For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
July 28, 2004 - Principles of Decision-Making
Every now and then people complain to me about the problems of growth. Sometimes they're talking about the county. Sometimes, they're talking about the library. Here's what I think. There are only two problems in life: the problems of growth, and the problems of decline. Pick one.
But that isn't to say that the problems of growth aren't real. I've been giving a lot of thought lately to a straightforward question asked by one of our new managers. "How," he said, "do I get something done here?" He meant, what's the process through which a decision is made?
That question ultimately caused me to rethink the library's whole organization chart. I realized that I was trying to maintain two decision-making processes -- the one that used to work when we were smaller, and the one that works now. The two processes were fighting each other. It was time to let the first one go.
I also came up with something called "the Principles of Decision-Making at Douglas County Libraries." They might even be applicable to other organizations. So just in case anybody is wondering: this is how I try to manage your library. Comments are welcome.
I. Decisions should be made at the lowest level possible. This keeps an organization responsive, and backs up the people at the front lines. We hire people for their judgment. We'd be fools not to let them use it.
II. Decisions should be efficient -- taking the fewest steps necessary to make good ones. Sometimes problems do have to be referred upwards, but then we should have a system that doesn't keep everybody twiddling their thumbs waiting for an answer.
III. Decisions should be consistent.
a. With procedures. Our procedures are set up to handle the majority of cases. Consistency makes it easier to train people, and maintain high standards of service.
b. With policy. But sometimes, the procedure doesn't fit. Then, we should make decisions in light of our policies. Those policies are based on our governing board's decisions of things that most matter to us.
c. With core values. On occasion, the policy doesn't cover things, either. In that case, our decisions should reflect the core purposes of our institution: public service, intellectual freedom, confidentiality.
d. With fiscal constraints. Decisions should be affordable!
IV. Decisions should be honored. That means two things: first, supervisors should respect and adhere to the decisions of the people they supervise; and second, that people should also respect and adhere to the decisions of their supervisors. This implies, of course, that authority is worthy of respect. That's only happens after a pattern of thoughtful action, and demonstrated openness to new ideas and criticism.
V. Decisions should be revisited when...
a. They significantly contradict procedure/policy. Not just 'contradict,' but 'significantly contradict.'
b. They highlight important new trends. For instance, if staff keep granting exceptions to the rules because of some repeating request, it might be time to change the rules.
c. They have severe or unexpected negative consequences. In a complex system, everything is connected. Sometimes, a good solution in one area causes trouble somewhere else.
VI. Decisions should be communicated. Again, in a healthy organization, communication should flow freely, both up and down. Our assumption is that our staff are making good decisions. To understand what those decisions are telling us about our community, we have to talk about them.