Radical Librarianship: A Call for Employee Empowerment

An article appeared in Information Today on May 9, 2017 entitled “Radical Librarianship: Join the Movement” available at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/NewsBreaks/Radical-Librarianship-Join-the-Movement-118082.asp

The article describes radical librarianship as librarianship geared toward promoting social change and provides examples of radical movements and the involvement of libraries and librarians in them.

The article goes on to provide an example of “a radical approach” to librarianship which can be applied to all libraries all the time and not just in conjunction with major social change events or projects. At the heart of this radical approach is employee empowerment. The article’s author M’Lissa Story uses the example of Joseph Sanchez at the Mesa County Libraries in Colorado to illustrate this radical approach which involves a flattened hierarchy and an environment in which library staff are encouraged to experiment with new ideas and projects.

This emphasis on employee empowerment is not isolated to the world of librarianship. Empowerment has been encouraged in organizations for at least the past two decades. It is also a core recommendation in Ret. U.S. Army General McChrystal’s 2015 book “Team of Teams: New rules of engagement for a complex world” (Portfolio/Penguin).

The authors of this book, McChrystal, Collins, Silverman and Fussell, emphasize the importance of decentralizing decision making as a means of coping with complex environments. They argued that not only does increased empowerment increase employee investment in outcomes, but it improves the quality of decisions being made:

An individual who makes a decision becomes more invested in its outcome. Another factor was that, for all our technology, our leadership simply did not understand what was happening on the group as thoroughly as the people who were there. (McChrystal, Colllins, Silverman & Fussell, 2015, p. 215)

In order to foster employee empowerment and ensure that the increased power and responsibilities that go along with it are used appropriately, the authors emphasized ensuring that all employees have a strong understanding of the team’s situation and mission:

Team members tackling complex environments must all grasp the team’s situation and overarching purpose. One if each of them understands the goal of a mission and the strategic context in which it fits can the team members evaluate risks on the fly and know how to behave in relation to their teammates. (McChrystal, Colllins, Silverman & Fussell, 2015, p. 99)

These lessons are just as applicable to libraries as to armies. Library workers are engaged with communities that are rapidly changing and evolving. Front line staff who are aware of their organization’s mission, values, resources, and the capabilities, capacities, and functions of the other teams within their library and other libraries within a multi-branch system may come up with some truly impactful or even radical ideas and programs that can transform not only libraries but the communities that they serve.

Featured image by ccPixs.com

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