Management of library staff and information centres Essay

Management of library staff and information centres essay

 

While much of the development of learning organizations within libraries has taken place in large academic institutions, Peter Senge’s theoretical concepts are just as valuable in public libraries, even comparatively small rural libraries. Utilizing the University of Arizona Library as a case study, a prototype of an organizational structure based on teams has been developed for the Teton County Library in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. This article includes a blueprint for a non-hierarchical, circular team management structure and describes the function, relationship, authority, and accountability of the library’s teams, as well as a vision for leadership. It also provides a model of teamwork incorporating Senge’s five disciplines into a single process that facilitates organizational learning.

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“Prototypes are essential to discovering and solving the key problems that stand between an idea and its full and successful implementation”. (Senge, 1994)

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These are the words of management expert Peter M. Senge in The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (Senge, 1994, p. 271). This classic treatise, originally published in 1990, draws a blueprint for an innovative type of organization, the learning organization, that is “continually expanding in its capacity to create its own future” (Senge, 1994, p. 14). Senge is founder and director of the Center for Organizational Learning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management.

In the evolution of the learning organization, Senge reported that U.S. companies and organizations are somewhere on the path between “invention” and “innovation.” Engineers say a new idea is invented when it has been proven to work in a laboratory. When it can be replicated reliably at a practical cost, it becomes an innovation (Senge, 1994, pp. 5-6). Along the path between the two stages, Senge says prototypes are essential to discovering and solving the key problems between idea and implementation. He calls for more prototype learning organizations.

 

The movement toward a less hierarchical, team-based organizational structure began in the business community, and Senge suggests a number of successful companies as models, such as Royal Dutch/Shell Oil, Hanover Insurance, and Herman Miller. At least ten years ago, the University of Arizona (UA) Library took serious note of the success of this management style in business. When Carla Stoffle took the position of dean of the UA Library in 1991, she was faced with budget cuts that amounted to $619,000 in three years, collection costs, especially journals, that had inflated by nearly 150 percent over the previous ten years, and a desperate need for an online catalog (Stoffle, 1996). One of her first moves was to form a steering committee to study workflow in the changing environment. The committee’s recommendation was to convert from a hierarchical management structure to a team-based organization. Stoffle said the “radical, fundamental change” focused on adopting a user focus, accepting the need for continual change, creating teams, and empowering frontline staff to make decisions (Stoffle, 1995, p. 6). She said the UA Library would not have been able to respond to the pressures without this structural change. Today, the UA Library is widely recognized as a prototype for organizational restructuring among academic libraries (Berry, 2002, pp. 41-42).

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It is difficult to assess the progress of the team approach in public libraries, perhaps because public librarians are not as likely to publish works on this progress. The North Suburban Library System in Chicago is one organization that has been recognized in the professional literature (Hayes, Sullivan, ; Baaske, 1999, p. 110) for development of a team-based organizational structure. Team terms such as “dialogue,” “shared vision,” and “systems thinking,” however, have entered the jargon of public librarians throughout the country. Public libraries appear to be positioned somewhere in the zone between the invention and innovation of learning organizations.

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Certainly the same reasons that pushed academic libraries into the new organizational structure are present in public libraries: budget cuts, technology, an environment of constant change. Budget cuts have hit public libraries so hard that the American Library Association launched the “Campaign to Save America’s Libraries” in 2002. American Libraries magazine reported even more cutbacks and closures in 2003. “County, city, and community libraries are threatening to shut branches, shorten hours, freeze staff positions, and cut back on services at a time when circulation statistics are up” (Eberhart, 2003, p. 20). The climate is right for public libraries to take a hard look at making changes in organizational structure as a means of surviving and thriving in a harsh environment. To do this, practical models are needed. While Senge cautions against one organization trying to emulate exactly another, he suggests that any organization has the potential to serve as an experimental laboratory where important questions can be addressed, new insights formed, and practical problems resolved (Senge, 1994, p. 272). It is time for public libraries to share experiences.

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Society trusts libraries and archives to ensure that the report we read or the information we rely on for research will still be available when next we need it. The digital world presents new challenges of acquisition and life cycle management for libraries, archives and readers. This essay looks at the first steps taken by the Wellcome Library to include born digital material into its collections.

