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The accidental library manager – Instalment 4

Managing in the Library 2.0 era


Everything discussed in this series so far – participatory management, communication, involving staff in decision making, embracing change as an ongoing process – feeds into the idea of Library 2.0 (L2). While people’s definitions of Library 2.0 differ, and argument continues over whether this is a “new” concept or simply a repackaging of what libraries have (or should always have) done, its basic components generally include:

  • The idea of constant beta
  • An emphasis on participation on all levels
  • Collaborative decision making
  • User-centred change
  • Ongoing evaluation of library services
  • Collaboration between library staff and library users
  • Solicitation of both staff and user feedback
  • The use of user participation and feedback in developing and maintaining library services
  • The concept of "radical trust".

The concept of Library 2.0 obviously borrows from other "2.0" movements, including Web 2.0 and Business 2.0. Although it incorporates Web 2.0 tools when these are the best ways of reaching and involving users, Library 2.0 is not at its heart a technological movement.

Getting comfortable managing in the age of Library 2.0

Ignore ongoing arguments about whether Library 2.0 is a new concept or simply describes what libraries have been (or should have been) doing all along; concentrate instead on what library management means in an era of constant change and increased attention to incorporating staff and user input.

As a newer or accidental manager, it can be difficult to get on board with some of these Library 2.0 principles. When you’re not yet secure in your own position and sense of power in the organization, it seems counter-intuitive to embrace the idea of radical trust, or trusting in the power and participation of your community. When you’re not yet convinced that your staff or your users are taking you seriously, or not yet comfortable with the idea that you yourself are a manager, it seems like asking for trouble to actively solicit honest feedback and input. When you’re not yet feeling as if you’re on stable ground as a manager, it seems ludicrous to embrace the idea of constant beta, or of ongoing change.

Paradoxically, though, this type of openness and encouragement of participation can serve to solidify your role as a manager and allow you to earn the respect of those you manage and serve. As discussed in the previous instalment, when you involve people at all levels in decision making, they become invested in the success of a project. When your staff and users are invested, your initiatives stand a greater chance of success, people are more satisfied, and your job as a manager becomes easier.

Becoming a Library 2.0 manager

Library 2.0 requires librarians 2.0 – or those who embrace L2 principles and incorporate them into their daily work. L2 managers are key in creating L2 libraries, since many of these components must be implemented from the top down. When managers aren’t on board, when they fail to embrace collaboration, participation, and change, then Library 2.0 initiatives stand little chance of success.

So how do you work towards becoming an L2 manager?

  • Develop a sense of security in your own position. The managers most threatened by Library 2.0 are those most nervous about their own authority and place in their organization.
  • Do what you can to speed up the decision-making process. Libraries are often slow to respond to technological and cultural trends, due to innate cautiousness or decision by committee. Set reasonable deadlines; support trial projects.
  • Develop a willingness to listen. Communication goes both ways, and true communication requires an openness to hearing others’ points of view even when they differ from your own. Take in and truly consider someone’s comments before issuing a knee-jerk response.
  • Develop a willingness to share. Share your thoughts on issues important to your library; collaborate with others on your staff, in your administration, and in your community to get things done.
  • Get out of people’s way. Micromanagers are failed managers. When you give staff room to experiment and support them in their efforts, most will rise to the challenge.
  • Create vertical teams. Teams are traditionally made up of members of a certain department or certain level of the organization; vertical teams contain members from all levels, including front-line staff, and represent multiple points of view.
  • Empower your staff. Create policies and procedures – collaboratively – and then let staff carry them out and decide on their own when flexibility is warranted. Don’t require them to escalate every incident up the "chain of command". Don’t panic if they forgive a fine; don’t override their decisions in front of patrons.
  • Embrace transparency. Open up the decision-making process. Make department head reports and board minutes available to staff. Explain the reasoning behind decisions, especially when that decision may be unpopular among segments of your staff. Obfuscation and avoidance help no one.
  • Encourage lifelong learning. Give staff time on the job to play with new technologies and tools. Devote funds when available to professional development. Seek out and publicize free continuing education opportunities, encouraging staff to sign up.
  • Embrace a culture of yes. When a new idea seems hard, or weird, or different, often our first response is to say no right off the bat. Think: what would it hurt to try? What’s the worst that could happen? What’s the best that could happen?
  • Learn from your staff. Someone on your staff probably knows more about Web 2.0 tools or reader’s advisory or cataloging than you ever will. Let them show you.
  • Learn from your patrons. What do patrons say they want to see? What complaints do you often hear? What could users contribute to making your library a better place for everyone?

Not only will embracing these points help you move your library towards L2, they have the happy side-effect of making you a better and more effective manager. When you take the time to learn and to listen, you start building the relationships you need to nurture in your effort to do what’s best for your organization – which is the topic of instalment 5.

This series is based on Rachel Singer Gordon's book The Accidental Library Manager (Information Today, Inc., Medford, NJ, 2005;