End the Authoritarianism

One of the issues that plagued the Library in recent times is the harassment of whistleblowers. Staffers who “outed” problems with the library’s administration were threatened, suffered internal harassment and faced dismissal.

Let’s be clear: disclosing malfeasance and confronting inefficiency are good things to do, and the only people who should suffer penalties are the malfeasants and those defending the inefficiencies for the sake of their egos or to spare themselves work.

The Iron Law must be – and I want to see the Library’s charter amended if need be to make it manifestly apparent: any harassment of “whistleblowing” is grounds for immediate dismissal of the persons doing the harassment.

We live in a society that pretends to us (when we are young) that all people are equal; yet in adult life everyone lives in various pyramids of power. That there are superiors and subordinates may be a necessary fact of executive (administrative, operational) life but I tend to hew to the original concept: everyone is an EQUAL in every other way. This means that anyone and everyone must have their opinions respected and heard at every level without regard for “rank”.

In brief chats with various library staffers, they have told me that they are not allowed to object to policy, are not allowed to discuss objections to policy with the public, and that management is not generally interested in bottom-up information flow. This amounts to a “gag order” which contravenes not just the principle of free speech, but the principle of enlightened management. Staffers have the right to be heard from about things which affect them, and in particular, no one person is so much cleverer than the rest that they cannot be corrected or challenged, especially by people with direct experience to the contrary of what they are told to do and how they are told to do it.

Any rules which interfere in such a free flow of information are invalid and should be rescinded. If I am the Director and I give a “marching order” and a department head sees a pitfall in my approach, not only are they entitled to object – in full view of the staff – but if I am a Director worth my position I should demand that they do, I should welcome the feedback. Very few things in the Library are so time-critical that the Director could say “just do as I say, for there is no time to discuss the issue.” Any person with power who discourages feedback is a weak leader and should not be a leader. Moreover, the “not invented by me” defense is a defense of ego, not rationality, pragmatism, or efficiency. Anyone who wants anything done in some particular way should be able to defend why they want things done in that way. or there is no reason to comply with that person, and “because I’m the boss” and “because I said so” are things we should expect never to have to hear any longer in a community of workers such as the library is. If I am the Director (at any level) and I say “do X and do it in way W”, I should also be willing and able to explain why X needs to be done and why X needs to be done in way W. I should also give hearing to people who object to way W (“I suggest a way that may be better than W”) and even task X (“I suggest an alternative that makes X unnecessary.”) No-one is omniscient. It is only fair to argue points.

Free Speech. Any staffer should be free to express their personal opinion about how they feel and what they think about what goes on in the Library to anyone. The only requirement is to identify whatever opinion as the speaker’s own and not representing the policy of the Library. It does not matter if what the staffer says embarrasses the Library or someone who works at the Library at any level so long as the opinion is not false or slanderous. If a staffer tells patron Ms. Jones that in their opinion, the library’s handing of some issue is lacking, then after all, either the staffer is poorly informed (and should be corrected), or the staffer is correct, and it is fine for Ms. Jones to take issue with the library over the handling of the issue based on the staffer’s say-so; besides which, internal mechanisms described above should already have put the library on notice that a dissent to the handling of the issue was registered, initially internally. I WANT the Library’s dirty laundry to be aired publicly so the matter can be discussed openly and whatever resolution can be attained will be attained. And I would want any sitting Director of the Library to agree with me: Open Discussion. Let the Sun Shine In. I Welcome Dissent. I Welcome Debate. I will sit as Philosopher King under the Magna Carta that I am Not Divine; the most I can say is that the Buck Stops With Me.

We need to exit the “punishment culture”. Along with the openness must come forgiveness. It is rare to know things in a Mathematical way, executives have to make guesses, and guesses are often wrong. The bottom line is motivation: were you acting in the best interest of the Library to the limit of the information you had on hand when making your decision? Did you insure to poll for feedback from everyone with useful information to contribute to the making of that decision? When a failure could not be foreseen, there is no warrant to punish the decisionmakers for having made an incorrect decision, but only for having arrived at a position at variance with the facts then known. it may well be that a decision is fraught with consequences should it be the wrong decision, but with everyone weighing in and the Director using their best judgement going in, the decision may yet fail. These things happen. We cannot expect people to fall on their swords based on the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. You pick yourselves up, having learned better, and try to avoid similar outcomes in the future. We can ask no more, that is life as it happens.

Free Speech for the Staffers, and free information flow both up and down the “chains of command.” Any rules to the contrary, any reprisals, are invalid.

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