Archive for November, 2011

The staffing challenge – it’s not just new skill sets

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011 by Jim

At the last Association of Research Libraries (ARL) membership meeting (which means I’ve been carrying this thought around since mid-October, shame on me) I sat in on the Transforming Research Libraries Committee meeting chaired by my long-time friend, Carton Rogers. He precipitated what turned out to be a very engaged and frank discussion about the staffing challenges research libraries face while trying to navigate the increasingly urgent imperatives to transform their operations and renovate their portfolio of services.

He got things started by sharing an excerpt from an survey of ARL directors that asked what were the top three areas ARL should emphasize on behalf of members over the next three years. The first choice of 41.7% of the respondents was

Workforce needs of 21st century research libraries, including new roles for professionals.

A few of the committee members spoke to that issue and by the end of the discussion nearly every one in the room had shared their local challenges in this regard. People talked about inter-generational work issues, succession problems, and the obstacles to change posed by both union circumstances and librarians with faculty status. They wanted to have librarians engaged more directly in the research process and the outputs of their institutions but recognized that most of the current work force was not sufficiently versed in the research process or in the deliverables from that process to become effective support or service agents. All of these are real world management challenges that even with the best of will on the part of both management and staff seemed increasingly intractable.

In a follow-on conversation to the meeting I was reminded of a very good piece of research done by a group of ARL Research Library Leadership Fellows a few years ago that spoke directly to this problem. Krisellen Maloney, Kristin Antelman, Kenning Arlitsch and John Butler did a project whose results were first presented at the October 2008 ARL Membership meeting in a session titled “What are our future leaders thinking?” They later published the work in CR&L in a piece titled “Future Leaders’ Views on Organizational Culture“.

Their project surveyed 165 future leaders (see the article for their working definition) to assess whether there was a relationship between future library leaders’ satisfaction with their organizational cultures and their perception of their own effectiveness. As you might imagine the academic library profile is dominated by a Hierarchy culture and the preferred culture,as perceived by this population, is more flexible and externally oriented. The staff who are most likely to contribute to the reshaping and transforming of the academic library service portfolio feel thwarted and judge their efforts ineffective. The discussion and conclusions in the published article are worth your attention.

What library administrators identify as a staffing challenge is cast, in the most measured way, by the authors as a call for organizational cultural change. Moving from hierarchy to adhocracy – a culture of high flexibility and external focus – would liberate the motivated staff resources we already have and create an environment congenial to the people with the skill sets that the future library needs. Without minimizing the individual local management challenge it seems to me that we would do well to put in place an explicit program aimed at cultural change at the same time that we look to renew, realign and refresh library staff skill sets.

P.S. It was at their ARL presentation that I was first introduced to Prezi, the presentation software that is the anti-powerpoint, which has become my default environment for my presentations.

“I’m here to give you the mean news” — alignment over assessment

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011 by Merrilee

This summer I attended the RBMS preconference (that is, the Rare Books and Manuscripts section of ACRL, and the preconference is held before ALA Annual each year. If you don’t know what ACRL and ALA are, maybe you are reading the wrong blog?).

The conference was very good, but one talk, given by Sarah Pritchard (university librarian at Northwestern University) has resonated with me, even months later.

Sarah started by saying she was there to give us the “mean news”: It’s not about us (libraries); it’s about the institution (university). Thinking politically (and practically) it’s essential that the library appeal to the mission of the larger institution. Even though “assessment” is very trendy right now, what’s even more important is “alignment.” Some of my take-aways:

  • Pay attention not just to the stated mission of an organization, but also to what parts of mission are window dressing. For example, lots of universities say they support civic and community engagement. But has the campus established programs and made and real investments in these areas?
  • Align collections and services with core research and teaching areas. This requires asking some tough questions. If there are no courses in a special collections area – even for one year – can you justify continued purchases in that area?
  • Be sensitive to enormous pressures felt by top administrators: how are libraries helping the institution be more competitive, attract better students, get more grant funds, help faculty do better research and publish more? Can we engage with faculty research beyond materials procurement? Help with publishing, research, managing data? There are opportunities here to demonstrate value.
  • “Stop talking about the library as the heart of the campus, start talking about the librarians” — it’s less about collections, and more about services.
  • This message of alignment over assessment implies (I think correctly) that libraries need to act strategically and design customized services to support campus goals, which will necessarily differ. What may be wildly impactful on one campus, may not be on another. This is not to say that we cannot usefully take ideas and models from one another — I think we can. But we need to do so strategically and with a recognition that there are key differences. And periodically look up to see what strategy is most appropriate in a given setting.

    These ideas were echoed in some of the reporting out from last month’s ARL membership meeting. In the closing session, John V. Lombardi, president of Louisiana State University told librarians (in reference to digitization and technology), “Instead of rushing in and participating in a game where you don’t have the muscle, you want to stand back” and wait for the right moment.

    The article continues:

    Ever blunt, Mr. Lombardi used humor to make his point. When people ask him for money, he said, his first question is, What will that project do to make the university more competitive? “If you can’t persuade me that the work you’re doing is going to make us more famous, we’re not going to be interested in investing in you,” he said. “Is that wise and profound and good? No. It’s stupid. But that’s the way it is.”

    His concluding comment: “The football team is allowed to run a deficit of $3- to $7-million. And you’re not.”

    Copyright and risk: upping the ante?

    Friday, November 4th, 2011 by Merrilee

    The US Copyright office has recently issued a paper, Priorities and Special Projects of the United States Copyright Office. The paper outlines some areas that the office will be working in over the next two years. One of these projects has already resulted in a “white paper” on the mass digitization of copyrighted books. Although this piece of work is receiving a lot of attention, I’m more curious about another strand of planned work, a study on a “small claims solutions for copyright owners.” From the paper:

    Copyright law affords a bundle of exclusive rights to authors, including the rights to
    reproduce, distribute, publicly display, and publicly perform their creative works, or
    license others to do so. However, these rights are meaningless if they cannot be enforced.
    As the ease of infringement has risen, so too has the cost of federal litigation. At the request
    of Congress, the Copyright Office is conducting a study regarding alternative means of
    resolving copyright infringement claims when such claims are likely to involve limited
    amounts of monetary relief.

    [More information here]

    I worry that creating a means to more easily sue for infringement will have a negative impact on institutions who are considering digitizing materials held in special collections, using a risk management approach (as described in the Well-Intentioned Practice document). Since the study won’t be completed until 2013, it’s too early to worry. However, it’s not too early to formulate a response! Those are due January 26, 2012, which is right around the corner.