5 Steps to a TRANSPARENT library

When you think about libraries, probably the last thing that comes to mind is transparency.   I understand that there are significant ethical standards that libraries are expected to uphold in terms of privacy on behalf of the patrons, but for an organization who depends on the support of tax-payers dollars, it sure seems to me as though we spend an awful lot of time crafting a manufactured façade to present to the public and seldom let people behind this wall.  As 2.0 Librarians, it is time to BREAK that pattern and start entering the world of transparency.  Here are 5 steps to get you thinking about the best ways to implement this strategy in your library.

Step 1:  Understand the ISSUE

According to Michael Casey and Michael Stephens, “the transparent library contains three key elements: open communication, adapting to change, and scanning the horizon.”

Open communication–includes gathering input from a wide variety of sources, speaking and listening (more on that in number 3), and using social media tools like blogs, wikis, Facebook, Twitter, etc to communicate with our users in a multitude of different ways.

Adapting to change– requires librarians to listen internally as well as externally.  For example, have mixed meetings where people from various departments, support staff included, come together to discuss pressing issues facing the library.  Once the staff is on board and willing to make change, then the organization as a whole can slowly adapt to these transformations as well.

Scanning the horizon—means looking ahead to what’s new and upcoming while also avoiding “technolust.”  2.0 Librarians striving for new ways to achieve transparency must recognize the new communication tools their patrons are using and work to implement them in practical, beneficial ways in the library.

Step 2:  Step AWAY from the reference desk

There’s been a growing trend in corporations these days where CEO’s are stepping out from behind the shadows of the company and “telling all” in the forms of blogs, Facebook pages, and newsletters to consumers.  If big name companies like Best Buy® and Southwest Airlines can expose themselves, often at the risk of losing business, why can’t librarians?  Why not grab a Flip Cam and take 30 sec “bio” videos of your front-line librarians, upload it to YouTube and link the video’s to your home page?  Maybe your Library Director could start an “Ask the Director” blog where users can submit any and all types of questions to be answered bimonthly.  Is your Management Team struggling to find an answer to a particular problem? Create a poll on Facebook and let your friends and followers help you out.  By opening up and exposing your staff, the problems we face and the benchmarks we surpass, it makes libraries seem more “human,” “warm,” and inviting.  Who wouldn’t want to visit, frequent and in some cases fight for a place like that?

Step 3:  They spoke, now LISTEN

So you’ve collected stories, testimonies, complaints, suggestions, and ideas.  You’ve established a blog, posted on Facebook, sent out tweets and distributed user surveys.  You’re transparent now, right? Wrong.  The second half to the transparency equation is to actually listen to the feedback that was given to you.  Especially when the feedback is coming from staff, particularly staff that seldom get the opportunity to offer their feedback.  Are there patterns that arise from the data?  Are there any problems that can be fixed immediately?  Focus on things that can be alleviated or implemented fairly quickly, then publicize those results so your audience (whether it’s staff or users, or both) can see that their comments were taken in to consideration.  Don’t just stop there—remember to put larger items on meeting agendas, and publicly announce a timeline for completion.  Even if something cannot be accomplished immediately, part of being transparent is showing your weaknesses and how you intend to strengthen them.

Step 4:  Hold a TALENT show

No, not literally!  Basically, what this means is to recognize that you’ve got a whole bunch of people who help make the library work (staff, volunteers, board members, patrons, etc) and each person has talents that deserve to be recognized.  Michael Casey and Michael Stephens call this “checking your ego at the door” which paints a great picture of what needs to happen in order to accomplish this step

One way of leaving your ego behind is simply to give credit where credit is due.  Did someone come up with a great way to recruit new users for the Summer Reading Program? Give them a shoutout in the next staff newsletter.  Did you read a great article by a neighboring library board member?  Pass the article on to your staff and send a note of praise to the author. The library is about appreciation, not competition.

Speaking of competition, another way to showcase ability is to cultivate your own talent in the library.  This means providing adequate training and development opportunities to your staff and volunteers.  Recognize that the more your staff knows, the easier it will be to problem solve and create new strategies.

Step 5: Pick up the PACE

Ever notice how long it takes the library to make a decision?  Someone comes up with a great idea, plans are made and then everyone sort of sits around, waiting for the “right time.”  It’s time to be a little less cautious and ACT on those ideas.  What if I mess up?  Well, part of being a transparent library, as mentioned in the earlier steps is being able to admit mistakes, then analyze them, figuring out what you could do differently, next time.  Is there a new technology you’ve been dying to try in the library?  Roll it out little by little.  Have you wanted to have new programs?  Book them and see what kind of turnout you have.  Blog about your journey throughout, ask for patron feedback, show strengths and weaknesses, be transparent.   A 2.0 life moves pretty fast, it’s time for libraries to pick up the pace a little.

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  1. I think the biggest issue is adaptability. A library must be willing to change. If they’re not open to suggestions from the outside or the inside or be flexible in any way then there’s no point in trying to become transparent. Libraries need to be quick on their feet and must follow through on what they set in motion. The world is always changing and libraries need to be along for the ride. I think all the steps you listed are very crucial in transparency!

  2. I agree with Liz. Institutions are, well, institutionalized, so it’s sometimes difficult to implement real change. However, I’ve been looking at various job lists and there are way more openings for directors and department heads so hopefully, change will start happening.

  3. I like the idea of encouraging communication and encouraging patrons to tell their stories, but each library needs to figure out what their patrons actually want from them. As a patron, I’m not sure I have any questions for the head of my local branch. Though, at the same time, if we reach out to our users and our users don’t end up caring to be reached out to, as long as we didn’t waste too many man hours talking through the idea and putting it into action, we haven’t really lost anything.

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