I spend a lot of time visiting different libraries, and I’ll never cease to be amazed by just how different they can be from one another. I’m not even talking about museum libraries differing form college libraries and publics. I’m not thinking about libraries from far flung regions of the globe or anything as extreme as that. Even libraries that are outwardly similar in mission, service population, and financial support can be vastly different when it comes to the internal operations of the institutions themselves.
As I celebrate this week my seventh anniversary working with 54 geographically close public libraries, I think of how often it comes as a shock to library staff when I mention to them the vast differences between workflows, policies and culture that exist between them and their neighbor libraries.
“They do WHAT????”
But it’s a huge learning experience to observe what similar institutions are doing differently. Some of the most productive user meetings I’ve run with our consortium members have been ones where they just discuss what they do in their libraries to solve particular problems that arise for all of them. It’s amazing to see the breadth of responses that can come from addressing something like the problem of getting parents to sign their children in when they come to a program or making sure all of the pages know how to shelve the travel books.
With this all in mind, I wonder if it wouldn’t be fun (and really eye opening) to put together some kind of “Exchange Student” program for library staff. If it’s an area like mine where a number of libraries are in close proximity, and may already have good relationships with one another, I can’t think that it would be too hard to organize.
I suppose I’d try to get a number of libraries to agree to participate, and then volunteers from within the participating libraries. Each participant would be matched with an employee from another participating library based on job similarities and scheduling. The pairs could then be scheduled to switch places for a day during a regional “Staff Exchange” week. Each participant would have to work in their’ counterpart’s department (under the supervision of a designated person in the host library), doing as much as they can of the other person’s job. At the end of the week, it might be nice to wrap things up with a get together of all participants to discuss their observations and things they’ve learned.
This is just a rough draft… Any other ideas? Elements for planning this and really making it work? Stuff that you think might make this idea fall flat on its face? I might just try it, so give me some input.
I don’t know why something like this couldn’t be done within institutions as well, maybe swapping staff between departments in a university setting, or within large libraries…