The Wellcome Library acknowledges that digital material will form part of its collections in the future. As more members of our donor/creator community produce their records in digital form, they must actively seek out this material if their collections are to grow and remain relevant. The Library enjoys significant support for its plans to collect digital material both from internal management and from archival staff. This support is proving crucial in tiding the Library over a period of investigation, trial, evaluation and development.

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Yet going digital involves more than simply accepting digital material on CD-ROM or floppy disk from our existing donor community. The library faces a number of new challenges. They need to decide on preferred preservation formats that suit their purpose, they need to identify tools to perform technical processes, and they have yet to determine what technical metadata they will need.

Many libraries are already clear on a number of key principles (Smythe, 2006). Libraries intend to hold digital material in a managed environment such as a repository and we will collect descriptive and technical metadata about the material they hold. What they collect will be in line with the Library collection development policy. Most importantly they will make the collection and ongoing management of digital material an economically sustainable activity by building it into the everyday business of the Library. Digital material will be integrated into existing collections, not treated as anything ‘different’. The work that we have done to date has been to test and further refine these key principles.

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Digital material sets its own challenges but will be handled within the broad intellectual framework provided by existing archival practice: respect for provenance and the integrity of the document, selection, structure, context and appraisal remain key to successful long-term life cycle management of digital material. Existing ways of working will need modification, and the sociology of archive work, the relationship between donor and archivist, will adapt.

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Digital material is evanescent and prone to obsolescence: archivists cannot rely on material waiting for decades in a storeroom before they encounter it. To ensure that this material is captured and its integrity safeguarded, library staff will have to work with it quickly and establish precisely what they have, that it is what they wanted and expected, and that formats are accessible. In fact, they will be obliged, where possible, to intervene much earlier in the life cycle of the material. Archivists may even advise on its creation, offering opinions on the forms of record best suited to long-term survival. How organizations’ own Electronic Document Records & Management Systems (EDRMS) may affect the process is not yet known, but experience with paper records suggests that there will be a huge range of records management models, from strictly controlled to virtually anarchic; and that even if there is a formal records management system we should be prepared for a similar range. Even now, where an organization that has deposited material at the Library has no records manager of its own, archivists may, as part of the maintenance of a good working relationship, provide records management advice. So it is a possibility that the Library may end up functioning as a de facto EDRMS for some organizations. The costs will have to be monitored and balanced against the benefits of obtaining the material; but generally all parties profit from this sort of arrangement, since the records received should improve in quality.

 

Many libraries are implementing a three-fold approach to digital materials. Some libraries have implemented a developmental Fedora (see Fedora web site) digital object repository. Many libraries have also developed a policy framework within which they will work with material and they are modelling this using workflows, considering every step of the records life cycle from creation to eventual dissemination. That has allowed them to see what factors may affect the process and where difficulties may arise.

 

It is clearly apparent that some libraries have developed three-year Strategic Plans which include the aim of engaging with digital material. Three new documents form the foundation of such plans for the future; these are:

1.    Preservation Plan, covering all material held in our permanent collections both physical and digital.

2.    A revised donor/loan agreement that covers the acquisition of digital material.

3.    A manifest template that allows us to record all necessary technical information about digital donations at the time of donation/acquisition.

Documents such as the Preservation Plan already existed, but covered only physical materials or talked loosely about ‘material in all formats’. The new plan contains two sections, one addressing the specific needs of physical, the other the needs of digital material. This has allowed specific standards to be applied to the management of each type of material whilst allowing for the differences in preservation approaches between physical and digital. In this way a single coherent plan for the management of materials in our permanent collections is created that outlines our commitment to the preservation of all material.

The revised donor/loan agreement also makes clear distinctions between physical and digital donations to the Library based on the different issues around the management of digital material. For digital donations the new agreement seeks additional clarification regarding copyright and who else may have rights in the material. It asks if material has been donated only to our library or to other institutions, and it makes clear the possibility that material may be re-formatted and copied as part of preservation actions in the future. The bases for the new agreement were the forms developed by the (see the Paradigm Project web site) at the University of Oxford and those developed by the East of England Digital Preservation Pilot Project. Having readily available models to draw on saved the Library considerable time and effort.

