Competence for innovative libraries

Developing a creative library sector that can cope with change requires competence in change management and innovation. In cooperation with Bergen University College, Hordaland County Library has established the study programme Change management, innovation and knowledge management for the county’s library staff.

– The fact that so many library employees in the county complete the programme is bound to make a difference, says one of the students.

Why competence for change?

Library and information services are undergoing change at several levels, and library staff are facing increasing demands for skills and new ways of working. The libraries are confronted with a society which is rapidly changing, in terms of technological development as well as social differentiation, diversity and individualization. The knowledge society entails more specialization, and people have rising expectations of quality, effectiveness and service. Our society is characterized by an open economy and internationalization.

The library’s role is changing from being a retreat for individual studies to becoming a space for active and social interaction, and the library is seeking to be a meeting place and an arena for learning and culture. Library staff must change from being passive communicators to becoming active producers of content and events. The library managers in particular need skills in how to lead and implement change in libraries, as well as in how to develop ideas, implement ideas and lead projects through to their completion. In this manner, Hordaland county wants to develop a strong and creative library sector that can cope with change.

Collaboration with Bergen University College

In cooperation with Bergen University College, Hordaland County Library arranges a module-based study programme in Change management, innovation and knowledge management for the county’s library staff in 2012. The study programme has been commissioned from outside the professional library community, from the Institute of Business Administration, and is located within Bergen University College’s department of engineering.

Focus is placed on the library as an arena for knowledge production and knowledge dissemination and as a meeting place, and on the librarian as a professional and a change agent. The students are introduced to management theories and strategies, organizational development, coaching and relationship management, innovation strategies and implementation, and project organization, management and leadership.

The study programme results in 15 ECTS at the bachelor level, and is offered free of charge to library staff from the county. A total of 25 students were enrolled. In a county that has a total of 33 municipal libraries, it is astounding that 17 of the municipalities are represented. This indicates that the library staff members are feeling the demand as well as the need for change, and that they are seeing that skills in this field can help them de-velop better library services. All the five regional cooperating library groups have staff members enrolled. This will provide a boost to the competence of all public libraries in the county.

Organization of the study programme

According to the students, the combination of a particularly relevant subject and expedient facilitation was decisive for their enrolment in the programme. In spite of facilitation, combining full-time work with studies remains difficult. Four students have reluctantly left the programme, while 21 energetic students are still hanging in there. Their feedback shows that they perceive the programme as relevant , in terms of their own job content as well as with regard to the challenges they feel that the sector is facing.

“The studies have taught me how enormously important it is to continuously focus on the personnel in order to achieve major changes. Conflicts, noise and opposition can be avoided or reduced if everybody is in agreement and everybody is involved from the very start of a major change process. In addition, it is so much better if everybody is engaged and pulls together, then we can achieve so much, much more”, says one of the library managers who are studying. She adds that it is very convenient to be able to write about a project or a change process which is unfolding at the library, here and now.

The organization of the study programme allows the students to plan and possibly implement change processes in the library where they are working. The students have the opportunity to reflect on problems related to their own workplace and work with assignments associated with the development of their own organization. To date, they have delivered two assignments, one focusing on change management and another with a focus on innovation. Another head librarian feels that the studies provide a theoretical basis that she can recast into a tool for improving her daily work situation. She has written an assignment on sub-dividing the library into work zones, and this change has later been implemented. One student tells us that her assignments have been related to on-going or planned change processes in the library. Through her studies, she has had the opportunity to reflect on how the number of loans or visitors can be increased and how new user groups can be reached, at a time when cuts in the operational budget can be expected.

Part of a larger project

Hordaland County Library is engaged in the project A changing library landscape, which aims to ensure development, change and innovation in the public libraries in Hordaland county by way of partnerships, competence development, communication and cooperation tools and play/innovation. The project is supported by the National Library of Norway, and is targeting five regional cooperating library groups. Altogether 30 of the county’s 33 municipalities are involved.

In 2010, the county library undertook a mapping of skills and competence needs among the county’s library staff. The results from this project form the basis for the Strategy for competence development in public libraries and school libraries in Hordaland county 2011-2015. The strategy focuses on communication, marketing, computer skills and change management/innovation skills. These reflect the wishes that emerged in the mapping project, seen in the light of the need for restructuring in the library sector.

The road ahead

The students feel that the study programme responds to a need within the library sector to find new instruments and new directions, and that the fact that so many library employees in the county complete the programme will make a difference. They hope and believe that innovation and pioneering efforts will materialize in the libraries, that a high degree of tolerance of different initiatives will be established, and that their enthusiasm will spread to all the county’s libraries. “I believe this will result in forward-looking library employees who will be better equipped to face the challenges resulting from the changes within the sector,” says one student.

For the county library as a regional development actor, this competence boost will establish a shared theoretical basis and language in the public libraries. This could serve as a foundation for initiatives for projects and specific measures from the grass-roots level, for the benefit of all. This leads to awareness of and a culture for change, experimentation and playfulness. The county library will now announce the availability of project funds for small-scale changes and projects, so that the libraries will have the opportunity to implement their ideas and plans, and to take part in shaping the future of the public libraries.

Special Advisor Hordaland County Library