Stories from the Trenches

I could tell many stories about the difficulties of profound technological
change among the professional group I know. For now, I’ll tell two.

 

The first story is very short. At a national conference of library science in
the early 1990′s the organizing committee had run many sessions about the nature
of changing technology: what we could possibly expect from it and how to cope
with it. I came upon two of my colleagues who had just come from a session run
by an expert in change management. This was not, apparently, a rah-rah session
about how change is good. It was, instead, a sensitive assessment of how the
current professional changes were challenging and that we should recognize that
change is difficult. My colleagues’ reactions were that the session was ´ickyª.
That the whole idea was horrible and that, in fact, the entire conference was
an unpleasant waste of time.

 

My second story is about another of my colleagues. I worked in a law library.
Law librarians thrive on legal material (stautes and judgements) that are timely,
complete, and delivered in a flexible manner. One day, around 1995, I discovered
that the judgements of the Supreme Court of Canada were available free on the
web. I reported this to my colleague thinking that she would be pleased with
this new tool available to her. Instead she said that she wouldn’t be using
them as they were full of mistakes and could not be trusted. I was disappointed.
I asked where she had heard about this new site and who had found the mistakes.
She replied that she had not heard about this site but that she had heard about
these same Supreme Court judgements on another site (that of a commercial legal
publisher) and that it had been reported to her that mistakes were found there.
I was flabbergasted. I greatly respected this colleague. She was a senior law
libararian who had taught me a great deal about the trade. I was astonished
that she would write off an entire medium because of an error that had occurred
at one time on one site. We both well knew that printed law reports were not
perfect and that, on occasion, publishers would have to send out Errata to their
subscribers to paste into a bound volume that contained errors. My colleague
had certainly not written-off all printed law reports because of these errors.

 

It was then that I started to realize the depth of resistance to change that
one could find even with intelligent, competent professionals. I am certainly
not a change manager but I began to see the power of the threat that the new
tools brought by technological change would bring to people who had not invited
this change.

 

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