The manifest that describes the technical properties of material being donated is also based on models from these two projects. Again, the use of existing models allowed us to think more closely about what information we needed in our own Library, what we would do with it and what processes would follow from it rather than focusing on designing forms.

A set of high-level workflows have begun to map the processes and responsibilities that will be involved in our handling digital material, showing how these fit together. Existing workflows for paper materials were examined in detail; it was seen that these require supplementing to take account of digital issues, but not complete replacement. Issues such as who owns the material, who can see it, who can copy it and on what basis, are common to paper and digital material alike. However, describing processes and activities on paper has shown where physical and digital materials have different management needs. It has also begun to highlight staff on whom new workloads may fall, identifying training needs.

The creation, collection and management of technical metadata for digital material is a new challenge. It is uncertain what type of metadata – and what level of detail – will be essential to long-term lifecycle management and dissemination of the material (though standards such as providing a framework). Determining that may take time and further experience with digital material.

It is clear that for catalogue metadata, the General International Standard for Archival Description (ISAD(G)) – as used for our paper holdings – provides an appropriate ethos for the description of digital collections, supported by adequate levels of technical metadata. Cataloguers’ experience in applying ISAD(G) in hierarchical catalogues to achieve informative but slim line records for paper records should be applicable to digital material. The Library’s cataloguing manual for archivists asks them to balance providing as much information as the reader needs with ‘as little as you can get away with’ and this balancing act will continue to direct our practice. Within the archives department a useful groundwork of working to standards and mapping between them already exists, thanks to interoperability work between Library catalogues: ISAD(G) data can easily be mapped to Dublin Core and this, if desired, will provide a route whereby ISAD(G) data and METS records can work together.

The Library is an associate member of the Digital Curation Centre and the Digital Preservation Coalition (Report of the East of England Digital Preservation Regional Pilot Project, (2006) both of whom provide models and tools that can be applied within the specific context of our Library. Participation in events hosted by both organisations has allowed the Library to build expertise it would otherwise have struggled to gain alone. Active participation in DPC and DCC events has also allowed Library staff to express plans to peers who can then provide feedback and comment, as well as put staff in touch with individuals with expertise and skills they are willing to share.

Library staff have also made personal contact with individuals involved in related digital projects. The Paradigm Project has been a key partner for some libraries. It is true to suggest that some libraries have drawn heavily on its experience and especially its workbook: models, practices and policies developed by the Project. This has represented a key saving in time and effort in that models and documentation can be re-worked for local use and lessons already learned quickly applied.

Many libraries also develop new types of relationships with internal partners such as their IT department. They need access to new services and hardware and they rely heavily on IT staff to provide guidance and advice on issues such as capacity planning or system design. The support and technical expertise of the IT department has been essential to establishing the libraries success.

At this early stage it is difficult to identify key success factors, but the most significant step to date has been to acknowledge that the Library needs to start work now if they are to engage with digital material in the future. As key stakeholders, archival staff have shown great enthusiasm for working with digital material and have been leading the development of workflows, policies and practices that will deal with the practicalities of digital collection development. As a result library staff can demonstrate progress towards their goal; progress that is supported internally and built on the best practice of their colleagues.

References

 

1)     Smyth, Z. (2006) Developing a pre-ingest strategy for digital records. PRONI: presentation made at Digital Curation Centre / Liverpool University Centre for Archive Studies joint workshop on ingestion of digital records, Liverpool, U.K.

2)     Fedora Digital Object Repository http://www.fedora.info

3)     The Paradigm Project http://www.paradigm.ac.uk

4)     Report of the East of England Digital Preservation Regional Pilot Project, (2006) MLA East of England and East of England Regional Archive Council.  Available from http://www.data-archive.ac.uk/news/publications/darp2006.pdf

5)     Berry (2002) pp. 41-42. Cutting library hours. Ancestry Publishing group.

6)     Eberhart (2003) p.20 The whole library handbook.

7)     Hayes et al (1999) p.110. Major functions of the disciplined library

8)     Senge, P (1994) The Fifth Discipline p.271. Oxford University Press

9)     Stoffle (1996) The Emergence of Education and Knowledge management / electronic publication in disciplined libraries

 

 

 

 

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