My views on the Arts Council England “The library of the future” report

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Dudley Library, West Midlands

I was very heartened when I started reading the ‘Library of the Future’ report that the consultation has shown that the Arts Council England (ACE) understand the importance of libraries in that:

They are much loved and expected to continue offering the same services as they have for many years, but they are also expected to respond to big changes in how people live their lives.

Alan Davey, Chief Executive, Arts Council England.

The four priorities to sustain and develop a 21st century library service are not ones that anyone with a passion for libraries would argue with:

  1. Place the library as the hub of a community
  2. Make the most of digital technology and creative media
  3. Ensure that libraries are resilient and sustainable
  4. Deliver the right skills for those who work for libraries.

My concern is that, at the start of the 21st Century, the excellent library services  in the country are already doing most of this (including Dudley which I managed until march 2013)- so what do they have to aspire to? They can continue to improve and develop as they have in the past, but they will be developing their own challenges.

The challenges listed in the report under each of these headline priorities take things a little further – although again a lot of this is already happening.

The challenge with the biggest change from the current situation is in the development of some of the digital and virtual offers in libraries. These are the areas which could be part of a national virtual library service as there are major economies of scale. Although this is referred to in passing there is little information about how this will be achieved. With the current budget situation and the fact that a harder future is anticipated there will not be many library services who will have the resources to develop the resources if they do not work together effectively. Maybe that is a role for the Society of Chief Librarians to take up – developing digital and virtual national offers for individual library services to buy into?

I am concerned about the promotion of a document previously published by ACE on Community Libraries being referred to in the section on making libraries resilient and sustainable. This earlier document describes libraries at very early stages of developing community led models and so it is not  proved that they are sustainable yet. In addition, ACE need to be aware that good quality professional libraries need professional librarians to manage them working with communities, not just strong communities. The way this is section is laid out does not make this as clear as I would have expected it to be as I know this was raised as part of the consultation which has informed this report.

I know that this report is a mark in the sand for ACE as part of their managing their role in relation to libraries. In some ways the report is not the major issue as it does clearly state why libraries are important. What is more important is what happens now as budgets tighten and decisions are made which will influence the effectiveness  of library services for the rest of this century. Many library services need clear leadership and support to develop effective plans for the future, not just an active debate.

There are a lot of good statements about libraries and their importance – so I will watch with interest to see what is done with them in the future.

I hope that I, through my consultancy and mentoring, will be able to support and work with colleagues in keeping the good quality and professional library services in the coming years by developing innovative, sustainable solutions.

How have I started to develop my new businesses?

MP900390083As I was developing new businesses from a standing start I knew that I would be very lucky to get good, or even any, financial returns from the start. It was important, therefore, for me to measure what I was doing for my businesses each day so that I knew that I was moving them forward while developing a regular income stream.

This is a very different way of planning to the planning that I used to do in a local authority. There I would have plans with clear outcomes and which were SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed. I have planned my outcomes for my new businesses, but the timing of them is difficult when I am still establishing myself, and how do I know if they are realistic? I have managed this by giving myself activity goals for every day – as I can measure the achievement of these which will help me to get a momentum going.mIt will also help me to review my successes by tracking them back to these activities to help improve my planning in the future. For example how many contacts did I have to make before I got a meeting, how many meetings before I got business? It is helping me to cope with the process as I am developing an understanding of how many ‘no’s’ or none responses I need to go through to get a ‘yes’.

How do I know what outcomes I should set myself?

I have talked to others who have gone through the same process and they have given me an idea of which activities I need to do, and for how long, before I start to see the desired outcomes that I want from my businesses. I have talked to as many people as I can as each person will have had a different experience, and mine will be different again. I am getting ideas that I will adapt and develop to suit me, although the information about how long it can take for business to develop has helped me to manage my expectations. Their experience is only an indicator about what could happen not an exact road map for my businesses.

The processes I have heard about so far are:

  • I need to develop a presence in the areas where people looking for my kind of businesses congregate – either online or face to face,
  • the number of calls I need to make to prospects, or contacts with prospective commissioners before I am successful
  • the type of information I need to have prepared when a prospect does respond positively.

I have also found it useful to look at the websites of others who have gone before me, and at their linked-in pages or any other online sites they have to see who they are linking to and the groups they are active in and then I join the groups I feel will be relevant to me as well. I have also read as many of the books that have been recommended to me as I can.

