Friday, September 30, 2011

Managing Change by Daniel Messer

It is change, continuing change, inevitable change that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be. ~Isaac Asimov
I've been doing this for a long time now, kid. I know, I know... You're young and freshly polished. You're out of school and you are ready to kick ass and chew bubblegum and you absolutely cannot wait until we run out of bubblegum. You want to affect change. You've got ideas, and you know what, some of them are actually pretty good. But I want to stop you for a second and give you some advice from a guy who’s been in the field since you were crawling. I grant you, I'm not young nor am I polished, but each blemish was earned and maybe I can save you a few of them. See, this change thing you want to do, that's something we should talk about, okay?
Look around. Take a good look around at your library. I'm going to tell you right now that, even with tight budgets and cheap administrators, half of this stuff won't be here in ten years. It's going to look different. Sure, maybe not all that different to the untrained eye, but stick around. Ten years from now, you won't know what hit this place. Now, I've got another little secret to share with you. Ready?
How you handle that change is going to define you, your career, and your approach to your life as a librarian.
First, let's get things clear. I work in circulation, a department which my first circ boss referred to as, “The Bastard Child of the Library.” I don't have an MLIS, and there's a good reason for that. If I get one, they'll take me out of circ, and that's not acceptable to me. I love the movement and the flow, and there's just as much of a flow through a good circ department as there is down a winding mountain stream. There's one thing that keeps me in this department and made me a supervisor: I can handle change. You want to go places; you better learn to do it too.
I know. You're not only going handle change, you're going to make it happen. That's lovely, and good luck, but there's something you need to realize. Things are going to change that you have no control over and that you won't like. When I first started out we worked on computers, sure. They were clunky dumb terminals attached to massive servers. Our interface didn't need a mouse and the colors left much to be desired, as everything was green on a black CRT monitor. We used to check things in and out using a little pen that had a funny red light on the front of it. You actually had to touch the book. You had to swipe the pen back and forth, sometimes several times, just to read that new-fangled barcode.
Now, I've got two flat panel monitors sitting on my desk. They're attached to a computer far more powerful than those old servers. Next to that is an iPad and my laptop. Those too are also more powerful than those old servers. Hell, kid, the cell phone in my pocket outperforms those ancient beasts. I'm in charge of keeping four self-check-out machines running along with a self-check-in system that sorts library materials into nine bins. Patrons can check stuff in and out using lasers, but they don't have to. Actually, the machines use radio waves, scanning an RFID tag without ever touching the item. All in all, I need to keep an eye on half a million dollars of equipment and do my best to keep it running.
I didn't ask for any of that. Neither did the other people who work in circ.
As a matter of fact, some of the folks in circ were a little scared of it all. They were concerned that these new computers and machines were going to put them out of a job. I wasn't worried about that; I was worried about how I was going to train all these people. See, part of that flow that I talked about involves not only working with your technology, but also making it work for you. Whenever a new doo-dad or widget was presented to my department, the first thing I did was sit down and read the instructions. You know, you can learn a lot about something if you just read the directions. Then I started asking questions, and then I started talking to others who already had the widget and asked them questions.
You do that, and you become an expert pretty quickly. When your supervisors start referring and deferring to you for information and knowledge on the widget, then you know you're doing something right.
So here's my point - You're going to experience changes that are unexpected, unwanted, and even unwarranted. Embrace it. Things are not likely to go back to "how things were" because, kid, "how things were" was just a brief period between the last change and this one. Don't just adapt to change. Adapting isn't enough. Embrace it. Anything new that even looks semi-important? Become as familiar with it as possible. Read the manuals; get online; talk to people. You're a librarian, dammit. You know how to find information, and you better do just that.
Not only will your expertise make your job easier and better, you'll find an interesting side-effect. Expertise has a real habit of moving you up and out of your current job and into a better one. That, my friend, is when you truly become an agent of change.
Daniel Messer is a public library circulation supervisor, at Queen Creek Branch Library, who specializes in customer service and library technology and automation. He maintains a broad background in computer technologies like operating systems, mobile operating systems, web development, blogging platforms, integrated library systems, and digital media production. Moreover, he works to apply these various technologies to the field of library circulation. He blogs at Not All Bits.


  1. Thank you Jessica and Dan for this terrific post. We hear a lot about those in libraries, especially in circ, that may not embrace change. It is wonderful to hear about those that do, that know it is inevitable and that know it is just fine to change along with it.

  2. When the definition of change was written, perhaps the synonym should have included Libraries. I'm 51 years old and they have certainly change in my short lifetime.