The 21st Century Library is More: Service Oriented


In the previous post, I stated several principles that businesses use to drive their organization toward achieving a competitive advantage that results in success and sustainability. I wrote, in part:

Service Oriented –
Customer Service Competitive Advantage: Competitive Business Solutions “If we strive to only be as good as our competition, we are doing a disservice to our customers – and setting ourselves up to lose some of them. What is needed is for us to go above and beyond what our competition is doing. … Move [customers] out of the zone of “customer” into the zone of “trusted friend.” Go above and beyond what you’re expected to do and you’ll find that your customers will drive past the competition to come to you. …” MoreBusiness.com

As I was reading recently about new 21st Century Library building construction that seems prevalent among communities that can afford such things (and God Bless their good fortune), it struck me that realistically the vast majority of libraries are locked into their existing brick-and-mortar facilities with no reasonable vision for future expansion or modernization. And that’s OK! That’s reality, and reality is what we deal with. Librarians, among the multitude of professions, are probably THE MOST creative, innovative and can-do people who serve the public. (That’s why we’re having conversations about Library2.0+ and the 21st Century Library.) We’re seeing many libraries re-organizing, re-arranging and re-energizing their libraries and staff to address 21st Century Library services and patron interests, which brings me to the point of this post. I want to relate an experience from many years ago.

In the post-Vietnam U.S. Army there was money available to modernize installations as troops were being withdrawn from Vietnam to Stateside installations, and the Army was “re-tooling” itself so to speak. As an Army officer, I was stationed in a major Army post with my wife and young daughter. Being in our late-20s, naturally we were very social, and the Army of that period encouraged “Happy Hour” type socializing, so naturally we were at the Officers Club most Friday nights. The club was outdated and inadequate for the many officers and families being transferred into the post at that time, so we were all ecstatic over the news of a brand new Officers Club, and we waited with great anticipation (hoping it would be opened before we were transferred out to a new assignment) until it was completed.

When the great day arrived, we all flocked to the new Officers Club frequently with great expectations of parties of all kinds, from casually impromptu to militarily formal. After about six months, the “new” wore off the new club, and interest and participation declined sharply among most of the younger officers and their “dates”. Why? We figured out that the “system” had simply moved the old Officers Club into a new building. The food was no better, the service was no better, and the music and entertainment were no better. The only thing that had changed was the décor, because the old club persisted in its new surroundings.

This was my first experience with change being not at all equal to progress. And change simply for the sake of change is probably more disappointing than change that misses the mark. Trying to make real progress and improvement through change is a desirable thing, where change that simply masks stagnation is disappointing and usually wasteful.

So, what’s the connection between my little vignette and the 21st Century Library? Efforts to create a 21st Century Library include change at every level, beginning with a 21st Century Library mindset, a commitment to improve library services, development of patron-centered library services, applications of technology that make a difference (not just lipstick on the pig), and business-like measures of success to mark the achievement of YOUR vision of YOUR 21st Century Library.

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