Friday, February 15, 2008


A few weeks back I finished a book by Tom Peters called Re-Imagine! Business in a Disruptive Age. I purchased the book from Goodwill and it was from 2003, but the book was all too relevant today. It is even more relevant for libraries.

Innovate to success, then stay there!
One thing that struck me was a part about business innovation. Businesses that have been around a long time cease to be innovative. In fact, they become defensive of what they currently have. There is no reason for them to change. They are financially solvent, they have a successful business model, and any change is risk. We can look at some of the businesses we all know today, are they innovative? Are they willing to destroy what they have to create a new model, to be innovative? Of course not, it isn't worth the risk.

Tear it down or "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."
A business with a long life span is no different than a government agency. Government, of course, has been around much longer and changing the way they do business isn't likely to happen. Libraries, on the other hand, are probably on the most innovative edge of most municipalities. They don't exist to wherehouse books, but to solve society's problems. Furthermore, strategic planning is a key piece of that innovation. However, once one is set up, will administration be able to tear it back down and start all over again? These thoughts came to me as I was reading Reimagine! Some quotes: turbulent times bosses...earn their keep by blowing things up and inventing a new way...not merely making better the old way (p. 32)

Failure typically means that someone has stretched beyond the comfort zone and screwed it up and learned something along the way (p. 27)

The secret to success is failure, fast success secret is fast failure, big success is big failure (p. 27)

Building the resource
When I first became the city librarian, the first thing I did was to create a strategic plan. It worked wonderfully. It engaged the community, brought attention to the library, and ended up with some very good print about how we don't do business as usual. The plan was implemented and we have had huge success. Now we are at the tail end of it with the major initiatives accomplished. We have done everything from establishing an adult literacy tutoring program (including a bookmobile service), to becoming a "third place" for teens, to developing cultural diversity programs and space for Spanish speakers, and now developing a workforce development piece. After this year, we will have accomplished what we set out to do. The result of that work is a 30% increase in circulation, a 50% increase in walk-in business, a 67% increase in technology usage, and 90% of our community owning a library card. The results from the strategic plan resulted in success overall.

Getting comfortable OR my way or the highway
However, there is a fear. There is a fear that once I get to the end of this, I will get comfortable. I will become like many of these businesses and say "this all works, I am not going to change a thing!" By next year, I will need a new plan. Will the public feel the same way about what we are doing? Will that change and result in dismantling what I have built? Will I be able to do it? Those are tough questions for me. I think that I would be able to do it. Realistically, the community needs aren't going to change any time soon. We still have workforce development needs; there needs to be more for teens to do. There will still be a need for people to learn English, but what if the community doesn't want us to do this anylonger? Will I still be able to put what I have done aside to allow the process to continue or will I believe that I know best? I believe that trying to do what's best for the community will lead to the right path. There is a great deal more change coming for our library. Can I continue to do the right thing or will I get set in my ways? Only time will tell.

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