How can we discuss change productively?

A short aside. I worked, once, in a place where it was almost impossible to implement any truly meaningful or innovative changes. Whenever an idea was brought forward the proposal would be criticized (usually at length) for its choice of words, style, and discussion of the current situation. Those affected would spend a great deal of energy defending their status -even if they knew it to be problematic – or nitpicking language in order to demonstrate some kind of expertise or value. Almost all proposals for change would be destroyed–either because the final product would be so watered down as to be meaningless or the discussion would drag on so long that it would eventually die out. Along the way, those proposing the change would be disheartened or effectively marginalized, further discouraging any future discussion of similar subjects. I have seen the same thing happen, occasionally, on the archives listserv. Anyone who starts to initiate a discussion that challenges the opinions of the dominant voices or tries to start a meaningful analysis of a problem is shouted down or ignored, and so the ideas eventually die out.

I hate to think that this is hallmark of the archival profession. One of our stereotypical characteristics is that we are resistant to change. Are we so resistant to change (and perhaps, defensive about vulnerabilities we know we possess) that we cannot support meaningful discussion about how to move forward? I hope not. I am sure that in the future I will use words that people won’t like. I know my tone may rub some readers the wrong way. My assessment of a current situation may not be completely correct. Believe it or not, I actually spend quite a bit of time trying to make sure what I write will offend as few people as possible. I hope that in this forum, at least, people can focus their discussion on the ideas and about what we can do to “move the ball down the field.”

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