Two months into this process I am feeling very positive about what the future holds for me even though my businesses are in the early stages of development because of the information I have gained.

What has your journey been when you have made a career change?

I would be interested to hear your advice to people setting up their new businesses as we can always learn from others.

Is starting 2 new businesses at the same time a good idea?

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Image courtesy of jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In my previous post Feel the Fear and do it anyway I explained about the big step I had made in deciding to take redundancy and try out a completely new way of living. I have worked in local authorities for over 30 years – and without a break for just over 26 years so this is a really big life change for me.

I decided that I did not want to focus on a single career any more, but that I would like to develop a portfolio to make sure I did not have all of my eggs in one basket. This was even more important as I was not going to have a regular pay cheque to rely on and would have to rely in the vagaries of the market – and my ability to market my own businesses.

Why did I chose the 2 businesses that I am now developing?

I chose them because they both build on my core values of helping other people to improve themselves and my desire to get back to working directly with, and helping, people. I also wanted to continue to use and develop the skills I have developed throughout my professional life as I had worked hard to learn and apply them and still have a lot to give back to all of the professions I embrace.

When developing new businesses from a standing start it is important to realise that you will be very lucky if you get good, or even any, financial returns from the start. It is important, though, to measure what you are doing for your businesses each day so that you know you are moving them forward a little bit. This is a very different way of planning to that I used to do in a local authority. There I would have plans with clear outcomes and which were SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed. When starting a new business you also need clear outcomes, but the timing of them is difficult when you are still establishing yourself, and how do you know if they are realistic? Instead it is important to give yourself activity goals for every day – as you can measure your achievement if these and the more effective and positive activity you do the more likely it is your business venture will be successful.

How do you know what activity goals you need to set?

By talking to others who have gone through the same process and who can give you an idea of which activities you need to do, and for how long, before you start to see the desired outcomes that you want from your business. This can include developing a presence in the areas where people looking for your kind of business congregate – either online or face to face, the number of calls you need to make to prospects, the type of information you need to have prepared when a prospect does respond positively.

I cannot tell you yet if I have made the right choice – come back and see me again in December to see how I am doing with my 2 businesses Kate Millin Consulting and KMC Forever.

Do I manage myself effectively while working at home?

When I first started working from home the answer to this question is a definite no – I had so many things to think about and get used to as I have made such a major change in my life. I have enjoyed the freedom, but I now need to give myself some focus and manage myself more effectively. One of the reasons I made the change was to have a better work life balance so I feel I need something to give this some focus.

Inspired by Liz Broomfield’s post on how she managed herself when she first moved into full self employment this is my first attempt at some home working resolutions.  Thank you Liz for the inspiration, and the support you have given me in making this change.

So what are my resolutions?

  1. I will speak to someone else every day who is not living in the house with me – face to face will be the ideal, but by social media as a fall back.
  2. I will have 1 meal a day with the 3 main food types – carbohydrate, vegetables and protein.
  3. I will exercise for at least 30 minutes every day
  4. I will have lunch before 2pm every day
  5. I will do all of the washing up before I go to bed each night
  6. I will do no more work on my businesses after 9pm in the evening if I have done none work activities during the day and by 7pm if I have been working solidly all day.
  7. I will drink at least 2 litres of water a day
  8. I will spend time away from my computer screen for 5 minutes every hour as a minimum
  9. I will go to an event or social activity not related to my businesses at least once a week
  10. I will keep up with my friends and family

As recommended by Liz I will do a print out of the daily ones to tick off what I have done each day – at least to start off with while I am forming my new habits.

Wish me luck – and check back to see how I am doing.

Feel the Fear and do it anyway

I have been very quiet here as work has been taking a lot out of me, not helped by breaking my wrist in June and having a colitis flare up in September. This has led me to decide to make a very big change in my life and stop working for a local authority and start working for myself.

I have been aided in this decision by finding a new profession to join (my third) which will still use the skills I have developed over the years. This new profession is Multi Level (or Direct) Marketing. It will use my organisational, people and leadership skills and will reward me according to how much effort I put into my new business. – KMCForever.

I am very impressed with the company I will be working with – Forever Living – as they work to values I strongly believe in. They are especially good at supporting their distributors and have Investors In People Gold standard. This is at a time when many organisations are moving away from this quality standard as they see it as a business expense they cannot afford in times of recession. This is a false economy, in my opinion, as if you don’t look after your workforce then they are not able to look after your business for you. Forever Living demonstrate the effectiveness of their approach by continuing to grow year on year even during a recession.

