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Internet Librarian 2013 – Designing Our Future

Lewis Belfont 

As leaders of the change process it’s important to ask ourselves three questions: Who are we / what is our library’s brand?  What do we do / what is our business?  Why is it important?

Lewis works for the Howard County Library System.  During a strategic planning approach  they assessed the environment in which they operate to come to a fundamental understanding of who they are, what they do, and why it’s important.

Appreciative inquiry is a philosophy and methodology of change.  All human systems, and an organization is a human system, have times when they perform optimally.  We need to identify those times of peak performance and the factors responsible in order to build our future for those factors to thrive.

Appreciative inquiry is founded on principles:

1)   Constructionism – what is your functional organizational structure?

2)   Anticipatory – the images of things we anticipate area  powerful reality in and of themselves.

3)   Poetic – an organization’s story is continually being co-authored by the people within and outside the organization. The past, present, and future are endless sources of learning and inspiration.  We have a choice about what we study, investigate, and focus our attention on.

4)   Positive – Momentum for change requires hope, inspiration, and joy in creating with one another.

A common approach to strategic planning is SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats).  Appreciative inquiry is an alternative.  Conversations produce knowledge—new ideas, perspectives, understandings, and potential for action.  There is usually a small group within any institution that guides strategic planning—who are more involved and push forward more than others (well, yeah, of course).  Leaders of organizations are responsible for defining the future but also developing shared meanings and understandings.

The process of appreciative inquiry has 4 phases: discovery—dream—design—destiny—all surrounding a positive core. (Sarah’s note: what kind of double-speak alliterative nonsense is this?).  This process management is something you can do yourself.  You don’t need an outside facilitator. Using a staff day for appreciative inquiry is a good idea…you can do this whole process in one day.

What has been a time of your organization’s greatest success?  Think about a time… Tell us about a time when… Tell us about your proudest accomplishment…  Then identify themes—commitment to excellence, community connections, exceptional customer service, winning teamwork, everyone a leader, etc.

He recommends reading The Encyclopedia of Positive Questions, a book that helps structure questions in a positive way.  Probe to discover sources of success.  Engage external stakeholders through a traditional survey and a community leadership breakfast.  Dream – tell us what the library will look like in the future when every strength is operational.  How do we make these dreams a reality?  What new organizational architecture needs to exist?  What service initiatives need to be in place?  When we talk about designing our future it involves getting everyone inside and outside the library invested in this future.  That’s not easy to accomplish.  But the reward is a much more profound and deeper commitment.

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