Monday, April 03, 2006

"Facilitators, not gatekeepers"

Linda Stoddart, UN Library (NY) -- From Support to Mission Critical: United Nations libraries in transition

Trying to move from being a "nice to have" service to an essential resource, primarily for financial reasons, as the library is not currently being used. What's important for our staff, and for the delegations representing the 191 United Nations missions? -- most come in with their laptops and Blackberries (sp?!). How do we be sure we are there for our clients?

The library is now managing the intranet which has completely changed our role, and we have become technology consultants.

We are looking to communicate our new vision, and develop a strategy. Big changes for staff in the library many of whom have been in their roles for a long time. It's bureacratic. We need to celebrate our successes and learn from our mistakes.

"From collections to connections" -- summarises our approach. People to people. Maybe 20% of staff/delegations are using our libraries -- how do we service the other 80%? Last year we launched a lectures and conversations series with presentations in the library's auditorium. We brought in key speakers (e.g. Kofi Annan; the President of the General Assembly). High profile events to create a knowledge-sharing opportunity -- e.g. a lecture series on the 2004 Asian tsunami.

Changing skill sets -- we need to embolden people to communicate our new vision. We need extroverts. Streamlining processes; creating partnerships.

We need to deliver what's important to senior management, and the intranet has helped us to do this by providing a device for supporting dialogue
  • supporting core work (UN Reform)
  • creating trust between management/staff
  • providing ideas for internal messages
  • assisting use of all new technological tools
  • partnering with other organisational units e.g. IT, HR (library has been very marginalised in the past)
Learning to influence decision making
  • what do people need to know, and when
  • how can applications/tools be used effectively
    • IT dept too busy to provide this level of support; library is on the front line
Within the UN Secretariat -- there are political considerations; low usage of print publications, medium use of e-data; high use of news sources and direct contacts

International organisations are hierarchical -- decisions at high level, and often limited communication of those decisions.

Junior staff are not part of this process and lack a sense of responsibility. How can we embolden people, and change this organisational culture? It is formalised, structural; rewards are based on rank, and there's limited change/risk-taking.

Old -> new
Bureaucratic -> enabling staff to take initiatives
Multi-leveled -> mobility in functions and amongst sections. Some staff had spent their entire career indexing. Not healthy? Seemed normal a couple of years ago! People are ready for a change, and feel part of it.
Policies/procedures that focus on process -> p/p that facilitate meeting client requirements. Lots of time was spent on internal library issues, and staff were blind to what clients wanted.
Silos -> team-oriented.
Culturally:
centralised -> empowering
introverted -> extroverted
focus on activities in library space -> networking and coaching. Learning to use the space -- renovations for the first time in 50 years; an opportunity to rethink our facilities -- better training; video conferencing services; some spaces still for quiet research, but also an area for networking.
slow decision making -> quicker
defensive -> open to feedback (being sensitive to real needs)
insecure -> confident

Training and development is key:
emphasis on library processing technique -> focus on inter-personal skills e.g. interviewing/coaching techniques
learning new library management systems -> understanding content management tools. Integrating everything we do -- email, records, database searching. OPACs are out of date. We no longer need discrete systems.

Questions we ask ourselves: What information (a) do staff need (b) should be shared (c) is needed when, and in what form -- and how should information be organised, stored, accessed and communicated?

New interface - i-seek -- is now the only thing UN senior management know about the library. Links off to all relevant information -- HR, content for new staff, messaging from senior management, etc.

Changes in outlook and attitude -- we are embracing new opportunities, and moving in new directions -- using skillbase of facilitators, not gatekeepers. Identifying new approaches to knowledge sharing and organisational learning, in order to influence decision making process.

Obstacles ... bureaucratic procudures (hard to make decisions); new skills require more training (recruitment is slow); staff still feel boxed in despite understanding the need for change

Opportunities ... to be more flexible; to adopt new skills -> roles -> responsibilities; flexibility and experimentation; team approach = networking, partnering; staff have new challenges.

Changing perceptions: new signals and symbols.

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