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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Spring 1998

Academic Library WebTeam Management: The Role of Leadership & Authority

Bill Johnson
Science Librarian
Texas Tech University Library
wtjohnson@ttu.edu

Introduction

A quick and informal survey of academic library web sites reveals that many options have been sought to establish a web presence by university libraries. Web sites range from "one man shows" to teams with dozens of personnel. Texas Tech University (TTU) Library "experimented" with a working team to develop its presence on the World Wide Web. The WebTeam was not a committee. It was an autonomous group of professional librarians and paraprofessional staff from across the Library who were charged with the task of developing and maintaining an outstanding web site. It was free to develop its own methods, agenda, and priorities. It was responsible for communicating with anyone who would be impacted by the work of the Team and to help the "technologically challenged" become more comfortable with the task of developing their individual contributions to the institutional site.

The World Wide Web offers unlimited opportunities for learning organizations to try such experiments. A learning organization has been defined as an "organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights" (Riggs 1997). Behavior modification, as indicated here, is no small challenge for academic libraries. Yet, the extent to which library managers offer employees the opportunity to exercise leadership, initiative, and creativity more fully through teamwork, may determine how effectively that library meets the future information needs of its clientele (Maxwell 1990). The academic library of the future will be much different than the one we know today (Taylor 1995). It will behoove those in academic librarianship to investigate and participate fully in changing today's library.

The purpose of this article is to describe how the TTU Library WebTeam functioned, what it achieved, and the lessons learned, with the hope of encouraging other academic institutions to implement such a team structure to accomplish specific tasks either related or unrelated to web site management. This article describes that experiment from the perspective of the Team Leader, focusing on the role of authority and leadership in small group dynamics. The WebTeam phase of web site development at TTU Libraries has formally concluded. The successful implementation of our WebTeam suggests that small working groups of professional librarians and paraprofessional staff can manage their own agenda to help the academic library more effectively achieve its mission. Our Team was on the "front lines" bringing a new technology into the academic workplace where the rate of change is dizzying and where technological changes are not always welcome.

Background

The origin of TTU Library's web presence is complex. There was interest across campus in seeing the library develop a strong web presence. Interest from within the library was also growing and late in 1995 a small but enthusiastic group of librarians began to develop personal web pages along with the requisite skills needed to manage an institutional site. The pace of new technological developments seemed to remain just beyond our grasp for what seemed like an eternity. Web sites that develop through such an evolutionary process, driven by the technology and pressure from outside interests, may suffer from a lack of direction. A clear mission statement and vision is essential to launch any web related project properly (Hohl 1993).

In order to preserve continuity across our institutional site, a small group of public service librarians was formed to put up the first official web pages which were originally housed on a server in Academic Computing. With the establishment of our formal web presence, responsibility for site enhancements fell on the Associate Dean. But, with an already "full plate", little time remained for building upon the foundation of the original committee. It was then decided to try an experiment with a new working group, a WebTeam which would have complete responsibility for creating an outstanding site with members from across all areas of the Library. This pattern of establishing a "new service" within an established hierarchy is fairly typical (Honea 1997).

Briefly, the WebTeam consisted of six members from both technical and public services. This strategy was effective for pooling complementary skills from within a diverse organization (Loehr 1995). All library personnel were given the opportunity to request appointment to the Team with the recommendation of their supervisors. Those with the necessary hypertext skillss were assigned to the Team and a Team Leader was appointed by the Library Administration. The primary task of the Team was to insure that the Library's web presence achieved overall consistency and to provide the technical support needed to help librarians add professionally relevant material to the site.

Authority

Autonomous team projects may be viewed as threats to the traditional hierarchy of authority in libraries. However, it has been recognized that teams actually improve employee acceptance of authority and that "participation is one of the oldest strategies for gaining workers' acceptance of change" (Loehr 1995). The responsibility associated with participation is directly related to authority (Johnson 1996). Employees with little authority take less responsibility for their work, while individuals on a team with greater levels of authority assume a proportionally higher degree of responsibility. Coping with change is a significant challenge for librarians. An administrative structure that relies more heavily on teams to accomplish specific tasks may prove effective for helping library personnel manage the rapid rate of change they face daily.

