At times I’ve been called a agent for change.  At others an agent of chaos.  Either is fine by me, they’re both fairly accurate descriptions.  I’ve always been one for fighting against the entropic forces of nature, a system may tend towards a steady state of order – but to me that’s the same as saying grey, bland, formless, moribund.  I got thinking about change and risk yesterday as the result of an email I’d received.

I’m booked on a managing change course in a few weeks, which was of interest to me naturally.  Being an agent of change and actually beingable to bring about effective change are two entirely different things – I can use all the weaponryI can lay my hands on!  Part of the course involved completing a pre-workshop assessment form lookingat our our skills relating to change, along with our circumstances and, most importantly for the purposes of this post, the barriers that come between us and success city.

One of these was risk.

Not risk in itself, and certainly not a personal fear of taking risks.  My life has been filled with risk taking – from crossingthe road at Regents Park, to taking a jump into the unknown waters of careerbreak, part-time work and moving from institution to institution.  I’ve never been the one for the easy life, staying in one place or job for the security it offers, risk brings with it problems but also rewards.  My career for one is far more varied, and whilst I might never climb to the lofty heights of senior management (and perhaps I shouldn’t aspire too) I’m a richer person and professional for it.

But why was risk so much in my mind alongside managing change?  It’s a cultural thing.  You see the majority of information workers and librarians are risk averse.  This can be a useful trait in moderation.  Avoidance of risk ensures maintenance of services.  But when risk aversion becomes an overriding cultural norm you reach a point of stagnation.  Stagnation and fear.  A fear in many cases of even trying new things – for if the new way or approach fails, this will always have consequences for the service and its personnel. 

But without risk we cannot learn.  We cannot learn what does work, but crucially we cannot learn what will NOT work.  Far too often service development decisions and strategies are predicated on assumptions, on maintaining the staytus quo and ensuring that any element of risk is minimised or preferably developed.

But where would we be without risk?  Without innovation that is for sure. 

And there are levels of risk – I’m certainly not advocating for example taking the risky step of throwing out all your books and going e-only (well not yet at least).  But risk, like change, can come in small manageable steps.  But the first of these steps will be into the unknown – and you won’t be coming back unchanged, unaltered or undeveloped.

To fear risk is to fear change is to fear development  is to embrace stasis.  And libraries today have far too many external risks and challenges bearing down on them to continue to embrace a moribund future. 

They need to develop.  They need to change. 

They need to embrace the risk.


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