exposure and disclosure

Transparency is more than sexy…it is essential.  We are familiar with stories of exposure and scandal…Watergate, Enron and so many more.   The fear is in the exposure of secrets (right Pepsi?).  A friend told me recently that she walked away from her position as a CEO when it was mistakenly revealed that her pay was $40,000 less than her male counterparts.  Chris Taggart’s presentation “Corruption, corporate transparency and open data(2012) illustrates the high stakes of corporate transparency to prevent corruption and crime.  The purpose of transparency is to develop accountability, both within and without, resulting in deeper trust between stakeholders and an improved means of attaining mutual goals through open communication.

Are we listening to and participating in that conversation?

But, what if there are no “secrets”?  What place does transparency have to do in the day to day operations, of say… libraries?  When information institutions (especially public ones), supporting associations and organizations adopt the culture and value of transparency, the disparity between relationships of the stakeholders is diminished to open up channels of communication and contribution.   It may occur among internal stakeholders (admin/staff/officers) as well as external stakeholders (customers/supporters/members).  Language changes from “mine” to “ours” in order to achieve the mission of the library.

The movement towards transparency is significant in an age of broad customer choice.  Much of the driving force behind transparency is emerging technology.  We know more, share more, and decide more, faster than ever.  The linear model of the flow of information has morphed into a dialog and the conversation flows through many channels and directions.  Social media and other means of user-generated content have empowered consumers by giving them a platform to voice their opinions and experiences about products and services.  Are we listening to and participating in that conversation?

Visibility and accessibility are often overlooked aspects of transparency, but can be critical in achieving support.  Libraries offer a tremendous amount of resources that is continually expanding and changing, but those resources do little good if no one uses them.

Allow me to end o a cautionary note:  Let’s not get institutional transparency confused with careless full disclosure.  While it is true that nothing can be hidden anymore, the decision to disclose information about our institutions should be thoughtfully made so that we are prepared to answer all questions, honestly.  Some activities, such as discarded books or financial records could bring up difficult questions.  Preparing for this type of full disclosure provides an opportunity for the institution to take full responsibility for their decisions, which could mean making a few tweaks here and there, upon examination.  It also means preparing to wade through the deconstructive responses to find the constructive questions so libraries can offer better services and access to information.  Isn’t that what libraries are about?

The future demands transparency…now.


Last year, as I explored new models for school libraries for my workplace, I was pleased to discover these excellent resources about transparency in the K-12 school library context:

Transparency is the New Black by Gwyneth Jones (2012)

Transparency is the new fierce by Joyce Valenza (2012)

Transparency and trust for librarians by Doug Johnson (2011)



Anderson, C. (2006). In praise of radical transparency. http://www.longtail.com/the_long_tail/2006/11/in_praise_of_ra.html

Lincoln, M. (2009). Transparency: How to become a transparent organization. http://marpr23.wordpress.com/2009/05/07/transparency-how-to-develop-a-transparent-plan-to-maximize-value-and-build-a-brand/

Stephens, M. (2011). The transparent library: Measuring progress. http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6547089.html?industryid=47356

Thompson, C. (2007). The see-through ceo. http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/15.04/wired40_ceo.html