p. 8). When making changes, there is inherent risk. I can see this as being an impediment to libraries adopting a participatory service model. It also needs to be embraced and supported by leadership. It needs to be ingrained in the library’s mission and values and considered during strategic planning. This information should be freely, and regularly, shared with staff. They should be involved in the process to contribute and get buy-in.

Before creating a participatory service model, I think it’s imperative to create a participatory workplace. This is an important, but often overlooked, aspect of workplaces. The focus is so often on the customer, that the staff are taken for granted.  An internal blog is a good mechanism for building a participatory workplace. Each department could write a weekly post summarizing changes, problems and things in the works. This would create a centralized location for people to find information, tagged by department and topic. This would be especially important in library systems with multiple branches. It would be one aspect of communicating organizational culture. According to Casey and Stavastinuk (2007), “Nothing stimulates change like change. When staff members observe new ideas being implemented, they see that innovation is recognized—and possibly rewarded…. Set a goal of two or three fast-track ideas a year. Get them going, gather numbers regarding success or failure, and have a review team sit down and evaluate after six months. If it isn’t working, kill it. Don’t make a big deal out of failures” p. 43. An internal blog would create an avenue for getting clarification or giving input.

Additionally, while it is important to gather ideas, there should be systems in place to manifest them. You could have a team investigating and evaluating these new ideas, a planning team to determine feasibility, and, for those ideas that were implemented, a review team to somewhat regularly evaluate the service (Casey & Savastinuk, 2007). If you want your organization to be a living, responsive organization, it is imperative to empower change agents within the organization to navigate change in an intentional manner.


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

Matthews, B. (2012). Think like a startup. Retrieved from

Nista, S. (2017). Retrieved from

5 Thoughts.

  1. Hello Jenell,
    I agree with you that staff often gets taken for granted. Employees are often urged to care deeply about an organization that doesn’t seem to care much about them. I think Stephens (2016) makes a good point when he writes that the hierarchies of some organizations need to be flattened. Too many organizations have departments that are isolated from each other, say they want feedback but really don’t, and discourage collaboration. I think these problems come from vertical hierarchies, and the hierarchical thinking they encourage. You have some great ideas about fixing that here. I think more team-based work is especially important.

    Stephens, M. (2016). The heart of librarianship: Attentive, positive, and purposeful change. Chicago, IL: ALA Editions.

  2. I agree that organizations need to be flattened. The various departments are so often insular and communication and collaboration are not optimal. I agree that team-based work is important. My library is amazingly collaborative, but it’s within departments and not so much between departments. Sometimes it seems like we exist on separate planes.

  3. @jenellheimbach Oh wow – I like this: “Before creating a participatory service model, I think it’s imperative to create a participatory workplace.” I think that aligns with my thought that all of these things “starts with us.” (and probably why have done research on library staff development. The ideas you share for creating participation resonate.

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