Libraries, the Future and the Vision – Why Librarians Need to Lead the Way

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Libraries, the Future and the Vision – Why Librarians Need to Lead the Way

By John Stanley I recently worked with a Council who were developing a new library and I was asked in by the Librarians to provide some visionary direction. To maintain confidentiality, I will not name the organisation, but while working with them, it dawned on me that libraries are different to retail establishments, but not for the reasons that first came to mind. Retail Vision When working with retailers, the vision for the future is normally set at the top. They have an understanding of consumers and where and how they want their business to develop. My role, as a Consultant, is often to fine-tune their visionary concepts and often to convince team members of how they will fit into the new concept. It is often middle management that holds back retailers. Library Vision In the project I worked on, the Librarians have loads of ideas and vision. They understood their customers and the need to attack consumers (those who were not walking in the door at present). They were aware of all the jigsaw pieces that had to go together, even if they were unsure about how they would be put together. They were enthusiastic and keen to make the changes. In business terms we had a team of middle managers who were well in tune with what had to be done. I then met senior management, which included the architect and financial planners for the project. Was I in for a shock? Here were senior managers who had no idea of what consumers were asking for. They had no idea what the jigsaw pieces were, never mind how to put them together. I had to start with the basics on what was the role of the library in the future and how this had to be achieved within the already agreed financial budget. It dawned on me, this is the difference. In retailing. the vision normally filters down. Often, in libraries the vision has to filter up. Librarians are Key Visionaries This makes the Librarian�s role critical to the future. If you work for a library organisation where the Librarians have no vision, then the library could be in serious trouble in the future. Where Librarians have vision, it is their role to keep �prodding� senior management with the need for change if libraries are to be relevant in the future. If I go back to my consultancy visit, once senior management understood the jigsaw pieces, change was so much easier. The Face of Council I have always believed that the most critical face of the Council is the library. This is where the majority of the public come face to face with the Council on a regular basis. Librarians must keep promoting how important this image is to the Council. As consumers, we are all aware of how an unhappy Librarian and a badly laid out library can affect our vision of the whole Council, but reverse that. A happy, proactive Librarian in a futuristic library changes our whole perspective of the whole Council. The Librarian with vision is critically important as a �driver� of change within the whole organisation. Council �chiefs� do not just want you to be enthusiastic; they want you to follow it up with solid performance figures and projected performance figures. The library is like any other business and has to compete for financial assistance with other Council operations. To ensure the library stays �front of mind� in decision makers� minds you need to provide solid benefits for developing the library. Alas, You Won�t be the Hero Alas, at the end of the day, it is not uncommon for the business �chief� to take the accolades for the library�s vision. This is the same in politics and general business. This is often the way the world goes around. We often have to accept that we may come up with the idea while others receive the credit. If it achieves the goals set out, then so be it. Wow, What a Future Libraries have a key role in the future of the community. Librarians need to convince those further up the ladder that libraries are not about books anymore. Libraries are about people in the community and meeting their educational and social needs. The library is there to serve the whole community, not just the existing users. Wow, what an exciting future. John Stanley is a conference speaker and retail consultant with over 25 years experience in 15 countries. John works with retailers around the world assisting them with their merchandising, staff and management training, customer flow, customer service and image. www.johnstanley.cc