Embracing Change – an analogy

“You must be willing to Embrace Change.”

We hear this with such frequency now, and always coming from certain speakers in certain contexts, that it is probably few of us who really need it broken down for them. But I’m going to do it anyway, with an analogy. It’s a bad analogy in some ways, but still makes the point.

Let’s say you’re a young woman who’s living in a society that’s in transition from traditional to more modern ways, and you’ve reached an age where your parents really want you to get married. You would like to get married, yourself, but to your boyfriend, who is of the wrong religion, and frankly it’s not that urgent for you. Your parents forbid this marriage, and want to arrange one for you via family connections. They want it to be a marriage that serves their social interests, and unfortunately have your happiness a distant second, telling themselves that if it serves the family it will eventually make you happy as well (probably not true).

Do you see where I’m going with this?

One day your mother asks you to sit down, and tells you that the family has found your future husband, and his name is Change.

This is a double shock, first because you were not expecting this announcement, and second, because, coincidentally, Change is the name of your boyfriend, as well. Could it be, by some miracle, the same man?

Unfortunately it is not the same man. It’s just a coincidence that they are both called Change.

You want to embrace Change. In fact you embrace him frequently, and your parents don’t even know it.

Your parents want you to embrace Change, but it’s the wrong Change. They are very unhappy with you for protesting this engagement. “Don’t you want to move forward with your life?”, they say. “You can’t stay with us forever, you have to go out into the world,” they say.

They think you are clinging to childhood, ignoring the fact that you have already chosen a future that they do not accept, because it does not serve their interests in society. You want to start a life with Change, YOUR Change. Unfortunately, in your society at the moment, this would be extremely challenging to do. Not impossible, as the winds of change can be felt by everyone, but you know that you would suffer reprisals and that it would require difficult sacrifices, material sacrifices, to pursue your life with the Change of your choice.

It is ironic that your own parents accuse you of clinging to your past in refusing the Change that they want you to embrace, when it is they who are clinging to tradition (the self-serving tradition of arranged marriage).

What I am saying, of course, is that the change that Management wants is not usually the change that front-line staff want. Management would have it that front line staff are resisting change, when the issue is far, far more specific, and has everything to do with the question of where the power of decision will to reside. Will it reside with professional librarians who would like to see management in a supporting role that honors their professional judgment and capability? Or will it reside with managers who, despite their lack of knowledge of what goes on in the library or the professional work that makes it happen, would like to see librarians in more or less a paraprofessional role, with little say in how things are done, and little opportunity to exercise professional judgment in their work?

It is not about whether you embrace change, but about what change you embrace. “Embrace Change,” when we hear it most of the time, really means, “If you’re wise, you won’t complain.”

4 comments on “Embracing Change – an analogy

  1. You should have started out with your last paragraph.

    Basically if the pony you bet on in the “name of progress” turns out to be a complete dud, there’s a natural tendency to block it out of memory. This tendency is helped along by such things as staff turnover and the fact that other things come up.

    Then after a number of years, you look around and wonder why everything’s stuck in a rut.

    The problem wasn’t resistance to new ideas. Rather it was the lack of resistance to bad ones.

    You can read my brilliant analysis here…

  2. Thanks for the post; As a new cataloger looking down the road at what promises to be the train wreck of RDA versus the time-tested AACR2r2, I have a feeling I’ll be hearing this a lot from my director over the next couple of years. I also don’t have the experiential clout to say “…but RDA is a clusterf*ck!”
    (Michael Gorman does, but the mere mention of his name elicits dismissive snorts of derision from ALA-LITA and SLA members)

    No, it will be “The powers on High (LC) have decreed it thus, now make it so in our OPAC”

    I deeply and implicitly trust what Thomas Mann and Michael Gorman have been writing and saying about the values and virtues of traditional library cataloging, but I have a sick feeling in my gut that come 2009, my library will be assimilated by the proverbial “Borg” of RDA, too.

    Maybe the best plan is to learn as much of traditional cataloging as I can *right now*, do my best to absorb Lubetzky’s principles, etc, then plan to transition over to Reference work after I bear witness to the RDA implementation when it comes.

    I may, psychologically, be better suited to Reference work in the long run, but I just feel strongly about how important good cataloging is, and want to use this job to learn it as well as I can, more in depth than what I was able to cover in library school…if only to be able to keep traditional cataloging alive as a body of knowledge for one more generation, potentially boneheaded managerial missteps notwithstanding.

    But the upheaval going on in cataloging is more than an inept management issue (though at LC it is that too); it’s also more of a kind of mass delusion, folks abandoning good sense…even fellow classmates with whom I took the Info Organization theory core class in Library school; people I can say to “you remember SLIS 5200–what works better, controlled vocab or uncontrolled/free text?”, but their response is now “yeah, but with Google…”

    I just don’t get it. It’s like watching a train wreck unfold in slow motion, and being utterly powerless to do anything about it.

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  4. This analogy applies to so much of our world. In another sphere: we talk so much about the idea of Change during the presidential primaries, but everyone has their own ideas of what that means. Change can be going back to our 1900s class-system or it can be promoting equality. We don’t resist change. We resist other people’s change.

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