The “Agile” in Agile Librarianship

Agile “is a set of methods and methodologies that help your team to think more effectively, work more efficiently, and make better decisions.” (1)

Well, you might say, that could apply to practically any business process and to most non-business activities, and not just to software development.  And you would be right.  We’ll say more later about Agile applications to librarianship project management and to teaching and learning methodology (#digped) in subsequent postings.  For today, we will focus on some of the Agile founding documents.

Here is the language of the original 2001 “manifesto:”

The Manifesto for Agile Software Development

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.(2)

And here are the twelve principles, hammered out by the signers of the original manifesto, originally at the same 2001 conference, but refined at subsequent meetings:

We follow these principles:

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  • Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  • Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  • Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  • Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  • Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  • Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  • Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
  • The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.(3)

If you are thinking that this, again, could apply in many instances, and not just to software development, you would be right again!  That is the whole point.  I look at it like this:  in the past twenty years so much energy and effort have been applied to getting software right, that in the process, industrial processes have been developed that are generally applicable and that work, too!  The same (or similar), of course, can be said about all the effort that has been poured into warfighting against non-conventional forces in the last 15 years, i.e., that processes have been developed that can be successfully applied to other fields of endeavor, and we’ll get to that in just a second…

But for the moment, back to the topic at hand.

Every library I have every been associated with, as a librarian, as an intern, as a student worker, as a student and researcher, and merely as a member and a patron, while on the surface may appear to be a very calm and peaceful place, behind the scene is a veritable factory of projects, processes, and activities, a true site of productivity. These projects and processes, including but not limited to acquisition and procurement, disposal, cataloging, contracting and leasing, repair and preservation, circulation and interlibrary services, strategic planning, instructional design and delivery, and research and reference services, all exist on various timelines and with various objectives. They require a wide range of skills, talents and training, not necessarily limited to what one may consider the traditional skill set of the librarian.  It is an area ripe for Agile applications and methodologies distilled from years, from decades of software development.  This is where we are…

OK.  So let’s just take the deep dive.  The work of librarianship is nonlinear because the output of the system is greater than the sum of its parts when the parts are isolated (superposition) and when the system multiplies, its output multiplies more than proportionately (homogeneity).(4)  Library workers and software developers will know what I am talking about, as will war-fighters.  Work (production) is going on all over the place, at different rates of speed and in different directions.  And wise, strong leadership is required to steer this ship on a steady course, so to speak.

Let’s sum up.  Agile is a management style, and a leadership style, and a way of thinking that provides effective and efficient control of what might otherwise be considered an unwieldy and even chaotic set of industrial processes that exist in a nonlinear system.

More on Thursday…

(1) Stellman, Andrew and Jennifer Greene. 2014. Learning Agile.  O’Reilly Media, Inc.  Sebastopol, CA.

(2) The Agile Manifesto accessed on August 24, 2015 at www.agilealliance.org

(3) The Agile Manifesto accessed on August 24, 2015 at www.agilealliance.org

(4) Lynch, Justin. 2015. Nonlinearity and the Proper Use of Buzzwords. Small Wars Journal. Accessed on August 24, 2015 at www.smallwarsjournal.com.

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3 thoughts on “The “Agile” in Agile Librarianship

  1. Pingback: a new adventure, a new job, a new “return,” and new challenges… | “The only thing that you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.” — Albert Einstein

  2. Mark

    Agility has some merit, I agree (although it often seems to assume productivity as its applied goal – that’s not a human feature, any more than driving a car really fast; in fact, it seems the inhuman opposite), but I notice you also mention it as a leadership style. That’s interesting. As we approach another election cycle and these things come up again (calls for strong leadership, decisiveness, progress, etc), I wonder what you think leadership is. How to find it. I think that might be something to pursue – defining leadership itself. I hear lots of cries for it…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: what does the agile librarian do between library jobs? | “The only thing that you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.” — Albert Einstein

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