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* Monday, July 3, 2006

Leslie Burger Initiates Year of Transformation

I still need to do a write-up of my thoughts from last week's ALA Conference, but Leslie Burger was kind enough to share with me her inauguration speech. While I enjoyed her wit and passion throughout the entire talk, I've excerpted below the piece that really resonated with me. Hopefully it will resonate with you, too, and inspire you to move beyond the mediocre and to attempt true transformation within your library and with your staff. (And thanks to Alane for the link.)

Innovation, creativity, the willingness to take risks, the bravery to learn from failure, trusting your colleagues and your users, and the ability to embrace change and possibility (as opposed to regressing out of fear and anxiety) will be key to such transformation. I look forward to the coming year, in no small part because Leslie is now President of ALA, there are so many ALA staff members who "get it" and who also want to transform ALA itself, and libraries in general seem to be moving in this direction by embracing Library 2.0 principles.

"Transformation is a fancy word for change. No one much likes change – it can be scary…exciting…rewarding. Our friends here in New Orleans have found that it can be cataclysmic. But change or transformation if you prefer the fancy word, has one characteristic: it is inevitable.

Let me make the case for why transformation is needed and why now.

Librarians and libraries have already been through a decade of great change spurred by a technological revolution that has changed the way in which we do business. We are hard at work trying to transform reference service, our catalogs, our approach to customer service, our buildings and our collections. Some of our staffs are tired and burned out on change. We’ve been so busy dealing with these changes, that we haven’t always done a good job of communicating them. How many of our users know what a 'database' is??? And how many of us can tell them in 10 words or less?

Now is not the time to stop.

We have changed how we do business. Now we must change how others see us.

We have this absolutely unique moment in time…to transform the way the world perceives us, to build on the things that we do so well and set the stage for the next century of library service to the communities we serve.

My agenda for the coming year is ambitious and necessary.
Libraries Transform Communities is the theme. We know that when libraries are transformed either by new service programs, renovations, or new buildings that the communities we serve are in turn transformed. When customers realize they are getting more from their libraries, they become advocates and passionate supporters for what we do, and learn in new and different ways.

So how do we facilitate the transformation? Here’s my plan.


  • We need to develop a national library agenda to guide our work in transforming libraries of all types

  • We need to provide practical tips that will allow everyone to transform their library regardless of budget constraints. We’ll do that through several “summit” meetings at the midwinter and annual meetings in 2007

  • We need to provide people who are inspired by the message with the tools they need to make the changes we’re talking about. We’ll publish a transformation tool kit (print and web-based) to assist in this effort

  • We need to help libraries who need some assistance in implementing a transformation agenda. We can do that by establishing a 'librarians without libraries' volunteer program to match people who have talents and skills with libraries in need of assistance

  • We need to get our message out to a broader constituency by extending our national advocacy effort using the web, I just happen to own the domain name, welovelibraries,org.

  • We need to create a pool of emerging leaders who have the tools they need to advance the ALA and transformation agenda for years to come
  • Share tips

    Our Libraries Transform Communities Toolkit will be a source of many ideas and much inspiration. I’d like to share just five tips that are especially important to me.


    1. The first is to be passionate. Believe 150% in what you do. Share your passion with others. Engage in shameless promotion. Be out there in the community.

    2. Create a vision to guide the future. Focus every aspect of how you do business to reflect that vision. Engage your board, staff, Friends, faculty colleagues, students, etc. Don’t just talk…listen.

    3. Walk on the wild side. Try a different new practice each week or month. Do what businesses do. Hire for attitude as much as skills. Challenge the status quo. Give someone the title of 'chief innovator.'

    4. Build a culture that encourages and rewards change. Encourage your staff to take some risks. Offer rewards for new/different ways of doing things. If they turn out be better, great! If not, recognize, appreciate and learn from the effort. Be relentless about promoting the changes you want to see. Good example: The library that encourages staff to keep track of how many times they say no and figures out how to turn no into yes.

    5. 'Keep everlastingly at it.' That’s what John Cotton Dana, our first and perhaps greatest library promoter would say. Never give up.

    If you all think this sounds like a pep talk, it is. . . I am now the official library cheerleader. I love and believe in libraries. I can’t think of any other work that provides the stimulation and excitement that I find each day. We in this room are fortunate to call ourselves librarians.

    Change isn’t easy, but it is the key to our future. Here’s a prescient quote from Apple Computers back in 1997 'the people who can crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.' During my year as your president, I will work to lead change…to transform our profession, our libraries, our communities.

    Please join me."

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