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Dean's Update: The Importance of Communication in Times of Change

October 22, 2021

Communication is a core driver of change. Sharing information about the reason for change, the benefit of the resulting change, and the process to make change happen is critical both to reach a shared understanding among those involved and to successfully implement the changes at hand. The dissemination of this critical composite of information is a communication challenge, a challenge that—particularly within complex organizations—requires deep engagement and collaboration to overcome.  

This past month, I was repeatedly reminded about the importance of giving focused attention to how we at the Drexel Libraries might improve our communications as we face new changes in behaviors at the start of this unusual academic year. I will highlight in this issue a couple activities we have pursued at the Drexel Libraries that illustrate the challenge of communicating information about our programs, services and capacity changes during the crisis of the pandemic.  Both involve engaging others to tell the Libraries’ stories from their perspective of its impact on them.

The first is an example of engaging Libraries staff to understand, embrace and communicate the changes we have made this fall—the reasons and expectations for those changes. When engaging staff in communications about changes to the Libraries organization, we must remember the two roles they juggle and their needs in both—roles as authoritative outward representatives of the organization and also as stewards of change who must adapt their job responsibilities accordingly.  

We devoted the September DUL all staff meeting to uncover examples of situations during which individuals felt uncomfortable or uncertain on what to say to clients asking for services. We encouraged staff to share specific client inquiries or comments concerning reduced or modified services, and then offered tips on how to present information about service changes, reasons for change, and equally importantly, the Libraries’ continued focus on the well-being and satisfaction of our clients. Our communication manager also prepared talking points for staff to reference in real time, which include facts about what Libraries’ services and resources for fall 2021 and why we made these changes.

In addition, we emphasized the power of presenting change in positive terms—what the Libraries does reliably, what unique expertise we offer in partnership with the subject expertise others on campus have, and how information might be found in alternate ways. The most difficult challenge is trying to shift the communication approach away from communicating all that we cannot do—perhaps an impossible task given the difficulty of anticipating every service expectation a diverse academic community has—to focus on what we can do.

Another example highlights the power of client stories and their impact on the administration—on those who fund and otherwise enable the Drexel Libraries to implement improvements that impact the University. 

One DUL Library Advisory Group member recently advocated for others beyond the Libraries to create a ground swell of support to constructively raise awareness about the Libraries’ strengths and opportunities to advance the University mission. Suggested actions include raising awareness among faculty and students of what may be seen as a crisis in the Libraries as it continues to face budget cuts and staffing shortages. And to do so by linking awareness of administrators from multiple diverse campus perspectives. The strategy arose over recent weeks not only in conversations among this Library Advisory Group, but also in Faculty Senate committee meetings and among Graduate student leadership. 

Practical actions were suggested and some pursued to accomplish this objective, ranging from, for example, holding forums among small groups of interested DUL champions; writing articles for the campus newspaper; joining conversations among specialized planning groups or Faculty Senate Caucus discussions; and developing talking points to coordinate messages about prioritized needs for support of the Libraries.

Watching passions rise for the support of the Libraries is in itself rewarding to the Libraries leadership and staff. Achieving interest and engagement of others to advocate for the Libraries is especially encouraging when colleagues are already faced with challenges to address in their own lives and their colleges and academic programs.  

Perhaps the spirit of the election year is spilling over to the drive for doing something that will make a difference beyond yourself. Showing support for—and doing something about—some challenging situation in our lives is not only helpful to the cause but personally feels good as well. 

With that in mind, don’t forget to VOTE in the coming off-year election. There is always something worth engaging with to make our lives a bit better.

Danuta A. Nitecki, PhD
Dean of Libraries