Sometimes, to change anything … you have to change everything

Greta Southard

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Change management is never easy, that’s why it’s often tackled in bite-size chunks. To be successful, it has to be intentional and collaborative. And for a public library, defining change can’t just depend on the director’s vision. It has to belong to the entire organization and be driven by the needs of the community.

We recently wrapped up the challenging—but energizing—task of developing a detailed strategic plan. This was a first step in changing the way we do business. We’ll still do many of the same things we’ve always done, but our perspective has shifted to place the customer firmly in the center of everything we do.

Three keys to long-term change management

This shift, while easy to say, is actually quite complex. Here’s how we plan to get there.

  1. Adopt an outside-in view: Engage the community actively and intentionally, asking what they need, and not just coming to them with options or assumptions.
  2. Insist on lifelong learning: Motivate staff to grow and stretch in everything they do, including rethinking how daily tasks connect to the library’s strategic goals.
  3. Integrate the right tools: Implement data-driven solutions that reflect the goals of the community.

#1 Outside-in view

The strategic planning process was informed by 28 community stakeholder sessions to ensure an “outside-in” view. Through it all, we let the community drive our discussions. What we found wasn’t surprising. But the journey changed us.

The result was a precise five-year strategy that truly reflects the needs of our users—it’s founded in a mission of lifelong learning and discovery for the community. The plan is customer-focused, and it will come to life with four focus areas:

  • a culture of collaboration, leadership, and learning
  • community awareness and engagement
  • library as place
  • innovative and adaptable content and services

The process to get there made all of us take a long, hard look at how we work, what we do, and most importantly, the ‘why’ … for everything.

#2 Lifelong learning

The idea of ‘experience’ bubbled to the top again and again, not just for our customers, but all of us on staff, as well. Our library’s future depends on our ability to move forward cohesively, with all aspects of our work connecting back to the customer, to the community—with the customer consistently in the center. ACPL_01_cropped And what our customers want are more opportunities to learn and discover at every stage of life.

So, while our focus on learning began with the community, it’s clear that this must also include staff. We, too, must be lifelong learners. This means continuing to adjust our comfort level in using different kinds of data in our decision making, and exploring opportunities to grow and stretch to add value to daily tasks. My hope is that this is a mindset shift, one that translates to internal changes that help motivate (and inspire) staff and that speak to our community.

#3 The right tools

Our partnership with OCLC for evaluative testing of the OCLC Wise community engagement system earlier this year came with a pivotal ‘aha’ moment. We realized that our current approach to library management had flaws. Our perspective changed; we’ve tended to view technical functions like acquisition, circulation, collection management, and reporting as stand-alone tasks, not as part of a whole toolset for customer service. ACPL_02_cropped Learning about Wise also prompted us to take a holistic review of the work we hope to accomplish and the need to eliminate organizational silos. So, even after everything we’ve gained in the strategic planning process, there’s still work to do.

Organizational change is a key component of why Wise is so attractive to our team—and why we’re excited to be the first adopter in the US. We know it will help, not hinder, our aspirations to be less fragmented among departments. The system supports the very important ongoing community conversation we started with our strategic planning—and this is critical because it’s the ‘why’ that needs to propel us forward.

Big changes, lots of enthusiasm

We’re excited, and ready to change everything. Not all at once, but we’ve come to understand that we have to be prepared to make changes in every corner of the library and every interaction with our customers. In the end, our shift in perspective will make us a more agile organization that’s ready for whatever comes next—whether that’s technological advancements that alter the way we live our lives or new service expectations from the community.