The issue of authority was never formally discussed by the team but two aspects of authority gradually developed. The first involved the relationship between the Team and those outside the Team. We decided to allow access to the server in Academic Computing to the Team only. All information added to the site along with routine updates were made through the Team. Since nearly everyone with an interest in contributing information to our web site was a Team member, this initial access restriction was not challenged. Later, as more individuals became web savvy, they were given access to specific areas on the server which then resided in the Library's Technical Services Department.

The second aspect of authority occurred within the Team. While one individual served as Team Leader, everyone's input and participation was equally valued. Varying strengths and abilities were recognized and these differences were viewed as complementary rather than competitive. This sort of project offers the opportunity to show off one's technical skills, yet it also serves to keep egos in check since the suite of skills needed to build a truly notable site are not possessed by individuals, but by groups of individuals. Both professional librarians and paraprofessionals served on the Team. Interaction between these groups was quite extensive, after all, we were all on the same Team. While paraprofessionals were more commonly involved with tasks requiring extensive technical knowledge and professionals were more active with liaison duties between the Team and other Library or campus computer personnel. Equal input was received from all members regarding content and design elements of our web site. Team members were given 10% release time for Team assignments but more often than not, the work of the Team spilled over into one's personal time.

Team Leader

The responsibilities of the Team Leader included general oversight of Team member contributions, reviewing Team member performance annually, supervising the work of the part time student employee, and advocating a growing web presence among staff. The Team Leader also played a role in the establishment of priorities as well as decreasing potential confusion and duplication of effort (Honea 1997). The same 10% release time was allowed for the Team Leader as with the other Team members. The Team Leader also evaluated use statistics on the web server and disseminated this information to affected parties. Two additional responsibilities involved making sure that all e-mail messages that came through the Library's web page were answered in a timely fashion and that the program to check the validity of Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) was routinely run. Corrections to these links were made by the student worker or the web author who had selected the link in the first place.

Probably the largest single task of the Team Leader was to make sure that input from all Team members was incorporated into the decision making process. Some have referred to this function as that of a coach (Poon-Richards 1995). In other words, the Team Leader's main concern was the development of collaborative skills in others (Honea 1997). This was not difficult when members were present during our biweekly meetings, especially when practical questions addressed such concerns as which image to place on a page or how to word a form. Discussions were frank and open. Participation and interest by all Team members was evident. It was much more difficult to secure input via e-mail, especially when trying to formulate Team goals, draft a general policy statement, or handle similar issues of a broad or more ambiguous nature. The Team Leader lacked the authority to require such input. A member could be asked to participate, yet no mechanism existed to insure compliance. What sort of leadership style is most suitable for managing such a working group? Flexibility, technical competence, and mutual respect were most successful with influencing an individual Team member's performance. Team members possessed a strong sense of social justice. "Equality meant not only equal treatment but treatment as an equal" (Martell 1987).

The WebTeam operated in a general atmosphere of ambiguity. We were forging new ground. Offering leadership in a climate of ambiguity was a daily challenge but an essential responsibility of the Team Leader. The very nature of the web contributes to a sense of ambiguity and growing complexity. In fact, the capacity to hold contradictory notions and possessing a mind that enjoys complexity are important Team Leader attributes. It is the ability to translate a vision into practical reality that makes for an effective small group leader (Taylor 1995).

The Team Leader also reviewed statistics on web site usage. Use statistics were initially generated for the web server activity in a spreadsheet format. Later, software was purchased with which more sophisticated reports could be generated "automatically." It was the responsibility of the Team leader to communicate levels of use to the appropriate web author or administrator. The statistical data on which these reports were based came from Technical Services at the Team Leader's request. These requests did not always receive high priority, however, resulting in delays disseminating the reports. This underscores the importance of the relationship between the WebTeam and the Technical Services Department.

Use data has traditionally been valued by librarians and employed in various ways to justify acquisitions or new services. Usage statistics played a central role in the lively discussion which arose as to the importance of having a site that was logically organized and structured according to some kind of hierarchy. One view held that patrons found information on the web via search tools rather than browsing. The other view held the position that patrons found what they were looking for on the web by following related links to the item of interest in a logical sequence. The latter view believed that general or top level pages would receive a much greater proportion of hits while more specific pages would receive correspondingly fewer hits. In fact, patrons probably find information using both strategies. But our statistics suggest that a web site should be logically structured so patrons can intuitively find the information they seek (Table 1).

