ASSOCIATES (vol. 9, no. 1, July 2002) -

*Outside The Box*


Tinker Massey
USC-Columbia, SC
RCPL-Columbia, SC

What a strange saying: "Outside the box." Are we so complacent or uncomfortable with change or difference that we stick to our boxes? Do we fear attempts to look at things in varying ways that open new paths for thought? I wonder just how attached we are to our boxes. During conference and workshop speeches, I have had people respond by saying, "Thanks for showing us our Box and how we created it, and giving us options for changing it."

Boxes are very confining, having sides, bottom, top, and sometimes many internal walls. Not only are they confining, but they also do not allow for any exploration "outside" the Box. Perhaps what I suggest most is establishing some new architectural design, such as windows, doors and then just maybe some room additions or removing internal walls. The floor plan can change as we learn more about the problems and crises facing us. We need to be aware of everything going on around us, all the whys and wherefores and possibilities. Shutting ourselves inside the walls, especially when we are libraries of information, brings to mind the most laughable oxymoron imaginable. How can we allow this dichotomy to exist?

We must consider our structures in different ways today. There can be no walls, except perhaps permeable ones in which we can ooze in and out to touch the realities of the community/world around us. Internal divisions are also an impedance to the natural flows of work in progress. The old traditional walls of departments were good for what they accomplished, but we are faced with new challenges which would naturally push us to managing ourselves in workflow areas/units with common and constant communication systems through and around us everywhere. Once separate units of reference, cataloging, acquisitions, and collection management, we can now visualize ourselves as combined elements in a larger process functioning as idea/function areas of direct flow, from wanting and needing to actual representation on the shelves or in the computers. If we are truly open to these ideas, it is not far-fetched to consider adding others to the "teams" such as preservation, documents and systems. We can work like ribbons fluttering in the winds of need, ready to change with the current challenge that presents itself. This, of course, presupposes that we can change our mindsets and begin to communicate in a more universal way. Teams, units, and people must become "brain-storming" advantages to the system and listen as well as talk, understand as well as compromise, applaud as well as question. All of the elements need to be there for our quick and efficient adaptation to change. I'm not sure the question is which Box do you prefer, but the fact that we need to be Outside the Box for most of the time to meet the changes and needs of the world.

Last year we embarked on a new adventure of adaptation as we watched planes crash into our communities. As devastating as the crisis was, we began to look at our roles in the crisis. Many of our boxed up institutions began to open new doors into the community (helping people find lost family and friends, locating information for obtaining help, becoming centers of shelter), discovering new definitions of morals (just/unjust causes, access to information, patron rights), and beginning anew the plans for disaster situations lost in the dust of old files. We will never be the same again, but we do need to be sure that those doors never close again. We are ambassadors, guardians of the "light" and keepers of the "soul" of the world. We are the core of the community's existence and a bridge to positive paths of change.

We can encourage our institutions to not only make those connector changes, but to establish new internal methods of change which will allow us to do our jobs better, more efficiently and become directly involved in the world's affairs rather than recede in isolation. The time is now to think, to grow and to function Outside the Box. Open the doors!

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