11 May 2013

How to succeed in library management : Strategic planning

Listen, I don't have much time. You mustn't show this to anyone, ok? You understand? This has to be kept between us. Promise?

OK. HSLM on Strategic planning.

It's very confidential. Ideally, for any library, There is No Plan.  Your employers, who would fall asleep if actually given a strategic plan to read; and your staff, to whom you are a remote, benign presence, will both assume that one exists and you are following it with effortless skill and expertise.

The reason for this confidentiality is so that no one gets in your way.  If there is a plan, and if it is made public, you will never hear the end of it. The Assistant Head of Rubber Stamps will stop you on your way to the hairdresser and drone on about “It says in para 4 section 6 iii that full consultation with stakeholders will take place at regular intervals”. I mean, you and I both know "stakeholders" means that nice focus group comprising Len, who is retiring in three months, Gladys (Bless Her) who's been in the canteen since Simon Schama was studying Paper 5, and Oli, the sly little boy in Ops. who is so ambitious he'll send back the email saying "Yay" with kisses on the bottom.  "Consultation" means you bung this group an email just before the Christmas break with some stuff about the outstanding success of your digital collection, how you've attracted thousands from a Russian oligarch with cultural pretentions, backed up with pages of statistics from Oli's fertile imagination which no one can decipher. (Frankly, if people can't understand it's how these things work, they deserve to be stuck with stamp pads.)

What's that?  Sssh, they'll hear us.  Oh, you have to write a plan?  Tsk.  Ok, there are two ways of doing this: the Enthusiastic and the Inert. 

1.  Give the task to a bunch of keen underlings. Say you want fresh views from a younger generation who are more in touch with the student population. They will feel very fluffy about having been asked, and will probably spend ages doing it all properly and getting the bullet points lined up. Even better, suggest different people write different sections, and better still, in different languages! (Latin is impressive). 

When it's published, no one will understand it but they won't want to criticise the kids. You accept it gratefully and tell your management team that the underlings did such a good job you don't require any input from them. Outrage will ensue. There is no way they are going to accept a report written by their junior staff!  So, with much regret, you have no choice but to ditch it.  Then you call in a couple of the underlings whom you know are the ringleaders.  You tell them they are over-qualified for their jobs and how sorry you are that you must let them go.

The consequences are: you are free to get on with your life, and your management team can return to their most important task, which is inter-departmental warfare.

2.  The second method is this.  You set up a sub-committee which contains at least two members who are never going to agree with each other and a third who will patiently question every sentence, line, comma and set of brackets. (It's so important to get things right, isn't it?). This group will quickly become becalmed in bureaucratic backwaters.  This leaves you reluctantly obliged to carry out measures such as revaluing library services and tightening up your staff's performance indicators or, as I prefer to call it, whetting the axe, without any need to justify your actions against an overall strategy.

When the plan is finally published, make sure the title is unambiguously vague; something along the lines of “Together for the future!” which suggests that until now everyone has been at each other's throats and incapable of understanding developments, while you are both Friendly! and Dynamic! And make sure the plan is worded so obtusely that you can claim anything from a minor leak in the basement to the Second Coming has been anticipated and the necessary measures are in place to deal with it.

But of course you can't leave it like this or Mr Rubber Stamps will have his inky fingers all over your door handle again.  Besides, you don't want to leave yourself accountable to anyone with real aspirations.

So, what next?  Hasn't it taken such a long time to prepare and publish the plan?  And things have moved on, so ...

You know, you really should feel very honoured that I am confiding in you. You won't tell a soul, will you?

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