Saturday, November 12, 2005

What's next? ... Getting to Engagement

Library administrators and board members love visioning ... but there has to be some sense that in pretty short order the vision will become reality. So, it won’t be a big surprise to anyone when I tell you that one of the first questions I received after the talk about the future of public libraries was “So how do you make this whole engagement thing happen?”

Hmmm ... GREAT QUESTION! I wanted to say ... “We just have to buckle down and do it!” ... but that sounded lame, even to me.

In reality, it’s really more of a strategic planning or organizational/culture change question, but that doesn’t scare me. So, here are my thoughts in no particular order ...

1. You have to get the right people and get them involved ... where that means hiring them or getting them as volunteers or whatever, you can’t do it without the right people. The hard part here is that often times the folks that have served you well in their traditional library roles will have a hard time buying in, let alone performing. We shouldn’t be afraid to get people from outside the profession to help us.

2. Tell stories that lend passion and emotion to your vision ... once you have the right people you need to get them on board. While some vision statements can do that, stories give a vision bounce and breath ... they add humanity to organizations, and we can’t get enough of that!

3. Accentuate the positive ... every library and every community has specific strengths. Start with those areas first and build off of them. It’ll be better than building from scratch.

4. Create experience opportunities for patrons ... give them an environment where they can experience new ideas, old ones, interactions with people like or different from themselves. Changing the world doesn’t happen when people all agree on something ... it happens when people who share some aspect of thought and emotion get together to put that thought and emotion into motion.

5. Out of control is good ... remember that interaction and engagement must be organic to work and to be sustainable. If you try to control every aspect of the experience (as we in education, government, and the library worlds too often try to do), you will drive the life from it and lose any hope of people wanting to try it.

6. Partner to deliver what we can’t ... forming close ties with organizations, businesses, and agencies that can do things better than we can is good for our patrons, our communities, and of course us. Let’s face it, we just don’t have some skills we will need, but we can’t ignore them ... find who has them, match up your values and stories, and get them on board!

7. Be nimble ... this gets to the heart of a metaphor war I’ve been fighting in my mind ... in strategic planning we talk about the plan being the road map to success for the organization. Well, I’m a sailor ... we use charts. While road maps are good at showing you how to get from here to there when there is a fairly solid and stable highway to take you, a chart gives you an understanding of what was there last time anyone (namely the guy who drew the chart) checked. People who use charts recognize that sometimes stuff just moves, shifts, and often disappears. Nimbleness requires an understanding that as we sail toward the future, we need to be chart-minded and not road map-minded ... because things in life move, shift, and often disappear.

8. Put your money where your vision is ... it doesn’t matter how pretty the vision, the plan, or the outcomes are if you don’t put the resources of the organization into the activities that will turn your stories into realities.

As I've written this, I’ve been thinking about something I said above ... the line about just buckling down and doing it ... lame or not, it’s true. Let’s face it, you get a top-notch staff capable of providing experience, interaction, and engagement, you focus on the stories/vision of the organization, you let everyone play and live in the organic, uncontrolled anarchy that is human life and is the only thing that can truly deliver what they need, and you put the resources in the right spots so that the stories come to life as passionately interwoven harmonic voices from across the community ... I mean, what’s left but to just do it?!

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