Table 1: Sample Web Server Activity for Top Level Pages

Web Page July Activity August Activity
Home Page 1929 3342
Online Catalog 469 827
Reference 281 502
Table of Contents 150 236
Other Library Collections on Campus 100 188

As you can see from Table 1, usage grew as the site became better known and the top-level pages received greater use. Our page went live on its own server in June.

There were few e-mail queries through our web site. Efforts were made to respond to each question in a timely fashion, but no statistics were maintained on this activity due to the low number of questions received. Frequently, a request was referred to a more qualified colleague to answer the question. Thus, many questions were not directly answered by the Team Leader.

In the early stages of our work, the University Library served to host, advise, and assist other campus libraries as they developed their own web sites. The Texas Tech School of Law and the Southwest Collection are two local examples of libraries whose web presence was initially supported by the University Library WebTeam. The Texas Tech Center at Junction in central Texas is an example of a remote facility which got its start with help from the University Library's WebTeam.

Practical Issues: Meetings & Logistics

WebTeam meetings would best be characterized as "working meetings". Each meeting had a purpose. We had specific tasks to do, work by members to review, or issues to discuss. We met biweekly but we were not locked into this schedule. In other words, meetings were flexible and the discussions were concise. When it became necessary to discuss matters among Team members between formal meetings we either routed hardcopy materials or circulated e-mail messages. No specialized software was purchased to allow meetings in a common electronic workspace, though a test directory was set up on the server whereby we could review draft web pages. Also, no specific training was provided for Team communication or collaboration, nor was a formal budget specifically provided for Team use. Salaries for team members came from established budgetary allocations. The part-time student worker was actually a temporary position that was applied to the Team, rather than designed for Team use originally. No hardware was purchased for Team use. Existing equipment was used, though some software was purchased with funds from the Technical Services budget.

Rationale for Creating Teams

The rationale for using working teams with the responsibility for accomplishing specific tasks is commonly discussed in the literature. Working teams are known for bringing together the right combination of technical expertise, institutional vision, personal commitment, individual enthusiasm, and tools to accomplish more with less cost. It has often been said that the greatest single resource in a library is the people who work there. This is best exemplified with self-managed teams. Bureaucratic layers tend to inhibit rapid progress. This is particularly damaging in an environment of rapid change such as that characterizing today's libraries.

Organizations structured along traditional lines are more successful when conditions are stable. A sense of ownership contributes to team success because of the relatively higher level of commitment built into the decision making process (Martell 1987). Specific reasons for using self-managed teams in libraries include:

  1. Increased recognition of individual employee's contributions
  2. Increased employee motivation and commitment
  3. Shorter time between project implementation and completion
  4. Worker innovation fostered and rewarded
  5. Worker brainpower and creativity highly cultivated
  6. Reasonable risk taking facilitated
  7. Increased productivity

While these benefits can motivate an organization to try utilizing self-managed teams, success depends on the team members' shared vision of the manner in which these benefits can be translated into career betterment and company or institutional improvement (Stokes 1991, Moore 1995, Taylor 1995). The cumulative effect of these benefits is the increased responsiveness to library users as a result of greater innovation (Moore 1995). If libraries are to survive in the rapidly changing environment characteristic of the beginning of the 21st century, it is essential that they become expert innovators. Change is normally met with resistance. After all, few really embrace change. Library leaders must become masters of persuasion to meet this resistance to change (Moore 1995).

Whether or not libraries have been successful at making their collections easily usable is often debated (Taylor 1995). It is time to try another approach to this challenging goal and teams may provide the best solution. In order for teams to have the desired effects, however, it is necessary to do more than simply put a group of people together with a job to do and expect it to work perfectly. Teams require support. Training is critical, for team work is fundamentally different than working alone. It is not well suited to everyone, but it is much more likely to be successful with adequate training. Adequate time must be allowed for a team to succeed. A budget is important. Developing new products and services takes an investment in resources.

