You turn up to work. The front door is locked. There is a sign for your customers – “The Library will re-open at midday.” You make your way in through a side entrance. All staff are expected to be at a full team meeting. There is only one item on the agenda: The organisation you work for is in financial crisis.
Instead of the anticipated annual budget increase, this year there is no more money.
There is no money for staff training or professional development opportunities. There is no extra money for operational costs. There is no budget for programmes, events or marketing projects. There will be no extra eResources purchased. The print collection will not be added to.
There is no more money, and significant efforts to cut existing costs will be made across the board. Although salaries and routine operational costs will be covered, there is no allocation for any additional expenses. No redundancies are anticipated, but vacancies are unlikely to be filled.
What’s your response?
Panic? Stunned silence? Fear? Do you start looking for another job?
Joy? Excitement? Enthusiasm? Are you excited by the possibilities?
Despite the anxiety and uncertainty, you could choose to view this experience as an unexpected gift to your staff and your community. You’ve been offered a rare opportunity to stop, reflect and look closely at your core reasons for being.
You’ve been given permission to tell your library’s story differently.
Dive head-first into a radical re-think of your library, programmes, budgets, collections, workflows, staffing allocation. No doubt about it, it’s going to be a messy and tiring year. You will need to look critically at all aspects of your library. You will need to call in a lot of favours.
Invite your staff to commit to a year of creative thinking. Identify where you do [X], to save [Y], which means you can achieve [Z]. Invite your vendors to think creatively about what you can achieve together.
Find different ways to measure your value to your funding bodies and your stakeholders. Find alternative methods to engage with your community.
Commit to being the best you can be. Stop trying to be all things to all people, or some things to all people, or all things to some people. Commit to being kind to your staff and your community. Reduce the “busy work” to make time for the purposeful work.
Be transparent with your community. Be honest with your community. Throughout the year, update your customers, your staff, your funding bodies, your stakeholders on progress – the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
Share your wins and your losses. Share your enthusiasm and your disappointment. Ask for ideas. Ask for input. Ask for feedback. Ask for support.
Should you reduce opening hours at the beginning or at the end of the day? Should you cut all late night access?
Ask academics to critically review existing e-resources – if they had to choose between one of three e-resources, which would they keep?
Ask for donations of quality print material if appropriate. Be clear on what criteria you will accept – if it was published in the last two calendar years, is in pristine condition, fits your collection development policy, then accept the donation. Empower your staff to reject poor quality donations, encourage them to state clearly that poor quality donations increases staff workload in organising for disposal, time and energy which could be better spent focused in other areas.
The mission of libraries is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities.
What if you make that your mission statement for the year? Involve your community and ask what creating knowledge means to them. Be creative in your approach.
Your community is a core resource – there is a wealth of skills and knowledge to be acquired, strengthened and shared.
Give them the beginnings of a sentence:
- I want to learn about …
- The skills I can offer …
This year could be the opportunity to facilitate broader discussions about your reason for existing as a library in the first place.
Take it as a chance to step back from the routines and habits of the everyday busy work, and to think beyond the walls (physical or metaphorical) for different ways to be.
Think about your collections differently.
Just as fine wine and good cheese needs time and space to breathe, so too do collections.
Increase the browse-ability of your collections. Give your physical collections the room they need to shine. Promote the hidden gems in your collection.
Undertake a focused physical de-selection programme, identifying resources to sell at quarterly booksales.
At the same time, opening up your shelves to better promote remaining items. Analyse your electronic collections to identify different ways to increase discoverability and improve accessibility.
Identify similar sized libraries, or libraries with a similar customer focus, or libraries within a nearby geographical location, that you may be able to share collections with.
Could you establish a shared collection policy, share collections knowledge and expertise, streamline collection processes, so that you can create a stronger collection between you?
Do you have any common vendors that you work together with to improve services and resources for you both?
Think about your programmes and events differently.
Look outside your walls and see if there are others who serve your community, and see if you find a way to offer complementary services or co-deliver a service, working in partnership, potentially sharing resources, spaces, people, to free everyone up a little more so that you can all be great at what you collectively do.
Since you won’t be able to buy more eBooks for your customers, take the opportunity to re-purpose the staff time and energy into programmes designed to increase community knowledge and understanding of accessing free online alternatives.
Teach your community how to be better pirates – share ways to hack, improve, access, re-mix, and contribute resources in legitimate ways instead of contributing to the growth in illegal downloads, underground internet networks, unlawful file-sharing.
Think about your learning resources differently.
Instead of creating in-house learning resources, why not find already existing resources?
Develop a programme of events and the curation of resources based on Open and Free. Create an opportunity to engage with your community about MOOCs, OERs, Open Textbooks, Creative Commons licensing, Open Badges, Wikipedia. Curate a list of TED Talks and Khan Academy on selected topics. Find ways to unlock and share your community’s knowledge – chalkle, P2PU, wikipedia-thons.
Think about your staff time differently.
Changing habits and routines can be hard. What if you put a stop to all printing of unnecessary documents, such as meeting minutes, agendas, reports?
You can choose to put in place artificial barriers to help staff change their routines and habits.
What if any document sent to the printer is only released from the print server AFTER 24 hours, by which time you have possibly forgotten the reason why you so desperately needed to print it in the first place?
Change the way you run your meetings. Call for agenda items 72 hours before a meeting, then distribute the final agenda 24 hours prior to any meeting. If it isn’t on the agenda, it cannot be discussed at the meeting.
Implement a rule that all minutes are made electronically during the meeting (book a laptop, change to a room with a computer, shorten the meeting, or take less detailed minutes!), to them be expanded on and distributed within 24 hours of the meeting.
Back to reality.
So that meeting never actually happened. There is no budget deficit. You don’t have to think or act any differently when you turn up to work today.
But what if you made the effort now to identify ways to change your approach to your collections, your staff, your customers. Build strong relationships with your allies and advocates now, before your need them in your corner.
With a little creative goggle wearing today, you might in fact start to implement some of those small changes now.
Instead of reacting to a crisis, put on those gorgeous goggles now and view the world through a more creative lens to create the library you and your community want, need and deserve.