Volume 22, Number 1 -- Spring 2000


Library Management 2000

by Anne M. Buck
University Librarian
California Institute of Technology
Editor's note: With this issue of the NEWSLETTER we introduce a new feature, occasional articles by those who read it. When we explained to Anne Buck ('77) what we had in mind, and asked her to launch the series, she agreed without hesitation. Since 1995 Anne has been University Librarian at the California Institute of Technology. From 1991-1995 she was head of libraries at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Prior to going to NJIT she held several positions at Bellcore, a telecommunications research and development consortium. Before going to Bellcore she worked at AT&T Bell Laboratories, 1977-1984. Anne began her library career in 1974, as director of the Dunbar Public Library in West Virginia. She graduated from Wellesley College with a BA in geology.
   In 1997 Anne was co-chair of Caltech's Conference on Scholarly Communication, and her latest paper is "The Scholar's Forum: A New Model for Scholarly Communication." She was Treasurer of ASIS 1992-95, and while she was head of the New Jersey chapter of ASIS (1987-88) it received the Chapter of the Year Award. She serves on the Local Services and Programs Committee of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles and in 1992 was honored by the United Way of Morris County, New Jersey, for outstanding community service. She received the School's Outstanding Alumna Award in 1996. Anne is listed in Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the West, Who's Who in American Education, and Who's Who of American Women.
    We are especially fortunate to have Anne's contribution to initiate the series. She discusses interesting and important matters, and she sets a high standard for the contributions that follow.

OK, so this is the Information Age. But it's not so simple for librarians. We like law and order. Many of us gravitated to this field because we are comfortable with rules; they provide continuity, comfort and security. We cherish our rules, guidelines, procedures and handbooks, and we know what we need to know. We are predictable in our processes and unwavering in our commitment to preserving the past, organizing the present, and assuring an orderly transition to the future. Now we are faced by many uncertainties.
    The paradox of uncertainty is that it is at once threatening and liberating. While old ways and long-standing rules may no longer provide appropriate guidance or workable answers, the need for new solutions is opening unprecedented opportunity for revitalizing all aspects of our work. In this newly volatile environment, libraries will depend increasingly on highly motivated, empowered staff both professional and support. The way libraries have been managed for decades is being forced to change.
    For a long time, command and control was the standard governance model from corporations to libraries. In this hierarchical, top-down arrangement the director set policy and made essentially unilateral decisions. Once the rules and procedures were in place, the director was expected to assure that all groups and systems were in conformance. Authority for specific activities was often delegated to subordinates, and they were responsible for meeting the director's objectives. "Check your brain at the door" meant "follow the rules, get the job done, and don't rock the boat." Then stability began to erode. Access to resources became uncertain, costs began to escalate, workers demanded self-determination, options proliferated, and competition emerged. And that was before we felt the full impact of the Information Age!
   To the Information Age library, the surrounding atmosphere of uncertainty provides the challenge and the basis for reinventing itself in three key areas: governance, business planning and technical support. The fundamentals of librarianship will continue to exist in some form; cataloguing, acquisitions, reference, circulation, interlibrary loan are basic user services. What must change is the library's style: the way it sees itself, its staff and its customers

Management Team

    In the Information Age, it is not possible for one person to have all the answers when it comes to planning and managing a library. An inclusive governance model works best when it is headed by a central administrative group that includes the director and the department heads. This "cabinet" meets weekly; members agree that planning and decision making will be collaborative and that unilateral decisions that affect more than one group will be carefully avoided. The cabinet discusses issues and trends, exchanges information, and charts the library's course. Consensus assures that there is buy-in and demonstrates unity of purpose that is an important element in building staff confidence in library planning.
Task Forces

