Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Summer 1998

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Conference Reports

Science Librarians Engineer their Futures: A Discussion From the Trenches

Patricia A. Kreitz

Jill Newby

The General Discussion meeting on Monday, June 29th, followed up the theme of the joint STS/ULS conference program on organizational change with Isom Harrison, Library Division Manager for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory ({http://www.llnl.gov/library/}), and Doug Jones, former Team Leader of the Science Engineering Team, University of Arizona ({http://dizzy.library.Arizona.edu/library/teams/set/}) who presented information on re-engineering processes at their libraries.

Isom Harrison began by providing background on the environmental factors that led to planning for re-engineering at his library.  The library had severe budget constraints, with 10% budget cuts every year for the past five years and "swing" budgets that brought a lot of money into the Library too late in the budget cycle to purchase books or hire and train needed staff.  Although the money could be used to purchase serials, it also often was expended on non-core subscriptions to electronic products and services while needed programs, collections, and staffing went unfunded.  Because this "swing" money was totaled into the Library's overall budget for the next fiscal year's planning, the disastrous decline of effective dollars was masked for many years.  The result was a substandard book collection and loss of professional staff.

Isom set up a re-engineering library team made up of scientists, business services personnel, and librarians.  He stressed the importance of adding what he humorously termed "Library enemies" into the planning process.  Once these people understood the problems and the needs, they had the potential for becoming the strongest change agents within the broader organization.

The objective of the planning project was to 1) re-engineer the funding process, 2) ensure equal access to reference information, such as database searching available free to all research programs, 3) match products and services to lab customer demands, and 4) establish new metrics to measure performance of the proposed new structure, including measuring how long it took to purchase and get books on the shelf and the length of the ILL process.  The strategic planning process resulted in a model that established a complete library baseline budget independent of swing budgets. Additional proposals included an automated check out system allowing professional staff to spend more time on reference service, and providing equalized charges for database searching so that small research projects would have access to search services. The plan also called for aggressive user education including professional staff providing more one-on-one instruction in the lab or office, a shared public access catalog among libraries, and new ways of measuring efficiency.  Because of the team-planning project, the administrator of the library has substantially increased its funding (by almost 1/3rd) to over $1.3 million dollars.

Doug Jones, University of Arizona Library, is the former head of the Science and Engineering Team and experienced that institution's re-engineering process from a unique perspective.  In his talk he gave the group some of the background for re-designing staff processes and operations.  The goal of the reorganization was to create a Library whose resources and services exceeded customer expectations. Doug stated that the responsibility of the library was and should be to facilitate access to information including intellectual, physical, and virtual aspects, and that effort also involves education or evaluation of information.

The key concepts of the re-organization were: a customer focused environment with quality defined by the customer; a general agreement that the Library was a learning environment where staff work and roles would be continuously redefined; and a reliance on data to aid decision-making and establish priorities. This required new thinking by the library staff such as risk taking and in managing customer expectations by identifying key customer groups and finding out their needs.

The process used at Arizona is team based, which Doug stressed is a technique or a tool for accomplishing goals.  He reiterated that restructuring, particularly using a team-based approach, is NOT easy, quick, management "du jour" or done, ever, in the sense of being finished.  One of its greatest challenges was that it required a new conceptual framework of behavior and skills for everyone.

The challenges Doug outlined included re-learning what "management" as an activity meant.  Everyone had not only to self-manage, but learn a system approach which includes the library team, the whole library, academic departments, university, publishers, societies, etc.  It is a management style that moves from the independent management of oneself to an interdependent approach.  The decision making process moves from a hierarchical, permission-based system to one suited to the situation.  In this decision making model, some decisions are authoritative, most decisions are based on delegation or consultation, and the highest level decisions are made by consensus. Feedback and evaluation of colleagues is done directly with the individual with constructive feedback, which must take into consideration power relationships and cultural values.  Problem solving moves from a position-based debate to a dialogue where each team member must actively understand other people's assumptions.  At the present time, the U of A library is identifying mission-critical areas for each team and defining the quality standard and acceptable level of quality for each of these areas.

The Discussion Group was well attended with many librarians commenting that this was one of the best activities they had attended at ALA.  The general discussion that followed the presentations continued for a full hour after the scheduled end of the Group's discussion time.


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