August 14, 2007

Moderator: Jenna Freedman (Barnard College)

Session Notes

In her blog post, I think Jenna Freedman got down at least as much as me, all while moderating and getting everyone's names! I thank her for introducing this topic, which benefits anyone who wants to introduce new ideas. I didn't get everyone's names but I can tell you that all kinds of librarians participated, from colleges like Baruch, Rutgers, NYU, Yeshiva University and the New School. There were also many attendees from public libraries and someone from IBM, a law firm, and a private NYC library.

The discussion focused on ways to win over administrations who are resistant to change. A critical tool is a well thought-out and researched proposal. Jenna showed us the detailed proposal that opened the door to her zine collection at Barnard. It included points that addressed library policy, circulation figures, cataloging concerns, archiving, and budget, a literature review, possible pro's and con's, action plan, and a bibliography. Miriam DesHarnais has good things to add in her article in Library Journal (it's the 3rd article on the page).

Some obstacles to change:

slow and/or unresponsive administration
monolithic or bureaucratic organization
lengthy vetting process
being a new employee
staffing limitations
lack of follow-through from admin.
unhealthy, unsupportive work environment

Suggestions for making change happen:

- If your work environment is so unhealthy that you feel disrespected as an employee, change can be effected by speaking out outside the library, using the media, legal support, professional journals, and conferences

- A written proposal will be more effective than a verbal one. Take it to the top of the admin. if necessary. Another attendee later warned that there may be repercussions from going over your immediate supervisor.

- Including pro's and con's in a proposal can be very convincing.

- When approaching IT for support, phrase your request as a request for help. Do your research, and be willing to fail.

- Start small to test your idea, or try one piece of the project and expand later.

- Use the success of others as an example, to add credibility to your idea. Look at Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki at

- Building relationships outside your immediate circle is key. Ask questions and learn about their work. Eventually these contacts may come to you with information of interest.

- You can also marshall support from local professional organizations and blogs.

- Mentors can also provide support.

- Professional organizations and unions can lend power to librarians who feel that they are in a powerless position.

- Accompanying your written proposal with a presentation can be very effective. Training as part of the proposal is critical. Show your administration how your idea can benefit them.

Overt vs. covert changes:

There was a discussion about the pro's and con's of going ahead with an idea without getting approval, even against policy. Is being subversive a good way to effect change? Being covert avoids red tape and bureaucracy, and gets things accomplished quickly. One librarian asserted that if public libraries are not quick, responsive and agile, the only way to get ideas into place is to be covert. Some agreed that policies were meant to be interpreted and that we are hired to think for ourselves. Someone else complained that publicizing a new idea in a committee can lead to it being lost. Vetting a proposal can take so much time that the project can become outdated. Another commented that you can justify violating a policy if you are confident that it is the right thing to do, particularly in supporting employees.

It is difficult to be covert when your idea concerns a new technology. New technologies must be approved because they can damage library computers or the network. Downloading can be blocked. Most of us don't have the savvy to get around computer security to try new things. Making changes and trying new ideas covertly also means you have less support, publicity, etc. from your organization.

Everyone please feel free to correct and/or add to what I have recorded.

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