Organizational Diagnostics for Lean Times

By Huwe, Terence K. | Computers in Libraries, June 2010 | Go to article overview

Organizational Diagnostics for Lean Times


Huwe, Terence K., Computers in Libraries


Those of us who have parents or grandparents who grew up during the Great Depression often have humorous stories to share about the "radical frugality" that the folks practiced then and sometimes continue to practice even to this day. One of my favorite stories came from my grandfather. He had a penchant for turning off the engine of his car and coasting to a stop at intersections. Going down hills, he would even try to build up speed, careening down an incline in order to coast up the other side, and then pop the clutch just at the moment power was needed. Somehow, I thought, there must be a better way. It took the advent of power steering and power brakes to force him to end this habit--much to my grandmother's relief.

Of course, Depression-era coping skills have been studied by economists, policymakers, and social scientists from many perspectives. And for information professionals, it's never hard to draw parallels between the coping skills that were born of privation in the past and what we face today, with razor-thin budgetary realities. Just as families struggled to preserve their dignity, often with great courage and charity, we also find that we must struggle to keep our service mission relevant, to secure funding for essential new services, and to keep service desks staffed. It's safe to say that for the past 40 years, one or more sectors of the library world (public, academic, corporate, and so on) have seen reduced budgets, reduced staff, and general retrenching.

Enter the magic of technology: We can do more with less, push our services farther, and recover lost ground with innovative and often free cloud computing services. Sure, it's great, but one tends to lose that starry-eyed feeling when toiling in the trenches. But it's a fact that Library 2.0 technologies emerged just in time to help many of us to innovate with less. As 2.0 solutions become the norm, it strikes me that technology alone does not encompass the full value point; it is our skill in diagnosing problems and applying appropriate solutions that makes the difference. Such solutions may or may not involve technology. I believe it is this mindset that changes the library from a research center into a "solution lab." And when we succeed in that transformation, we become viral agents for innovation.

In thinking about how to get by with what little we have to work with, I am going to focus on the diagnostic processes that we can put to work to extend ourselves within our organizations. Unsurprisingly, technology follows diagnosis as part of the cure, but it is how the service is provided that plays the most important role in building community and helping our patrons.

Diagnose Unmet Needs

Most workplace settings are home to diverse staff with a wide range of computing skills--as well as computing "blind spots." It's fairly common for folks to cling to a known style of work on a given task even if a technological solution is staring them in the eye. At the same time, IT managers don't always have time to sort out every new computing solution, being forced as they are to focus on security concerns or other "big" issues. What organizations need is an agent who can discover how to help staff work "smarter" and who is willing to take the initiative to do so.

Here are just a few examples of how productivity logjams can be solved without spending funds or acquiring new software. In each case, "diagnostics" preceded action, which in turn increased the value of the solution.

Automated conference registration. Not too long ago, staff members in a nearby community outreach program were running several concurrent registration processes for multiple events. This resulted in multiple spreadsheets being updated by different people. When payments were received, it became difficult to match them to the right event because a single organization (such as a local union office) might send the same people to several events. …

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