Stretching Boundaries, Crossing Thresholds


Today I needed a metaphor to suit my photograph.  It’s the immersive artwork Flight Paths by Steve Waldeck installed at Atlanta’s airport, constructed of thousands of laser cut “leaves” and incorporating sounds and images of birds. The artwork makes walking the terminals a memorable experience.  

I was returning from the Designing Libraries conference and considering how the recent move to Charles, this very different physical space, impels us to think differently about our work and the organization. How do buildings shape our organization? How will Charles stretch us? 

The session on Using Innovative Ideas and Team Building to Drive Organizational Change addressed these questions. Mary Ann Mavrinac (University of Rochester) talked about how collaboration drives organizational change.  She compared organizational structures to rubber bands – we can stretch them, but they will tend to go back to hierarchy as a default. So we must continue to stretch and build teams for collaboration.  

Charles is stretching our organizational muscles in more than the exercise we get on the stairs. The more open spaces, for both public and for staff, test the “territorial” boundaries that our administrative structures can create.  Here are some examples, 

Just before DL, I facilitated a series of  workplace “norms” conversations with staff from work areas at Charles. This process was not about setting new policies. It was about talking together, in groups that mixed departments to surface what an ideal work environment was like and what challenges that ideal. We generated ideas for enhancing the positives in our work environments, from setting aside space for sharing food, to a desire for space that was not so silent as to feel monastic. 

So the move to Charles provided an opportunity to engage us in a process that is:  

  • Non-hierarchical
  • Participatory
  • Where all have equal voice and
  • Department agnostic

But the norms process also brings to light the different ways in which we conduct our work with colleagues and patrons. Limited resources for space requires us to work together in resolving conflicts and coming up with creative solutions. 

The openness of the building is forcing issues as well. Many of our services and special spaces, like the Loretta Duckworth Scholars Studio,  are more visible.   As students are actively looking for seats and computer workstations, this accessibility needs to be balanced with use policies that meet their needs. These needs may require more “permeable” boundaries for usage. 

The One Stop Assistance desk and consultation spaces nearby necessitate a rethinking of boundaries as well.  In a small space, we are providing IT services, reference services, access consultations and circulation, as well as managing a busy self-service holds shelf. We process guest computing applications, handle media equipment and train faculty in course reserves. To provide these services seamlessly we must cultivate more permeable boundaries between departments, allowing us to share information, decision-making and resources in new ways. 

At last year’s Designing Libraries conference, Greg Rasche (North Carolina State) claimed that new buildings provide us with once in a lifetime opportunities. He said,  

Hunt was a meteorite opportunity. If you miss it, it will set you back. If you overdo it, you can always scale back, but if you miss that opportunity for change, you’ll never get there. Use failures and successes as a way of evolving your organization.

Our local experience brings this advice home,  as we learn how changes of services and space can propel organizational growth.  Let’s not be afraid to fail, and learn, as we cross those thresholds into new territory. 

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