   As volatile as the Information Age has become, a long-standing committee is less likely to be as effective as an ad hoc task force, focused on a single, well-defined issue and more importantly, comprised of staff with specific skills and insights to bring to the table. When a task force includes representatives of many departments and job grades, work relationships throughout the library benefit. Service on such a group provides a major opportunity for individual growth. Members of all levels develop their presentation skills when the task force reports its findings to the cabinet or at general staff meetings. The library benefits from enriched problem-solving and the employees gain expertise. A task force is self-governing. Participation encourages a sense of autonomy and accountability, and supports the growth of leadership skills among members; a manager may serve as "champion" without being an active participant but in the role of consultant. Task ! force members learn to define the question, organize fact-finding, conduct interim management briefings and prepare a final report. When the task force completes its work it is "retired" with thanks and recognition for its accomplishments.
General Meetings

   Communication is essential in a value-added organization. Information empowers staff and builds confidence by reducing uncertainty and demonstrating fairness and respect. A quarterly meeting of all library employees, staff and professional, full and part time provides an ideal venue for project status reports, administrative information, staff updates, and even guest speakers. Agenda items may come from anyone and anyone may make a presentation regardless of status or grade. General staff meetings demonstrate the respect the library has for the expertise and accomplishments of its people.

Business Planning

    Libraries have customers and librarians need to get to know who they are, why they come to the library, and how they use information. The concepts we were taught about the "refer-ence interview" are even more important in the Information Age. With the proliferation of information resources and products, to say nothing of delivery media and formats, the cost of many options far exceeds a library's budget. Libraries also need to be able to assess use of their materials accurately to support future selection decisions, to justify choices among alternatives, and to identify the costs associated with use.

    Few libraries can expect unlimited budget support, but funding bodies may be more willing to underwrite well-documented proposals. A strategic plan is a highly effective tool for stating exactly what the library does, what represents its competition, and specific program goals and their costs. Doing a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis not only helps the library appraise its own position but gives funders a straightforward picture of the library in a standard context. Whether a library is "public," "special," "school," or "academic," the people who provide the funding include representatives with business acumen. When the library takes the time to speak their language, it is more likely to gain their support.

Technical Expertise

    A library's staff is its most valuable asset and only truly renewable resource; it is vital that they are viewed as highly respected information providers both within and outside the library. Hiring must be done with great care; because personal development is an important objective, new employees must be selected as much for attitude and growth potential as for existing skills. Good people will do outstanding work when they are challenged by exemplary coworkers and supportive managers. In a collaborative organization where job grade may not restrict one's level of participation in planning and problem solving, employees are given a great deal of personal accountability. In this age of downsizing, a motivated, empowered staff can function effectively with fewer overseers.

Special Staff Positions
    For the library in the Information Age, all professional positions may not require library degrees. While we continue to need well-prepared librarians, sometimes we also must consider hiring specialists with purely technical backgrounds (software, systems, networking), business managers, and licensing or contracts experts. The library benefits by getting problems fixed quickly by people with precisely the right skills; and having access to some non-library points-of-view enriches the library's decision-making process.

Staff Development
    Staff development is an important responsibility of library managers and supervisors. It includes supporting participation in library task forces, and encouraging staff to extend their knowledge, skills, and reputations through publishing, asso-ciation activities, and continuing education in library organi-zations. A staff with a high level of self-esteem and a sense of personal accomplishment will carry a library to excellence.

Job Descriptions and Performance Review
    Every employee must have a job description that accurately states work activities; required education, experience, and skills; clearly specified accountabilities; and the impact of the position on the work of the library. The job description forms the basis for the annual performance review. Regularly once a year each employee receives a written performance review and has a private meeting with the supervisor to discuss it. Emphasis should be placed on setting a course for the year to come based on a review of the accomplishments of the year past. Deficiencies noted must include a statement outlining the supervisor's role in working towards improvement.

The Bottom Line
    Although the Information Age may be flooding us with options and uncertainty, one characteristic remains fixed: successful organizations will be those that add superior value to their products and services. Computing systems cannot do it alone. They lack intuition and insight and the ability to appraise and refine - all essential qualities in librarianship. As we redefine our job requirements and create stimulating, challenging work environments, we will attract and retain truly competitive employees. It's a simple idea: through our people we can secure our niche in this exuberant marketplace and exceed our competitors' value-add.