I will also be developing a consultancy as KM Consulting where I will be able to share my considerable skills in senior strategic and change management as well as the management skills that will be developed in my new career.

Moving into self employment will give me more time to develop this blog and my health blog called CoeliacLibrarian.

And the reason for the heading at the top? It is very scary to step away from salaried employment, but I am still going to do it. I need to move into a role that enables me to take better care of myself, and where I can still help and support the people who work with me.

So look out for my new businesses and get in touch if you want to find out more about working with me in Forever Living, or need support in improving the Health and Wellbeing of your workplace.

Taking life at a slower pace

Having written my first few posts over a short period, I have not been able to write for some time. I had an accident on Monday 4th June 2012 (Bank Holiday Monday in England) and broke my right wrist. Yes, I am right handed. It means that I have had a lot more time for reflection during the last 2 months as it has slowed me right down. I thought I would start writing again by sharing some of my reflections:

1. I found it difficult to accept help, even though I could not manage on my own , and the help was being freely offered. I did get over this, but it was difficult for me as I am someone who is normally extremely independent and proud of being so. I hope that this will make me more sensitive about other people’s feelings when I offer help in the future.

2. There are a lot of really nice people around – I had many offers of help. Thank you to all who offered, even if I did not take up your offer. This experience will make me even more determined to offer help when I think it is needed, but I hope to be graceful in my response if my offer of help is not taken up at the timers were those who offered help to me. I also need to remember to be as open as possible in any offer of help and not to just offer what I think is needed.

3. Despite the offers of help I still got a little depressed and stir crazy because for much of the time I only interacted with people that were doing something to help me. I forgot that just having a chat or a coffee with someone is as helpful as accepting help with housework. I will try remember this for myself if I am unlucky enough to be injured again and make contact with others myself, but also to offer coffee and company to others and not just housework, lifts and shopping.

4. I had to slow down considerably from my usual pace and I have found that I liked it – the challenge will be stopping myself rushing in the future when I don’t need to. I recently read a book about the slow movement and did not think I would manage to slow down that much at my current stage in life. I feel a lot calmer and less stressed and really want to hold onto this, so will be trying to manage my lifestyle to enable this to become more established as part of it.

5. It is still possible to achieve a lot without a car by using public transport and walking. I want to keep up the walking and exercise, and reduce my use of the car.

So even though it could have just been a frustrating and negative period I have found breaking my wrist has also brought some new things into my life (and I don’t just mean the titanium plate in my right wrist).

This post is written as a thank you to all of the people that helped me when I really needed that help.

There’s no such thing as a new idea or common sense is not very common

Just old ideas continually recycled!

I am currently doing a postgraduate qualification in Shared Service Architecture with Canterbury Christchurch University. My second piece of work is a literature review and I have chosen to look at successful governance in shared services. It has to be an academic piece of work so the literature reviewed must come from academically sound journals.

The first thing I found was that Shared Services by that name have not been round long enough to have academic studies done on them. The second thing I found out was that there are a lot of academic reviews into a whole range of joint working – which Shared Services is just the latest sexy title/ method of doing. Hence the title of this post.

Each of the new iterations of the joint (or collaborative) working phenomenon is presented as a whole new way of working. This,sadly, seems to mean that the wheel keeps being reinvented. I cannot see very much evidence of practice being based on the considerable learning and information that has been collected about previous iterations. This is despite the fact that a number of key issues keep coming up regularly:

  1. The need for Trust which is very difficult to develop when organisations and people are put into ‘forced marriages’ by government policy and financial incentives. They are much more likely to work together successfully if they develop the collaboration gradually and together.
  2. Which leads me the need for Time to develop the partnership – how often are organisations forced to do things quickly because of the political and financial pressures
  3. The final one is that there needs to be a jointly agreed reason or series of reasons for working together – the main one being that the sum of the whole is greater than each organisation working separately.

These key factors come up again and again, and yet the same mistakes and issues keep being repeated!

Although I say there is no such thing as a new idea, each version of working together is subtly different and called different things which is why I have not used the same words to describe the joint working throughout  this post. 

The issues, however, are rarely different so my plea to anyone coming up with a ‘new’ way of working is please take the time to look at the similar predecessors to your idea and use them to stop repeating the same mistakes.

This is the principle I will be using when I qualify as a Shared Service Architect as one of the key principles for this professional role is to use the learning from previous shared working to improve the development and planning of future shared services.