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Summary: March 2021 Core e-Forum, “Changes in Library Organization”

Summary: March 2021 Core e-Forum, “Changes in Library Organization”

The two day e-Forum “Changes in Library Organization” which took place on March 2-3, 2021 had 80 posts from 13 participants, representing a range of institutions: public, academic, and vendor. Our discussions included reasons why libraries needed to change their organizational structure, barriers to change and how to overcome them, communication techniques, as well as discussing specific organizational structure models and positions. The resources shared by the two co-hosts and participants can be found at the end of this summary.

We explored some of the primary reasons organizations needed to change, such as retirements, new leadership, new systems, and new prioritiesThere were a variety of responses with a couple of common themes emerging with organizational change being driven by COVID-19 changes and by library staff changes (retirements, new leadership/administration). Additional reasons were system migrations and other library work changes. One library that reorganized ~3 years ago expressed a desire to review their organizational model to see what was still working and what was not and should there be change.  Some of the reasons driving change came from within the library (library leadership) and without (university administration). Many were “just filling in the holes.” The conversation centered around the implications of radical change versus incremental change and the desire to assist staff through complex changes.

A significant discussion centered around culture and how culture can be one of the biggest impediments to organizational change and how could we change the culture in order to allow organizational change to succeed. Conversation centered around the desire to empower staff to make their own change in terms of culture and allowing them to have a voice. The importance for managers and leaders to be able to model the ideal cultural behavior was brought up, and that culture change is a process. It was also noted that culture change opportunities also could come from staff turnover.

We wanted to explore examples of good change management and what made change successful. However, discussion was limited. But, one interesting comment was an example of bad change management: making people apply for their old jobs as part of a reorganization. We also wanted to know what would help navigate change and become a change agent? We also wanted to discover from our participants any recommended books or articles on change management. Again, discussion was limited on this question, but two reading suggestions by one of the co-hosts were given.

On the second day, we started out discussing specific organizational models and positions, and we had a robust discussion. Participants discussed the impact of faculty status on an organizational structure which at one institution would make organizational change challenging. There was another comment about just “filling the holes” until a new Dean is hired. One participant shared their structure which looked “Radical,” but was a function of the abilities of existing leadership and needs of departments.

We were interested in exploring if libraries or individual library departments had taken on new roles not traditionally seen as part of that area, and what were some of the position titles for these new roles.  Some examples we supplied were:

  • Collections reporting to Scholarly Communications
  • Different organizations in relation to collecting, liaison work, engagement, digital scholarship/Digital humanities?
  • Where does data mining, data curation, preservation, digital scholarship live? Any of it in the Technical Services arena?

Discussion was limited on this question. There was little about new roles, but some indicated additional responsibility without additional people or pay.

  • Acquisitions, Serials, and Electronic Resources was now combined with Library Technology (mainly as the Technology person had a background in Acquisitions)
  • Cataloging and physical Preservation under Special Collections as that is where the need resided. 
  • Combining Technology and Special Collections seemed to be working for one library infusing technology options into Special Collections.

We were interested in knowing what types of communication helped or hindered change, such as email, regular discussions, announce and rip off the Band-Aid? We were also interested in knowing about the length of time for reorganization. Discussion was limited on this question. One commenter described how the library administration brought the departments together informing the staff that “neither department existed anymore and that we were all part of one, new department.” The participant continued noting that this method was not particularly a positive way to handle this as it created confusion until they could work out the details, but they made the best of it;  since everyone had to move workspaces and use existing furniture, they made a “Let’s make a deal” game to swap furniture. This allowed staff to get a choice during this change with their workspace.

Finally, we asked about succession planning and if that was part of any organizational change discussions. Once again, Discussion was limited on this question.

Organizational change is a great time to document what people do. Often with retirements though it is too late to ask questions after they leave. If done well, it can help make transition easier along with team building and innovation.

Resources shared

Lorsch, Jay W. and Emily McTague. “Culture Is Not the Culprit.”  Harvard Business Review 94 (4): 96-105.

Scott, Susan. Fierce leadership : a bold alternative to the worst “best” practices of business. New York : Crown Business, 2009.

Scott, Susan. Fierce conversations : achieving success at work & in life, one conversation at a time  New York : New American Library, 2017.

 – Susan Martin and David Schuster, e-Forum moderators

Core e-Forums are two-day, moderated, electronic discussion forums that provide an opportunity for librarians and library professionals to discuss matters of interest on an email discussion list. These discussions are free of charge and available to anyone who wishes to subscribe to the email list.