For the last six years Thunder Bay Public Library (TBPL) has been on a journey of transformation from a Traditional library to a Community Led library. In October 2012 TBPL was a Traditional library with a traditional strategy, structures, systems and organizational culture. Since that time TBPL has undergone a Fundamental Library Review which started with a new Strategic Plan 2014 – 2018 with five key Strategic Directions: lifelong learning, economic development, social inclusion and diversity, innovation and change, and community well being and personal growth. This strategy formed the Base of TBPL – the means and forces of production which shaped and determined the relations of production, the Structures and Systems. This Base, in turn, shaped and determined the Superstructure – the organizational culture, the way we do things around here. This process is full explained by John Pateman and Joe Pateman in Managing Cultural Change in Public Libraries: Marx, Maslow and Management (Routledge, 2018).
This process was followed at TBPL with the Strategic Plan driving changes to the staff and service structures. TBPL underwent a complete staff restructuring in 2016 with all staff receiving new position titles, job descriptions, tasks and responsibilities, geared to delivering the new Strategic Directions. The aim was to devolve more power to front line workers and free them from the constraints of departmental silos to get involved with any aspect of library work. The Strategic Plan also drove changes to the Systems at TBPL with the introduction of RFID self check technology. The aim was not to reduce staff but to liberate them from low value transactional tasks and enable them to engage with the community both inside and outside the library. These changes to strategy, structures and systems will, in time, lead to changes in the organizational culture, which will enable TBPL to become a Community Led library.
The next stage of the journey will be to transform TBPL from a Community Led library to a Needs Based library, which is the highest stage of public library development. The starting point will be, once again, the Strategic Plan. This plan has been developed from the ground up with major stakeholders taking part in Community Conversations that have identified their aspirations and concerns for Thunder Bay. The major emerging themes include racism, inclusive and diverse community and leadership. These themes will be reflected in the next Strategic Plan 2019 – 2023. And this plan, in turn, will drive changes to the structures, systems and organizational culture. For example, some new positions will be created – such as Community Hub Technician (Indigenous Relations) and Community Hub Librarian (Indigenous Relations) – which will focus on racism and decolonization.
Changing the organizational culture of an institution that has been around, almost unchanged in its fundamental ways of working, for over 100 years is not easy. But it is necessary if the public library is to remain relevant to the needs of the community it serves. These needs are constantly changing and TBPL must be flexible and nimble in its response to those needs. Our aim is to create a library service which is able to take from each according to their ability, and give to each according to their needs.
John Pateman — – www.tbpl.ca. If you have a comment about today’s column, we would love to hear from you. Please comment below!