Another change-related post, go where the things are broken

Meredith has some good things to say about dealing with change averse organizations. I particularly like reading what she has to say because 1) I work with many people who are culturally similar in terms of technology, so I learn from her and sympathize with her trials at her job, and also 2) I think sometimes analyzing what isn’t working is a better way to learn than just to celebrate what works and keep doing it.

I believe I’ve said this before, but one of the hardest things for me about working in the library/non-profit world is that when you work directly with patrons/clients, there’s often a teach-the-teacher aspect, either overtly or not. So, while I love working with librarians and patrons directly and helping them learn, there is often an organizational expectation that whatever I do can be transmuted into some sort of learning module or training program that can then be given to other librarians or educators who can take it and run with it like I run with it. In my two year outreach librarian contract as well as my first year of AmeriCorps, this was a stated expectation.

And yet, some of the things that make me effective can’t be put into an outline or taught in a class and I struggle with this frequently, as I’m sure Meredith does. I’m very good at my job in no small part because I’m ME. I’m enthusiastic and my enthusiasm is infectious. I’m supportive and even if I find that I can’t do something, my approach is “Well, let’s learn it together.” I have the patience of a saint and can tell when people come to drop in time mainly because they just want someone to talk to. I believe in what I do and I’m confident in my abilities and my approach, enough so that I’ll happily debate them with people, to a point. I can give someone else the slides for my basic email class, and they can watch me teach it, but they can’t be me teaching it and this is where things break down.

I’m in Brooklyn working on an article about technostress. It’s a little weird to walk out the door and see people who look and talk like me, hundreds of them. Where I live, this is not the case. However, where I live, there’s a need for people like me to help people not like me do things with computers, and libraries. People like me tend not to go to places like Central Vermont, or if they do, they don’t stay. This is one of the reasons why I am there, but it is also one of the reasons that it’s hard for me, and sometimes lonely, and frequently frustrating. I think we’re kidding ourselves if we think large-scale change — bringing a computer into your life or your library — isn’t going to be frustrating or difficult. I think the part we also need to remember is that it can be worth it, and then we need to learn to explain why.

3 Responses to “Another change-related post, go where the things are broken”

  1. Laura Says:

    I’ve been working on this theory that if you delay writing your imagined blog post long enough, someone else will write it for you. On the whole I think that’s a good thing, although occasionally it does cause me to say, “Dammit, I was going to write that, or something like it.”

    If I had a dollar for all the odd looks I got from people at ALA when I told them I lived and worked in rural Wyoming, I could have upgraded to first class the whole way home (3 planes!). I haven’t been here long, and I haven’t been doing library stuff for nearly as long as you, nor do I know as much nor convey it as well–but my feelings are remarkably similar. Thanks for airing them so eloquently.

  2. Beth Says:

    … and then someone writes the comment that you were going to write.

    Is there a place where rural librarians and library workers get together to talk about this stuff? I just get so damned frustrated hearing about the tech-friendly environments of big, cutting-edge urban libraries, and then going to my little place of work where every innovation is a tooth-and-nail struggle. And then lack of experience and lack of field-specific knowledge comes into play. Quite often I just come here and read your blog to know that I’m not alone out here.

  3. Leslie Says:

    In Rhode Island, we have a small libraries group that meets every couple of months. Its very casual, which we like, and we can talk about all sorts of issues and get feedback from people who understand our situation. They are the most useful meetings I ever go to. Fortunately for us, RI is small, so geography and distance aren’t a concern. I think the key to the group’s success is its extreme informality and the willingness of everyone there to tell it like it is, warts and all. It’s also helped politically, because small libraries support one another and actively work to ensure we don’t get forgotten by the “big guys”. It’s what got every library in the state into the state-wide consortium (CLAN), and given us a voice on important state-wide committees. I’m not sure if it would work so well if we didn’t meet face to face and really get to know each other.
    As for technological innovation, for me, it’s a lot easier if I can show staff how it will make their life easier and provide better service. I give out a lot of prizes for things like using the new intralibrary email system, and have contests to see who can find weird things using new databases. Having fun and being totally non-threatening seems to work – and I always tell staff I’m not upset if something gets broken because they are trying to use it – I get upset if something breaks because they never learned how to use it or if a patron doesn’t find what they need because staff can’t use all the tools available.