New Mexico State Library

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Tales of Migration, Part 7
In Which We Secure Necessary Approvals

This is the seventh in a series covering the library system migration of the Bartlett Library at the Museum of International Folk Art.

The story so far: The library needs a new library system, and has selected Koha open source software hosted and maintained by ByWater Solutions as its preferred solution. We’ve found a partner in the Laboratory of Anthropology Library nearby, learned that we can save money by working together, and created a draft agreement between the two libraries. We have a firm quote from the vendor and can’t wait to get started.

But we do wait, because we live in the real world, and here in the real world various people must agree with our decisions before we can carry them out. So here we look at some strategies to explain your decision making process and the wisdom of your choice to anyone whose approval you need or want to win.

Know your audience.

Chances are you will have to present the decision to several audiences for approval. Here, I needed to win the approval of museum leadership, the information technology staff, and the board of the foundation that would release the funds for the project. I also wanted the approval of museum staff members who use the library and the library volunteers without whom I would be toast. Each of these groups has a different level of knowledge and interest about the technical aspects (both computer system and library) of the move, and a different set of concerns about the services the library will be able to offer after the migration is complete.

Identify your groups of stakeholders. If possible, present the decision to each group separately.

Think carefully about what matters most to each group. Patrons want to know they will be able to search better, access the catalog online from anywhere, and keep personal lists of books that interest them. Paid and volunteer library staff members want to know how their jobs will change and how hard it will be to make the switch. Funders want to know their money is being spent wisely. IT-oriented people want to know data will be handled properly and that the new system will be compatible with the computer resources of the organization. Patrons don’t care if the spine labels will be easy to print. IT doesn’t care how holds will work.

Know who cares about what. With each group concentrate on the things that matter to them, not the things that most excite you.

Make sure your presentation is easy for each group to understand. Funders may not know what ILL stands for, or OPAC. They’re more likely to care about ROI, which your library staff may not recognize as return on investment.

Also, think about the individuals involved. If there’s a key person whose decision could sway a whole group, you might want to speak informally to that person first. Have handouts for the people who will need them. You know most of this already – the general idea is to make it easy for the stakeholders to understand why you are making your recommendation, and make it easy for them to agree.

Finally, two warnings, included in part as reminders to myself (because I get very attached to my decisions and sometimes work so hard to win approval that I can lose the broader focus I should have).

First, don’t be too attached to your decision. Sometimes our stakeholders, who are specialists in other areas than we are, will uncover legitimate concerns that need to be addressed, legitimate reasons why our recommendations need revision. I am grateful for their expertise, and for every time they prevent me from tripping over the edge of a cliff I didn’t notice was there.

Second, while you are trying to win your approvals it’s tempting to promise everything you hope the new system may someday accomplish. It’s hard to remember at this stage that although you are still trying to win approval, you need to begin, right now, to manage expectations. For me, one example goes something like this. “Our new system will allow much more powerful searches. People using the new catalog will someday be able to search the library and archive resources from one place, and to search across many keyword fields at once. With the old software we would never be able to offer that.” That’s the winning-approval section. “But it won’t happen right away. To make the most of the new system we will need to clean up some old data that’s messy because it’s coming from our old system. We also need to add records for all our archive material. This data cleanup is likely to take at least three years after the migration to the new system is complete.” And that’s starting to manage expectations.

We’ve won all the necessary approvals from stakeholders in both partner libraries, so it’s time to start drafting contracts.

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