Conflict Resolution

While this team experience was regarded as successful, all was not smooth sailing. Rough water was occasionally experienced. One conflict arose over whether or not to store material temporarily from distance students on the Library's web server. Though space on the server was adequate, one Team member viewed this use as inappropriate.

Due to the limited amount of space required, the temporary nature of the space requirement, and the positive exposure the course offered Texas Tech University Library all other Team members concluded that the request was not an inappropriate use of Library resources.

In addition to Team support, the Head of Technical Services, the Head of Information Services, and the Associate Dean agreed that housing distance education students' web pages temporarily on the Library's server was justified. A compromise was reached whereby students could fully participate in the class and temporarily establish a live web presence.

Another conflict arose over the nature of the content to be placed on our web site. The Library Administration chose to house only professionally related material on the server, leaving personal information off. A few Team members sought to challenge this position. Most were satisfied with the professional focus, though one Team member left the Team over this issue.

Lessons Learned

Several lessons were learned from this experience.

  1. Seeing people as the most valuable asset in the Library is essential. Their high value is based on a willingness to share their talents and creativity to provide needed products and services in a flexible manner. In other words, selflessness is a key ingredient to success. This WebTeam was fortunate in that most members went far beyond the 10% time allocation, working on their own time because they wanted to make a strong contribution to the group effort.

  2. Listening skills must be emphasized in a team structure. Team members generally believe that they have a valuable contribution to make to the Team, otherwise they would not have become a member. An excellent way to convey value on someone is to give them a hearing. This takes effort, for we are too often more interested in being heard than in listening. Using technology to facilitate the exchange of comments may be necessary since it is not always possible to schedule a meeting where everyone can attend in person.

  3. Setting the tone of openness is an important first action. Pretense will quickly undermine the Team's ability to interact. If members observe that their contributions are not being heeded, their contributions will soon dry up. Leaders must be looking for ways to draw out those who tend to be quiet.

  4. A high level of technical competence or skill among WebTeam members is not to be taken for granted. Skills may vary widely among Team members and some may have skills that seem only slightly relevant such as an artistic eye or an eye for detail (Poon-Richards 1995). Yet, web development projects will be more successful as complementary skills are brought together in a rich mosaic of technical competence, communication ability, and interpersonal skill. The emphasis is on the lateral flow of information among team members rather than a vertical flow of information with administrators up and down the hierarchy (Poon-Richards 1995).

  5. Time. Successful teams require at least 18 months to substantiate their contribution to the organization (Riggs 1997). It often takes this long for the team to simply figure out how to work together efficiently and effectively.

  6. The very expertise which attracts team members to participate in a web development project may serve to inhibit teamwork if it is not guided by a clear policy statement. The power associated with expertise is capable of disintegrating group cohesion (Honea 1997). This policy statement may address the nature of the web site content, structure, and appearance. It should address how material is added to the site and who is responsible for site design and maintenance. Our formal web authoring guidelines were not drafted until late in the experiment and should have been one of our earliest priorities (Appendix 1).

Conclusion

The successful library of the future will more fully utilize small working teams to accomplish specific projects than today's libraries. Teams offer a powerful and flexible tool to incorporate new products and services into an academic library in the face of rapid changes. Electronic developments will continue to offer staff exciting methods of increasing efficiency and effectiveness as they seek to communicate with larger constituencies across extended areas of time and space. Some things will undoubtedly stay the same, such as the need for libraries to focus on services. Some things in libraries will have to change, such as the way workers are organized, information products are created, and leaders are developed. Working teams contribute to each of these needs while helping librarians adjust to the rapid changes which characterize the profession.

References

Hohl, Pat. 1993. Project empowerment-the early steps can make a difference. In: Proceedings of the AM/FM International Annual Conference, pp. 379-387. AM/FM Int; Aurora, CO.

Honea, Sion M. 1997. Transforming administration in academic libraries. The Journal of Academic Librarianship 23(3): 183-189.

Johnson, Peggy. 1996. Managing changing roles: professional and paraprofessional staff in libraries. Journal of Library Administration 22(2/3): 79-99.

