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August 14, 2020

How Libraries can Embrace Change, Forging the Future with Millenials

Posted by: Lettie Y. Conrad

The Need for Change
Libraries have undergone huge changes in the past few decades, but in the wake of COVID-19 the rapid need for libraries to redefine services and how they work was unprecedented.

On July 22, CILIP (The UK’s Library and Information Association) held the webinar “The New Normal” with Linda Kalinda, the Head of Library and Information Services at the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, which stepped back to look at how her 4-library system has embraced change and engaged millennials to help prepare for a new, rapidly-changing future.

Embracing Change
For Kalinda, it all started with a shift in her thinking about change. One day, she realized she needed to stop fighting change and make the decision to embrace it instead. So, she did what librarians do best: a literature search! She sought out readings on new technology, tools, ideas, and presentations from all sectors. “Don’t limit your research to readings about library or library industry groups.” By keeping her search broad, she read about how all workplaces are changing to inform ways her libraries could adapt.

She also started embracing change with patrons and “saying yes” to new ideas. One day, a patron asked for help organizing a literature search into a Powerpoint presentation, something the library would not have helped with in the past. Kalinda decided to “say yes” this time, and after the presentation, she heard her patron announcing proudly that the library had helped her put together her Powerpoint. Nearly overnight this became a core offering of services for their libraries.

The Make Up of Millennials
Another change Kalinda wanted to embrace was working with millennials. Working with different generations can be challenging and cause tension. So, Kalinda went back to her trusty literature search and learned as much as she could about millennials. What she found may not be ground-breaking, but it was helpful to think strategically about how millennials could help her libraries adapt.

“Millennials are often more tech-savvy and work differently” from older generations. They are more likely to look up questions on their phones or rely on apps or new tools like Trello (a project management tool that functions like a virtual bulletin board or to-do list), but just because they’re on their phones doesn’t mean they’re distracted. It’s how many millennials work, and it can often lead to quicker results. Millennials also have different motivators, and are largely driven by solving challenges and finding fulfillment in their work instead of working to pay the mortgage. They can often be better out-of-the-box, creative thinkers as well, since they have less experience with the way things have always been done.

This is not to say millennials are better workers or that everyone should start working on their phones. Baby boomers and Gen Xers often have more executive presence and are better thinking on their feet because they are more experienced and have valuable institutional memory. The important thing is to embrace new staff and ways of working and play to each individual’s strengths. With more age diversity in the workplace, libraries can create a stronger, more collaborative workforce that will thrive into the next decade and beyond.

How Millennials Can Help Libraries
We’ve all experienced a lot of change throughout this pandemic, and it’s safe to say it won’t stop once it’s over. So, how can millennials help support us through change? At her library, Kalinda used to spend hours updating reports until one day, her millennial son showed her that she could automate her reports in Excel, freeing up critical hours in her schedule each week. She was amazed at what she didn’t know. The promise of more time for her and her staff made her encourage her team to seek out workshops and training to learn new tools and systems that would free up more time for new projects.

Kalinda also instituted an apprentices program at her libraries. Apprentice programs or internships are a great way to give work experience to young people, while gaining that valuable perspective and fresh eyes that a millennial can add to your staff.

She looked at government guidance about the types of tasks she could give to an apprentice and how they overlapped with what the library really needed that might play to the strengths of the tech-savvy, millennial generation: marketing, web updates, and patron support. In the last few years, the trend has been toward “more information, more technology, and less librarians. We have to change with the tech to become relevant,” and having an apprentice program is one way to do that.

In her library, she has four generations of staff: those about to retire and looking toward retirement in the next 5-10 years, mid-career staff, and staff who are just out of university or apprentice-level. The younger staff help the others keep their finger on the pulse of what’s new in tech and new use cases patrons may have for the library.

Having staff from many different generations is hard at first, but ultimately it’s a strength. Having people who think differently, have different experiences, and have different levels of appetite for change is a good thing. One example is working through the current pandemic. While some staff struggled with the sudden switch to remote work, her millennial apprentice “seemed to thrive in a remote environment and was more productive than ever. He loved working out of his bedroom.”

The Benefits of Adaptation
When Kalinda embraced change, she initially had more work than she could cope with. But the new tasks, tools and apprentice program helped enable her and her team to try new ways of doing things. And ultimately, they helped the library progress and evolve into what it needed to be now: a better, more holistic service for their patrons.

In the height of COVID-19, 3 out of 4 of Kalinda’s libraries were closed and one was taken over as a COVID-19 ward. But they still needed to offer the same services without a physical space. Because she was open to change, they felt prepared. They could offer 99% of their services online and continue their work using online software like Microsoft Teams. “Without change, I would not be relevant today.”

How to Embrace Change and Forge a New Path
Change can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Kalinda advises all libraries to run a simple SWOT or gap analysis. Look at the skills and strengths of your team and the groups of users you are serving and their needs. Are there missing skills or needs your library is not meeting? “Think where are you now, and where do you need to go?”

If it feels like there is too much that needs to change, consider the past 10 years and how much has been accomplished in that time. “See how far you’ve come and what main changes you’ve made. And then ask yourself honestly, is our offering enough? “

If not, you know where you need to start your research and explore how you can do more. And that is the first step to moving forward!

Access the full recording of CILIP’s The New Normal webinar here.

 

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