I’ve been thinking about the phrase organizational imprinting a lot. The idea goes that organizations are formed around the economic, political, social, and technological realities of their time and that it is challenging to move on from the starting premise. It’s another way of saying “but we’ve always done it this way.”
This imprinting concept appears frequently in the retail literature: “the lens through which an organization views the world can be so badly obscured by its founding context that the organization becomes unable to change.”
Doug Stephens (consumer futurist) offers these examples:
- Best Buy, founded in a world without the Internet, struggles today to find relevance now that online retail is ubiquitous and product selection has been redefined.
- Blockbuster video was born during a time without streaming digital content, and became victim of web-based Netflix.
- Research in Motion (Blackberry) – at one time the world’s most successful maker of smartphones, continued to see the market as it was in 2003.
So what about us?
This isn’t a doom-and-gloom, end-of-libraries rant. Just the opposite — I think we are on the cusp of a library renaissance. I find myself talking with my division about shifting our perspective from being a service enterprise to becoming active partners in learning practices. It’s not just about providing something for someone but enabling continued progress.
I am also trying to shift us away from using the word commons (as in learning commons) and instead want to encourage the word community (as in learning communities.) This will be the subject of a blog post later this summer, but basically, I want my group to shift from place-based conversations and to move more toward an action-oriented mission. What are people trying accomplish? Measuring ourselves against desired outcomes.
I also find myself talking a lot more about empowering people (Tennant, CLIR, Rundle) rather than aiming to satisfy their needs. How are we transforming the ways that learning happens on our campus? How are we catalysts?
Not just us
With organizational imprinting—not only do we, library employees, have our own fixed mindsets about what we do, but library users do as well. I think the library profession (myself included) focuses too much on satisfaction — which is based on judgment of past expectations and not necessarily current practices. Or another way to frame this: people might be very dissatisfied with the library because their opinion is based on things that we no longer do.
What a library was is imprinted in their memories and therefore whatever it becomes (based on new economic, political, social, and technological realities) might not align with past experiences.” Or: if I still live in a VHS world, Netflix isn’t what I need and I would rate them very poorly in terms of satisfying my needs.
As you can see I’m very scattered right now. I’m working on a paper that I hope to push out in early September. Whenever I get deep into reading all of this abstract stuff bubbles forth.