Loehr, Linda. 1995. Composing in groups: the concept of authority in cross functional project team work. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication 38(2): 83-93.

Martell, Charles. 1987. The nature of authority and employee participation in the management of academic libraries. College and Research Libraries 48: 110-122.

Maxwell, Gerald C. 1990. Teamwork aspects of situational management In: Proceedings of the IEEE 1990 National Aerospace and Electronics Conference, NAECON 1990, Dayton Convention Center, 21-25 May, pp. 1018-1020. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Piscataway, NJ.

Moore, Mary. 1995. Impact of the changing environment on academic library administration: conflicts, incongruities, contradictions, and dichotomies. Journal of Library Administration 22(1): 13-38.

Novak, P.L., D.A. Varley, D.L. Nousen, and G.W. Luczynski. 1997. Web publishing: new roles and new partnerships for communicators. In: International Professional Communication Conference - Crossroads in Communication, IPCC 97 Proceedings at Salt Lake City, UT, USA; 22-25 Oct. 1997, pp. 203-210. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, New York.

Poon-Richards, Craig. 1995. Self-managed teams for library management: increasing employee participation via empowerment. Journal of Library Administration 22(1): 67-84.

Riggs, Donald E. 1997. What's in store for academic libraries? Leadership and management issues. The Journal of Academic Librarianship 23(1): 3-8.

Stokes, Stewart L. 1991. IS without managers. Information Strategy: The Executive's Journal 8(1): 11-14.

Taylor, Merrily E. 1995. Getting it all together: leadership requirements for the future of information services. Journal of Library Administration 20(3/4): 9-24.

Additional Reading

Brigman, Linda C. 1996. Web Site Management Excellence. QUE Corporation, Indianapolis, IN.

Morgan, Gareth. 1993. Imaginization: The Art of Creative Management. Sage Publications, London.

Probst, Laura K. 1996. Libraries in an environment of change: changing roles, responsibilities, and perception in the information age. Journal of Library Administration 22(2/3): 7-20.

Riggs, Donald E. 1997. What's in store for academic libraries? Leadership and management issues. The Journal of Academic Librarianship 23(1): 3-8, January.

Appendix 1

TTU Libraries Web Site Policy

Introduction

History
The TTU Libraries web site was launched in the summer of 1995. It began as a text oriented resource for providing information about the Libraries at Texas Tech based upon Library-wide input, guided by a team of four individuals. Our page was also housed by Academic Computing, thus a number of security constraints were imposed on the site's development, such as a prohibition on the use of CGI scripts. Today, the site is on a library-owned server, maintained by the Automation Department. It continues to be a text-based resource though a significant number of images are used. It also continues to be a team effort, drawing on the diverse talents and resources from across the Library. The Team reports to the Associate Dean, Dr. Doug Birdsall. Present membership consists of the following:

Team Member Department E-mail @ ttacs1
Vishal Agrawal (1/2 time) WebTeam Technician livra
Joe Ferrer Acquisitions lijlf
Bill Johnson (Team Leader) Information Services liwtj
Tai Kreidler Southwest Collection litdk
Margaret McCasland User Instruction limjm
Suzan McGinnis Collection Development lisdm
Susan Poulter Government Documents lisam
Stephanie Schmitt Automation liscs
David Stoune Reference liddp

Purpose
This policy is not a guideline for how to create or design web pages. Rather, it focuses on administrative issues relevant to the University Libraries web site. Each page must conform to campus wide policies found at the following Internet Uniform Resource Locator (URL): http://www.ttu.edu/guide/guides.htm. The content of this site is to be professionally oriented and our goal is to facilitate access to scholarly information in support of the teaching and research missions of Texas Tech. As such, it is not our intent that this site provide personally oriented information. There are a number of local as well as national Internet service providers that offer such opportunities.

WebTeam Role
The purpose of the WebTeam is to:

  1. maintain the site
  2. encourage interested staff to contribute substantive content
  3. train staff in the tools used to create web pages
  4. secure additional tools as needed
  5. provide continuity across the site
  6. convert print or electronic documents into hypertext (HTML) or other web compatible formats
  7. to share information and resources that will help to create an outstanding and user friendly web page

The purpose of the WebTeam is NOT to provide the content but to place the content provided by others in a logical place or on a "general resources/bibliographies" page. For example, if a remote link becomes invalid, the team will notify the appropriate web author who incorporated the specific link on a page who would then be responsible for providing the Team with a correct link or instructing the Team to remove it entirely.

