Designing our library future: be involved or be forgotten

What is the future of the Library? What is the future of the Librarian? These are questions we hear and see discussed ad nauseum at conferences, in blogs, in our tea rooms. In reality the ‘future library’ has already snuck in the back door. We were just too focused on the discussion to notice.

There is no doubt that technology has changed libraries, and the role of the librarian, exponentially over the past thirty years. Over this time as librarians have adapted and taken on new roles and more responsibilities they have in fact become less adept at being able to succinctly describe their role, and more importantly less able to articulate their value.

Perhaps the library world thought it could just get by on its warm fuzzy factor… after all everyone seems to love libraries! I’ve never seen a library receive poor ratings on satisfaction surveys. Libraries have the power to have people protest at their closing down who have never walked into the building. In actuality, people love the idea of libraries more than the reality of the juxtaposition of books, shelves, space and people they are forced to interact with. What is it about the idea of libraries (more than the reality) that people are so committed to?

In light of this, the library world has a lot of questions it needs to answer:

What is the role of the library today?
What is the value of the librarian?
What is it about a library that makes people care about it?
What do people need from a library?
How do people use a library?
And most fundamentally of all – What do we want the library to be? 

These are all questions we need to be able to answer – articulately, succinctly and passionately – if we are to regain control over our own future. Notice this does not include technology or tools but is about people, culture, and needs. In true librarian style we are instead having a pleasant leisurely conversation about it over tea and biscuits rather than understanding the urgency of the situation.

How might we, the library industry, design our own future?

There is no question that we are facing a paradigm shift of epic proportions that requires a complete reconsideration of the very foundations and ideas of the role and value of libraries and librarians. It’s messy, it will feel uncomfortable and take some getting used to, but we need to put down the tea and bickies and embrace design thinking. In its essence design thinking is a collaborative and human centred problem solving approach for solving complex business, organizational and social problems.

Design thinking offers an approach for the library world to strategically move forward, as co-authors of the future of libraries. It provides an opportunity to explore in a structured and meaningful way these philosophical questions and ‘problem find’, to then problem solve, appropriately.

Co-authoring and collaboration here does not mean a team of librarians, or even a team of librarians and designers, but a multidisciplinary team that represents all the people who have a stake in the library. This includes: librarians, designers, customers, vendors, service providers and other major stakeholders depending on the library’s context. Further to this, a human centred approach not only considers just the librarian or user or vendor. Instead design thinking ensures a holistic solution is designed that is sustainable and caters to all the humans involved, not just one segment.

The process is grounded in engaging and co-creating the future with and for all stakeholders with the human always at the centre. It is a proactive and future focused approach that is grounded in understanding the stories of the past and the current operating context.

Design thinking is already being used in libraries to rethink and redesign the future of libraries, as in this presentation by Scottish service design agency Snook:

We have to understand this is not about adding on, or adapting, or evolving, or rebuilding, but redesigning the very core of what a library is and means in today’s postmodern world.

Or will we be sipping our tea, eating our biscuits and talking about how important we are while the world moves on without us.

(Note: This was a guest post for ALIA Sydney. It also appears over here . Same content, different coloured background 😉 )

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What comes first – great leaders or great followers?

Sharing by furiousgeorge81.  Source: Flickr.
Sharing by furiousgeorge81. Source: Flickr.

Jye Smith‘s post Great Leaders, Great Followers on his blog A Digital Perspective
echoed many of the sentiments I feel about leadership and ‘followership’ – and what indeed does come first great leaders or great followers (or as Jye calls them supporters)? Can you have one without the other?

Inspired in part by 10 ways to be a great follower (which is a fantastic post) Jye states

Maybe the qualities of great leaders and great supporters aren’t so different?
By providing a platform of understanding and embrace, you’re doing a large part of what you can to be led, and likewise, a large part of what you can to lead.

To be a great leader you also need to be a great follower. This goes beyond the management and leadership debate and instead recognises the value and importance of leadership across all levels, both horizontally and vertically, within an organisation.

Follower is an uncomfortable term but implies greater participation than simply supporter. Support can be inactive, where as following implies action and participation. For example I think we all support the efforts of charities such as World Vision, but how many of us donate and/ or become invested and follow the charities activities?

A great follower:

  • Self manages well
  • Is committed: both to the organisation and to the purpose which brought the leader and follower together
  • Works with others to reach organisational goals – without needing star billing
  • Builds their capability and focuses their efforts for maximum impact and
  • Is courageous, honest and credible.

From these, you can see that the attributes of a follower are shared with that of a leader and as such through building effective followership skills, leadership capabilities are also fostered.

A follower plays an active contributing role whereas a leader leads other individuals in the collaborative effort – however both have shared responsibility for outcomes (differing from accountability which generally falls to the leader rather than the whole team).

Mark Hurd, CEO of Hewlett Packard describes this as ‘leadership as a team sport’ – and is based on the concept of shared leadership. This moves beyond organisational hierarchies and creates leaders at all levels throughout the organisation – recognising that succes relies upon individuals, teams, and departments working in collaboration both vertically and horizontally across the organisation. In shared leadership the roles of leader and follower are not mutually exclusive or static roles – nor is one afforded more status or importance than the other. Staff members should be able to flexibly move in and out of leader and follower roles as required. The relationship between the two roles is symbiotic being in one or the other role depends on the situation or organisational need.

Shared leadership requires courage at the top of an organisation to relinquish control and flatten heirarchies to allow all organisational leaders (not just managers) to make decisions as appropriate. For me, the strength of a great leader recognises the potential in others and works to bring that to the fore.  A great leader enables a great follower.

Like the old adage – behind every great man stands a great woman…behind every great leader stands a great follower.  Committed, engaged and capable followers, enable great leaders.

So what does come first – a great leader or a great follower?