The Pathway to Social Software
I almost became Dr Dolittle last week and came under the dreaded influence of the Pushmepullyou Syndrome. This is a cautionary tale about social software, listening, change, fear and ultimately redemption.
It started innocently enough. A couple of Young Adult Librarians (Katie Jacobs and Ian McKinney) floated the idea up to me that their department would be better served if they had a blog. I thought this was a great idea. There had been a number of departments that had started their own blogs and were promoting programs and interacting with patrons and other staff members online. So off they went and created the Teen blog (http://acplteens.wordpress.com).
Then the next request came. They wanted to now link their blog off our main homepage and supplant the approved organizational teen page. Now hold on a minute I thought, we put a lot of time into that page, and it is branded with our organization and has links to other things that we value. I am having serious doubts. If we allow this then what’s next? I feared an avalanche of requests to do the same thing. What are the repercussions to the organization if every department went ahead and did this? What would happen to the look and feel of our site? How could this decentralization of development be managed and controlled? Where is the backup of data? Ok you get the idea, I had some slight concerns.
At this point I was carefully manufacturing hurdles on why this might not be the best idea. On the other side, a little voice started stirring and asking these rather annoying questions. Why are they asking to do this? What does this solution offer that we don’t have now? Do I really know the issues that they face? As a sanity check I took this request to our Digital Collaborative Group than oversees our web sites.
It was a great debate and here is where the Pushmepullyou syndrome is evident. An organization’s needs are often different from that of an individual department. These conflicting needs will often find themselves pulling in opposing directions. The issues of branding, uniformity and stability often are at odds with innovation, creativity and departmental ownership. Resolving these issues I feel, is where transformation occurs. A clear focus on patron needs will unify opposing views. Remember there are thousands of brilliant unimplemented ideas. Implementation is the catalyst to metamorphosis. You can transform from Dr Dolittle to an Agent of Change by executing good ideas.
The decision process came down to a few simple things. Do I trust that the people in their department know what they need and how best to serve their patrons? Will I listen carefully to them and then support their efforts? Can I deal with the fact that this might be a mistake but be willing to take the risk. Overcoming fear has been issued as a sort of mantra on library blogs. Repeat after me “You must overcome fear to move forward in the Web 2.0 world”. Fear is the sensation you have just before you jump out of a perfectly good airplane. Risk management is that you have the purchased the best parachute in the world and of all the parachutes ever made this one has the best chance of opening. Fear is there for a good reason. It should not be overcome, it should be managed. In the 2.0 world we are not dealing with fear, we are really managing risk. If things don’t work out, it is simple have a backup plan. In our case it was very simple. If the blog page didn’t work we could always go back to the old page.
I thought I was out of the woods. We had agreed to change the main teen link on our homepage but that’s the funny thing about change, it changes. The next email that came from the Young Adult department was “Thanks this is great, now we would like this page to be the first page that is displayed when our patron opens a browser in our department” Well in for a penny, in for a pound. OK, let’s do it!
What was the result? We now as an organization have a dynamic page that is updated constantly with new and relevant information. We have a staff that have been listened to and their input and ideas have been implemented. Our staff is now excited about this page and has a personal sense of ownership. We have supported and enabled creativity and innovation rather than stifled and smothered it. The end result is that a couple of Young Adult Librarians have created a wonderful resource that is truly a conduit to their patrons and all we had to do was get out of their way.