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Okanagan Regional Library - A P&A Discussion Paper - Approach to Solution

Excerpt from a proposal submitted to the Okanagan Regional Library Board and Executive Management.

October 1994

Copyright 1994, all right reserved by P&A Management.

No part of this paper or publication may be reproduced or in any other form stored in a data base or retrieval system or used in any form without prior written permission of P&A Management.


The purpose of this discussion letter.

The Okanagan Regional Library must be reorganized to meet the changes in the economy and the community and it is the Board and management’s obligation to implement that reorganization. Amidst economic pressure and public debate the Okanagan Regional Library must find a path to reorganization that addresses these changes. Currently the board and the management lack the long term plan necessary for reorganization.

This letter discusses some of the strategic issues facing the library and proposes that an initial analysis be implemented with the purpose of identifying all strategic issues and formulating an approach to solution for the boards approval. It is important to emphasize that it does not offer a final solution. The initial analysis would form a platform based on the reality in the economy and community which could be used to guide a reorganization.

 

In 1603, while searching for a new approach to science, Francis Bacon stated: knowledge is power, nevertheless, non disputare, sed experie -- it is not enough to argue and discuss; acceptance of new ideas and thinking requires practical experience. Bacon stated, that if we shall be able to move forward we must liberate ourselves from dogma and prejudice - ‘idola tribus’. The bias that is created and dependent upon where we exist in our environment. As an analogy he described the prisoner trapped in Plato’s cave who could only see a distortion of reality - ‘idola spectus’. The bias created by the use of wrong words and wrong information that leads to misunderstanding - ‘idola fori’. And the bias created by scholasticism and the uncritical acceptance of traditional doctrines that are no longer viable - ‘idola theatri.’

 

Our society is faced with an intrusive ‘paradigm shift’ where little from the past can be applied to the future. Because of the changes occurring in our society there is no longer readily evident solutions or models that may be copied.

 

The Background to this discussion letter.

The Library’s role.

Economic development and progress can only be achieved by combining the four resources: natural resources, human resources, capital, and knowledge. Knowledge differs from all other resources in that it is not automatically carried over from one generation to the next, but must be learned over and over again.

At the beginning of the fifteenth century there were only a few thousand books available in Europe. Knowledge and information were controlled by the church, the educated communicated in Latin, and manually transcribed books were not accessible to ordinary people. Luther once complained that a book cost the same as a horse!

The invention of the printing press together with public libraries provided broad public access to knowledge and information. By the end of the fifteenth century fifty million books were in circulation. By comparison, that is equivalent to the development of computer technology and the spread of personal computers since world war II. The ensuing outgrowth of information exchange and education fueled the Age of Enlightenment and laid the foundation for socioeconomic progress, freedom, and democracy. It also provided the foundation for modern deductive reasoning; producing new thinking and pioneers such as Francis Bacon, Newton, Voltaire, and Einstein.

We are now approaching the new Age of Enlightenment. Semiconductor and computer technology is having the same irreverent impact in our time as printing technology had in the fifteenth century - yet much more rapidly. We are now facing the end of the postwar consumption driven economy and the emergence of a knowledge and information driven economy catalyzed by the new communication technology. Knowledge and information provide power and more than ever will be the key to economic development and the ability to secure our quality of life.

 

Does the library have a future, or will the library simply fade away ?

Many argue that Computer Hyper Media, electronic multi-media publishing, and electronic books and information will replace the Library. That from computers at home, the office, or anywhere with access to phone lines and satellites, we will be able to retrieve, locate, access and down load any book, magazine, newspaper or other information source; viewing it from RAM, read only screens, or our own TV. That the board and management won’t have to adapt the library to new conditions - the library will simply fade away without opposition.

Others will argue that the library’s role to provide and guarantee public access to knowledge and information, is more important than ever. That we cannot repeat the experience of the fourteenth century when the church and the upper class monopolized knowledge and information; suppressing new ideas, democracy, and progress. That those who control databases and information, will have the same ability to suppress those who don’t have the required skills, the access to computers, or the money to afford either the computer or the cost of access to information. That the public library is the only organization which can guarantee public access to knowledge and information.

Advances in printing technology changed the way we exchanged ideas and knowledge from plain rhetoric to books and discussion papers - promoting people’s thirst for knowledge and creating the demand for public libraries. Literature forever changed and civilized the world. Microchips and computer technology will continue the process of exposing new ideas and information, and will change how knowledge is distributed. The public library can be a part of that process. To do so, the library and its relationship with the community must be adapted to the new reality in the economy.

It is also important to remember that, while computer software increasingly will be able to simulate human thinking, that does not mean the computer can simulate human intelligence. Perhaps in the future we will need the library as an sanctuary for human intelligence not influenced by simulated computer thinking.

