I often remember Skip Prichard quoting Jack Welch at our Edinburgh, Scotland, EMEA Regional Council meeting: “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” As a true librarian and forward thinker, I fully recognize we are in the middle of this, but I prefer to complete the quote this way: “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change in your library … change the game!”
In the late 1940s, The Lego Group began producing the building bricks, which we all know so well. For decades, they made popular kits that were described by many, all around the world, as one of the best toys in history. However, as children’s play preferences changed, Lego’s economic fortunes declined.
How do you improve a product that has been a global icon for generations? Many small, incremental improvements may help. But at some point, you may need to make a major adjustment and start thinking like a game changer.
Changing what we do, not why we do it
For Lego, one of the biggest game changers was the decision to incorporate licensed material (initially Star Wars and Winnie the Pooh) into their models. The original sets were designed, specifically, to be more free-form and open to encourage creativity. The leap to including very specific, recognizable characters, vehicles, and sets required rethinking the needs of customers, the strengths of the company, and the marketplace as a whole. This led, eventually, to cobranded films and games, which have been some of the brand’s strongest performers.
The Lego experience for kids (and, to be honest, many adults) differs wildly today from what it was in the 1940s. But it is still compatible with the company’s original vision.
Doing that is a challenge. But I believe that by thinking like game changers, librarians, too, can dramatically change and improve the services we offer while remaining true to our core values.
Four ways to change the game
At our three OCLC Regional Council Conferences this year, we’ll be asking the question, “How can libraries change the game?” To do this, we’ll focus on four aspects and discuss what we do, how we do it, and how it impacts the communities we serve.
- Technology and innovation—from evolution to revolution: Chart a dramatically different course. The last few decades have seen extreme changes in how we and our users interact with technology. That’s especially true in the fields of education, learning, communications, and the media—all areas that deeply impact libraries. How can libraries play a greater role in guiding the development and understanding of how these tools impact the lives of our users?
- Spaces and resources—from collections to connections: Redefine your library’s delivery. Library activities are often resource-driven rather than outcome-focused. This can be reflected in our physical spaces, hiring practices, and budgets. Are we prepared to move from collection-based spaces to connection-based programs?
- Analytics and data—from what we count to what counts: Measure outcomes versus activity. Many businesses and institutions are trying to keep a laser-like focus on measuring outcomes rather than behaviors. How do we quantify student success? What will improve the business outlook for our community? When libraries go beyond “what we’re counting” to an analysis about “what counts” for stakeholders, it promotes our relevance and gives us a seat at the table.
- Public purpose—from allies to advocates: Become indispensable to your community. Many polls and studies show that people like and appreciate libraries. But when push comes to shove, our users prioritize what they feel goes beyond “important” to “indispensable.” What are libraries doing to move people to become enthusiastic advocates and give them active ways to support our work?
It’s time to change the game
Librarians have unique and important roles to play in civic society, academia, research, business, and communities. And as these relationships change, we must change with them to remain relevant. In some cases, that will mean ongoing, small adjustments to the way we deliver services, materials, and knowledge.
To meet some challenges, though, we need new ways of thinking. Rather than being reactive, we can be proactive. Rather than getting better at a game defined by massive technological shifts, we can change the game itself. We can provide solutions that stay true to our vision and values. But we can do so in new, surprising, and exciting ways.
As was the case with Lego, our goals are still the same. And, also like Lego, I believe we can change the game. We can leverage our technology, resources, data, and values to help our users create entire new worlds.
I hope you’ll join us at the OCLC Regional Council Conference closest to you.