Library success… what makes it happen?

Library Success... What Makes it Happen?

It is often said that success breeds success. It is very interesting to see how different clients approach delivering library services. Every organisation is different but the energy and creativity of the librarian is what makes the difference.

I took a telephone call recently from the manager of a library, someone I would like to call a friend, who I have known for a many years. His boss, who he rarely sees because the organisation is going through massive changes, had made an effort to seek him out and ask him to look into records management for the organisation. My librarian friend, since his appointment two years ago, had set about making changes in the library which had raised its profile. These included digitisation projects, replacement of a legacy library system with new technology, introduction of mobile friendly search portals and an enterprise search facility followed by bringing the archives into focus, helping to better present the history of the institution.

During the call, we talked about a new database and the need for more analysis before any attempt to configure the database. We joked that he barely finishes one project than another is waiting in the wings. Where do they come from? I knew his predecessor and there was never the same level of interest in the library and its own involvement in other areas of the business.

It made me question, “Why is it that a library succeeds and attracts attention?” What are the ingredients that make a library valued in an organisation, that makes it more prominent?

A “go to” place.

Library characteristics

We began discussing the characteristics of libraries we know to be succeeding and are well respected within the organisation they serve. It is not sector driven, nor is it the size of the library, or where the library is physically placed in a building or city or even the budget that the library holds.

Three themes came through in our discussions, much more prominent than any others:

  1. Embrace change: the library had invariably changed over time and had been accepting change, often it was enforced but the library still welcomed it, even if painful such as lost space, lost people, reductions in the physical materials held. Using change to springboard new services and using new technologies to make change work for the library were dominant ideas for libraries we saw succeeding.
  2. Creative and competent staff: the library staff were invariably very positive and creative. Characteristics that stood out were an eagerness to experiment, very efficient and used every bit of our database software. They were especially active with their user community, enjoying being out amongst users.
  3. The manager: as you might imagine personal styles differ enormously but being led by visionary people seems to help. Experience counts but communication skills and the ability to delegate, factor more highly in getting things done. Interestingly many of the examples we focused on saw projects and tasks being brought to them courtesy of the manager’s connections within the organisation.

As I reflected on this I could not help thinking back to when I was in my mid-twenties, in a large corporate, having a crisis about what I actually did.  My manager, simply said to me, with a smile, “You are there to make things happen! Got it?” Simple really.

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Author
Graham Beastall – Senior Consultant and Managing Director. Graham’s background is in Accountancy, Public Administration and Organisational Theory with a deep technical understanding of databases and web technologies. More posts by Graham.
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