Being business-like: the path to mediocrity

Lorcan Dempsey’s post today about libraries being run “like a business” struck a chord with me. If you persevered through my earlier post on Bob Sutton’s No Asshole Rule, you know that I don’t subscribe to the idea that libraries should run more like a business. That is why I was excited to hear someone making the case that the idea that libraries should operate “more like a business” is “well-intentioned, but dead wrong” and should be rejected.

At a former place of work, being “more business-like” was a very popular concept. In fact, it was so popular that during strategic planning activities “being more like a business” was listed as the organization’s number one “value“. It was one of the many things that suggested that the library and myself were not a good fit. I alway puzzled over how being “business-like” could be a value. I’m not even sure what holding “being business-like” as a value means. I think the idea came from people who were frustrated with the way decisions were made and thought that being business-like meant streamlining the process. I’m all for streamlining processes, but you can do that and remain “library-like”. In addition, the people calling for the library to be more business-like ignore the fact that businesses can be just as poorly run as libraries. As Jim Collins writes, “Most businesses – like most of anything else in life – fall somewhere between mediocre and good.”

I haven’t read the book/essay by Jim Collins, Good to great and the social sectors, yet. We don’t have it in our library, but I found it at the local public library and will be checking it out as soon as I can get down there.


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