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The Promise of Appreciative Inquiry in Library Organizations

Sullivan, M. “The Promise of Appreciative Inquiry in Library Organizations.” Library Trends. Summer 2004. 53(1):218-229.

According to Sullivan (2004), Appreciative Inquiry is a different approach to organizational change that “calls for the deliberate search for what contributes to organizational effectiveness and excellence” (p. 218). This perspective proposes moving from a traditional “deficit-based approach” in which there is an emphasis on problems to a more positive and collaborative framework. Therefore, Appreciative Inquiry is a unique approach that includes the identification of positive experiences and achievements as a “means to create change based upon the premise that we can effectively move forward if we know what has worked in the past” (p. 219). Furthermore, this approach “engages people in an exploration of what they value most about their work” (p. 219).

Overall, this article discusses the origins and basic principles of Appreciative Inquiry. In particular, the author provides practical suggestions for how libraries can begin to apply the principles and practices of Appreciative Inquiry to foster a more positive environment for creating change in libraries. For example:

· Start a problem-solving effort with a reflection on strengths, values, and best experiences.

· Support suggestions, possible scenarios, and ideas.

· Take time to frame questions in a positive light that will generate hope, imagination, and creative thinking.

· Ask staff to describe a peak experience in their professional work or a time when they felt most effective and engaged.

· Close meetings with a discussion of what worked well and identify individual contributions to the success of the meeting.

· Create a recognition program and make sure that it is possible (and easy) for everyone to participate.

· Expect the best performance and assume that everyone has the best intentions in what they do.

In conclusion, Appreciative Inquiry entails a major shift in thinking about how change can occur in library organizations. By examining what is working, this approach provides a useful and positive framework for transforming libraries.

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