WebTeam members are released from 10% of their time to work on the Library's web site. Members are subject to an annual review by the Team Leader which is forwarded to the Department Head to whom they report. They are also encouraged to evaluate the Team Leader. Membership on the Team is subject to the approval of the individual's Department Head. There is no set term of service on the WebTeam and the total number of members is not fixed. The Team should be representative of the Library as a whole and small enough to accomplish specific tasks. A half time Library Specialist supports the Team by doing routine maintenance. Prospective members should have a working knowledge of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). Individuals interested in serving on the WebTeam should contact the Team Leader for further information.

A designated Team member will regularly check the comments received from the e-mail button on nearly every page while a member of Reference will check the Reference queries separately. It is our goal to answer these queries within 24 hours.

It is our goal to make the site as interactive as possible by providing forms for such services as interlibrary loan and library express, as well as a searchable interface. A web OPAC (catalog) is a feature that the web Team will be involved in reviewing, along with other Library Departments, to achieve ease of transition from the web page to the library's catalog by our patrons.

Relationship with the Automation Department
The Automation Department will monitor the site for security holes and plug them as needed. They will also backup the site regularly and generate monthly statistics on how much use each page receives and from where it is accessed. These numbers will be provided to the Team Leader for the purpose of generating reports on web site access to be shared with Library staff. Early reports suggest that the navigational structure of this site is important to most users. Thus, it will continue to be an important function of the Team to place new pages where they are most likely to be found by interested patrons. Automation will also run a monthly program for checking the links from the web site. This report will be forwarded to the Team Leader for review.

A working directory will be maintained where Team Members may add new pages or modify existing ones. The Team Leader or a representative from the Automation Department will move files from this working directory to the live server. This is to foster continuity in design and conformity with institutional policy such as with the use of Tech's logo. Direct access to the live server may be provided to individuals, subject to Team approval and may be temporary depending on the nature of the need for such access.

Content and Features
The TTU Library's web site will play an increasingly important role in the collection development activities of the Library, thus the Acquisitions and Cataloging departments will become more involved in its design and functionality. Several examples of this role could be cited such as electronic journals and online reference sources such as encyclopedias. This will require a closer working relationship with the collection development activities of subject librarians and the Reference Collection Committee.

Specific content elements of subject librarians' pages as well as departmental pages and other participants will be the responsibility of the author. The WebTeam will serve to assist with overall design and navigational features. If necessary, the WebTeam will also convert documents to hypertext or other suitable format. As a minimum, every page must have a Texas Tech logo. Authors are strongly encouraged to make each page as readable as possible so care should be exercised with the combination of colors for the text and background. The file size of images should be kept small by minimizing resolution and the number of colors used in the image. Also the number of images used on a page should be minimized and they should contribute to the information content of that page. Users with visual disabilities should be kept in mind so authors should use the "ALT" tag or comparable method to explain content elements that cannot be viewed with standard reading devices. Also, it is very important to help the viewer navigate within our site, so authors are encouraged to use the standard navigational footer used on top level pages or something similar. Other features should include authorship with an e-mail address, date of the most recent change, and a copyright notice or symbol

All employees are encouraged to provide input and participation in the development of the site regardless of their professional status. The most obvious opportunities to develop HTML authoring skills and self expression are through two avenues: department pages and subject pages. Please check with your department head about contributing information to a department's page. If an individual has an interest in developing a resource for placement on the Library's web site and it does not fall within their normal range of responsibilities, then the Team will assist them by working to establish a suitable place on the site for their material, if possible.

Conclusion
The purpose of this policy is to establish basic ground rules and guidance for the placement of material on the TTU Library's web site. This material is to conform to Texas Tech's overall policy and be of a professional nature. The role of the WebTeam is to maintain the site and assist individuals with HTML. The WebTeam will also serve to find a place for material on the web site if the author is unable to do so and the Team will also help Department heads and subject librarians develop their site.

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