In my last post regarding making change happen as a new librarian, I focused on several steps one may take to address the concerns of one’s colleagues. I specifically focused on the less personal concerns. Today, I’m going to talk about methods for handling the more personal ones.
When colleagues oppose a new idea, it may be easy to assume that they don’t trust you as a new librarian. It may be easy to assume that they don’t think it’s appropriate in some way for you to voice an opinion and/or to propose a new idea. Perhaps they think that your idea falls under the purview of a different librarian or a different department. Perhaps they think that you haven’t been there long enough to understand the library and the way things work there.
You do have a wide variety of options for handling this type of personal opposition. I discuss some of these options below, but I’m not 100% certain which would be the best option. I recommend following the steps in my previous post and pay particular attention to surveying your environment. The best option for you may depend on your library. As in most cases, a combination of these options may be the best idea overall.
Option 1: Prove Yourself.
If you have an area of the library that you mostly control, then perhaps your plans for change should start there. Take on a small project and go through the process of developing the idea, emplementing it, and assessing it. As your colleagues see your good work, then they may begin to trust you. Showing that you can successfully follow through on an idea will only benefit your cause.
Option 2: Provide Evidence.
Consider all the work you did in surveying your environment (see previous post) and don’t forget to review the latest literature on the topic. As you build a case for your idea, you then are ready to show the positives and negatives of the proposed change. Don’t be afraid of discussing the negatives of the project. You might be able to pull in people if you ask their advice (see option 3 below) on mitigating the negatives. Also, as you build and present your case, you may find that cold hard facts are hard to dispute and make the idea less about you and who you are.
Option 3: Get Support.
Library staff rarely work in a vacuum. Many of us work in teams or departments to accomplish even the most day-to-day tasks. Think about the people most affected by your proposed change and see if you have any supporters there. Ask them for advice! If you have a more senior member of the staff on your side, you may be able to leverage the trust people have in this member to ease the fears of your other colleagues. You won’t want to rely heavily on the senior members forever, but you might be okay in doing so until you’ve proven yourself a little.
Option 4: Go through the Appropriate Channels.
Depending on the structure of your library’s hierarchy, you may or may not have a logical path to get approval of an idea. If your idea is to improve reference services, then talk to the head of reference (if there is one) first. Showing respect for your colleagues and their positions may go a long way towards furthering your cause. I admit that this option may be a bit tricky, particularly as more and more library positions are overlaping. If one person handles online reference, and another handles in-person reference, then be sure to talk to both if your idea affects both. I don’t recommend blurting out potentially controversial ideas in a librarians’ meeting or other open forums without discussing the idea with those most affected by it.
Option 5: Break the Rules?
Stepping on other people’s toes can be dangerous, and I generally don’t recommend doing it. That being said, there is the adage that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission. If you think that rule breaking is your only option, consider the importance of your idea. Is it important enough to damage your relationships with your colleagues?
The above options are just a few of all that you may think to try. There is a lot to think about when looking at your library and proposing changes in the hope of improving it. My final piece of advice is this: don’t give up!
Never accept opposition to an idea unless you know it really is a crappy idea. Go through the process of analyzing your library, your patrons, and the idea iteself to be certain, and then push forward. If your idea needs tweaking, then tweak away. Just don’t get stuck constantly revising the idea without moving forward! You may not be able to move as quickly as you want, but you will develop professionally a lot through the process.