Onward: Perspectives Beyond Library World

When you are in the throes of library school, it can be a challenge to find any inspiration from outside sources.  Who has the time or the brain space for more information that is not specifically about your area of study? Yet, lessons from outside the library world, whether they come from podcasts, books, or articles, are valuable. In my MLIS program, one professor often assigns book reviews in her classes that encourage students to read widely to support their library studies.  For a recent library management class, I chose to review Howard Schultz’s Onward: How Starbucks Fought For Its Life Without Losing Its Soul and I was surprised by some of the ideas that were relevant for libraries.

An important theme for Schultz in Onward is his constant references to the people he invited to be on his team or who rose to the occasion when help was needed, especially in times of crisis such as store closures and layoffs.  Schultz is a force to be reckoned with on his own, but he embraces a team effort and depends on the work of many trusted individuals to get the job done. He gives credit where it is due and tells the stories of many who have helped make Starbucks possible.  These repeated references to others and the work they accomplished are part of his management message that is relevant to libraries, highlighting the importance of a healthy and hardworking team.  

After some years away from being head of the company, Schultz resumed his position as CEO in troubled times for both Starbucks and for the United States.  The company had financial struggles and the country was in deep financial crisis that only exacerbated Starbucks’ existing issues.  Now in 2017, nearly 10 years later, there is a different kind of crisis: one that is difficult to name but that is a constant presence.  The country and the world are struggling with political uncertainty, terrorism, and other frightening threats.  The library world in the United States, in particular, is faced with drastic budget cuts and even the threat of budget elimination for the IMLS from the current presidential administration.  The lessons of perseverance and dedication Schultz shares in Onward offers some hope and inspiration for moving forward during the current turmoil facing the world, and by extension libraries, today.

Onward was written looking back through the lens of financial crisis, and I read the book while thinking about the crises of today and how they will affect my current and future work in libraries. It is, on one hand, a relief to read the story of a company that successfully navigated such troubled waters. Yet at the same time, it is sobering to observe how difficult it was for Schultz, his partners, and the company to persevere through that challenging time. I could not help but find parallels between 2007 and 2017, which makes the comparison of the circumstances of 2008 and the future of 2018 a frightening prospect.  Predicting the future is an impossible task, but I found the story of Schultz and Starbucks’ turnaround hopeful in the midst of an uncertain present and unknown future.  

Onward offers many ideas and concepts to ponder for library school students, especially prospective managers.  Schultz is is aware of what is going on in the world and thinking about how it will affect Starbucks.  He surrounds himself with experts and then cultivates his team into becoming experts in their area.  He is willing to try ideas he is not particularly thrilled about if reasonable arguments can be made.  These characteristics are relevant examples to follow for library school students preparing for their careers.  Just as Schultz made changes to Starbucks during a time of organizational and national crisis, library school students find themselves in a chaotic environment.  His stories offer wisdom and insight into how to stay anchored and move onward even in the midst of trying times.

Reading this particular management profile has inspired me to seek out more books like this to read this summer during my break from library school.  I would like to read more widely from diverse perspectives and see what ideas are out there for libraries. What books have you read recently that offer inspiration for your library life?

Work Cited

Schultz, Howard, and Joanne Gordon. 2011. Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life Without Losing Its Soul. New York: Rodale.

Sarah Davis is a Bilingual Children’s Associate at a public library in Oklahoma and an MLIS student at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa.

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