This discussion letter does not take side in the debate. It merely addresses the need to adapt the library to new conditions. P&A’s position is that the public library could have an important role to play in the future. However the library’s future depends on the library’s eagerness to be proactive - giving the library a new vision and direction and adapting the library operations to the demand in the community and the communities willingness to support that change.

 

Reactive and Proactive Development.

Reactive development would be the result of the library reacting to opinion and adapting its operation to those opinions whether right or wrong. To secure the libraries future will require proactive development which can only be achieved by identifying the actual demand in the community and implementing the services that the community needs for its future.

 

The overall strategic issues..

The Okanagan Regional Library is an example of a postwar organization that must be adapted to new conditions in the economy and marketplace. The Canadian community is facing the shift from the consumption driven postwar and coldwar economy to a knowledge driven economy. Many of our private and government organizations that served us well in the past will become obsolete; in many cases contradicting their own purpose.

Canada has been rich with natural resources and a large "domestic" (Canada-US) marketplace. During the fifties, sixties, and seventies the natural resource, manufacturing, and military sectors were able to fuel consumption, the tax base, and government programs through low-education-requirement, well-paid jobs. Canadian and US industry had virtually no competition at home - jobs, growth, prosperity and an increasing tax base were taken for granted. Industry and business could comfortably focus on production, marketing to, and expanding, the home market; leaving no urgent need for strategic analysis and planning or for emphasis on export.

In the early seventies as global competition increased and environmental problems constrained activities, the Canadian and US resource and manufacturing sectors could no longer fuel the economy. The "growth equals prosperity" model could no longer generate and distribute broad wealth, resulting in the postwar recession of the early eighties. However, instead of recognizing and meeting the increased competition and changes in the global marketplace, the Canadian and US governments compensated for the decay in the industrial sector with monetary measures - stimulating the economy with government deficit and borrowing. That masked the decay in the job and wealth-creating and export oriented sectors, discouraged research and industrial investment, while encouraging investment in the non-export oriented, low-tech service sectors. The result is a current account deficit. In Canada, since 1981, we have been paying out more than we take home - forced to borrow abroad to cover the deficit. The most negative effect of the eighties artificial "flip economy" is that it prevented necessary structural changes and preserved outdated systems in both the private and government sectors. Furthermore the policy created the most bizarre and fictitious financial balloon in history.

Every party has an end. During the nineties we are experiencing the terminal stage of the post and cold-war economy. We are facing the shift from a consumption to an education and research driven economy and marketplace, characterized by more rapidly changing conditions than ever.. During the nineties we are experiencing the terminal stage of the post and cold-war economy. We are facing the shift from a consumption to an education and research driven economy and marketplace, characterized by more rapidly changing conditions than ever.

It will be difficult for any business, government institution, or non-profit organization, to proceed through the nineties without a strategic analysis and planning process. To do so is comparable to an aircraft taking off in bad weather, without flight planning, no map, and no weather information. As a proper flight plan can never completely eliminate all risk in flying, strategic analysis and planning cannot completely eliminate risk and failure. However, it can greatly reduce it.

Virtually every interest group, individual, and segment of our community is faced with changes in their socioeconomic environment and lifestyle which will alter the way they socialize, coexist and do business. These changes are continuing to evolve the needs and demands that they will place on the library.

One such group that should be given particular consideration is the business community.

 

The Library as a Business Information Resource Center.

The lack of strategic business planning is the major reason for all business failure and ultimately the loss of jobs in the community. While business plans are often eloquently written, market analysis and information shortages may make the plan no more than "wishful thinking." The absence of this information not only jeopardizes the business but is also a problem for investors, the banks, and other lenders. As the economy and marketplace are changing more rapidly the problem of information shortages in business is a growing problem. At P&A we estimate that more than eighty-five percent of all business plans lack sufficient economic and market information and knowledge to secure and develop the organization. Many business plans should have been canceled at the initial analysis stage because the product or service simply lacks realistic market opportunities. It is easy to tell business people that market information is readily available and is crucial for them to determine the market potential for the development of new businesses, products, services and new markets. In the real world it is not that simple. The reality is that the majority of business will need assistance to find the data and information they need to draft realistic business plans and to guide and develop the business.

Affordable access to local market information will be crucial for business, and job and wealth creation in the local economy. The Okanagan Library with its twenty one local branches is well positioned to provide basic economic and market research information services to Okanagan businesses and is one of the few truly regional organizations in the area.

P&A suggests that the possibility of establishing a business and information center in the library organization should be investigated as a part of an initial analysis of the library’s overall position.

 

Strategic Analysis, Planning, and Control.

To secure the library under control within a sound financial framework the board will require an unbiased analysis of the organization’s position internally and in the community across all disciplines; finance, management and board organization, system development, promotion, human resources, etc.

 

Kelowna October 1994

P&A Management

 

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