Can we afford to be perfect in an imperfect world?

The Bottom Line

ISSN: 0888-045X

Article publication date: 1 June 2004



Boese, K.C. (2004), "Can we afford to be perfect in an imperfect world?", The Bottom Line, Vol. 17 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Can we afford to be perfect in an imperfect world?

Can we afford to be perfect in an imperfect world?

It occurred to me upon reading the papers and columns herein, that librarians as a whole are perfectionists. We strive to provide the best service, assign the best subject headings, or provide access to the best information resources available. As a general principle, I find this laudable and desirable. Yet, there is a nagging demon in my mind that asks if our profession is striving too hard to provide too much. Is the level of quality and service we are providing above and beyond what our users actually need? Or, to put it in terms of a car dealership, are we attempting to give every customer a Bentley when a Chevrolet Impala better suites their needs.

The idea of being good enough rather than excellent is a hard pill to swallow for librarians. Many of my peers are so concerned about failing to meet patrons' basic needs that they consistently go above and beyond to ensure success. But can libraries afford to provide all the bells and whistles? How does this impact the hidden costs of doing business? Can librarians provide fewer services and still be successful?

Whether attempting to get new materials on the shelf faster, providing the most appropriate electronic resources, or grappling with the consequences that Web search engines provide, libraries are constantly attempting to balance quality, timeliness, and costs. One of the bigger challenges we face is determining the level of service our patrons require, and balancing that with the level of service we can afford to provide. Many times these two needs do not balance, with either patrons needing more than we are capable of providing or us attempting to provide more than we can afford to provide.

Successful libraries find ways to balance these needs – and in doing so, often expand services, construct new buildings, and become both more visible and more valuable to their communities. And it all starts with determining what users need, and then striving to find ways to meet – not exceed – those needs. By looking at successful libraries and their directors, all of us benefit in tackling the demons we fight in making our own institutions successful. We see what works, what didn't go as planned, and gain insight into what may not have been attempted elsewhere, but could work for us.

A genuine success story

Readers of The Bottom Line have been fortunate to have one of these success stories share his thoughts and knowledge in every issue they receive – our very own Glen E. Holt. His Economics column is always insightful, current, and relevant. Glen recently announced that he will retire from his position as Executive Director of the St Louis Public Library (SLPL) after serving for 17 years – the third-longest tenure in the system's management.

Throughout his years at SLPL, Glen has witnessed growth in circulation and visitation, shepherded new initiatives, and successfully transformed the library from a troubled, under-funded, and low-performing organization into one that serves the essential needs of its patrons. As such, it is apropos that in addition to his regular column Glen is also the subject of this issue's If you want my 2¢ worth – allowing us to learn more about his management philosophy, library priorities, and the challenges he successful dealt with during his leadership. On behalf of everyone associated with the journal, I offer Glen our kudos for a job well done, and wish him well in all his future pursuits.

Kent C. Boese

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