On Continuity

Toby Greenwalt —  July 3, 2013 — 1 Comment

If you attended ALA, there’s a good chance you visited “The Bean” right in the middle of Millennium Park. If you haven’t seen it, Anish Kapoor’s sculpture Cloud Gate resembles nothing less a drop of mercury deposited right in the middle of the city skyline.

But even this apparently seamless piece took some work to get where it is today. I moved to Chicago shortly after the park opened in summer 2004. At that point, the sculpture looked like this:

Photo credit: swimfinfan, http://www.flickr.com/photos/swimfinfan/6110586883/

Photo credit: Mary Beeze, via Flickr

OK, I know what you’re thinking: cool story, yes, nice context for the Bean, yes, but what on earth does this have to do with library leadership?

Here goes: The Bean wasn’t the Bean until it became one smooth piece of metal. It’s up to us to buff out the seams in our own organizations.

For all the talk about the library as one organization, we seem to exist more as a collection of discrete services. Youth and adult librarians rarely cross paths, making it tough for patrons who fall in the middle of this demilitarized zone. Circulation staff – often the most regular point of contact for many patrons – are often the last to be alerted to new policies or services. And those of us who do a lot of library work online are still in a state of détente with those “traditional” librarians. In order to lead the way forward, we need to smooth out these distinctions, and strengthen the relationship between departments.

In some cases, it might be a matter of raising awareness of cross-departmental programming – a “library awesomeness advisory,” if you will. in other cases, it’s going to require staff from all departments working together to identify ways in which our organizations can better present an organic experience. Whatever the method, thinking more holistically about library service can help to enhance the overall patron experience, and help to eliminate the drop-offs in usage that occur when someone transitions from one age group to another.

Is all this going to happen overnight? Of course not. After the opening of the park in 2004, it took an additional year for workers to polish out the seams, and almost another year before the piece was “officially” unveiled to the public. Rebuilding under this more connected approach is going to take a similar amount of time and struggle.

Perhaps it’s time we think about how our services can link with one another. As you decompress from your conference experience, talk to your coworkers and colleagues about what they learned. Make a point to catch up with people from other departments. Let’s start thinking about how we can smooth out our gaps.

Toby Greenwalt


Toby Greenwalt is the Virtual Services Coordinator at Skokie Public Library. He's obsessed with making the online world more human.

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  1. Favorites of 2013 | Library Lost & Found - December 31, 2013

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