Keynote Address

Embracing Change:
Opportunities and Challenges for Librarians

Maureen Sullivan
Organizational Development Consultant

MAUREEN Sullivan's cumulated experience and studies in the area of organizational development inspired a change of focus from that of changing people to changing the organizational structure and rewards system. A library's organizational structure can be influenced and shaped by changing our perceptions of our work, anticipating the nature of libraries in the future, and becoming a leader within our libraries and within professional organizations.
Librarians experience many forces of change daily: copyright law, technology and the Internet, the new focus on teaching and learning within the library, the emphasis on outcomes assessment (largely due to the increased cost of college education), and the unfolding theme of diversity within the academy. We frequently have a fear of losing something through change, but this feeling is not always based in reality.
Margaret Wheatley, in the Living the Future II Conference at Arizona State University in 1998, noted that it is only human beings that tend to view change as a problem. Sullivan further identified a model of human attitudes towards change: the Pioneers, who are interested in new frontiers; the Explorers, who are willing to follow the Pioneers; the Settlers, who are willing to move into explored territory; the Stragglers, who reluctantly but eventually accept change; and the Urbanites, those who stay behind. Consideration of this model can be helpful in leading your library through organizational changes.
One emergent force is the recognition of the value of libraries and contributions of librarians within the academy, as noted recently by two college presidents with whom Sullivan had met this past summer. Students and faculty alike are receptive to learning from librarians, but our organizational structure has not evolved at the same pace as this acknowledgement. Our work has been transformed, but our organizational structures have not. This is apparent in the disconnect frequently noted between librarians and managers, between support staff work and current classification systems, and the discomfort with the current trend towards instruction by some who are used to more traditional roles.
We need to move beyond the attitude of "This is not the job I was hired to do" and encourage our colleagues to do the same. Encouragement can come from a transformation of our workplace structure. It comes from efforts to make work meaningful by ensuring that staff effort and time is used effectively.
Initial efforts towards redesign involve asking some basic questions:
  • What are the students and faculty at your institution doing in their research and learning?
  • What do they need?
  • What can you provide?
Key work activities should be those that directly serve those needs. In Peter Drucker's words, we need to practice "organized abandonment," i.e., what outmoded activities can be eliminated to enhance the value of our work?* A primary example is the current need for instruction. The counter example provided, labeling and plating, may not serve all institutions equally in terms of cost-effectiveness and level of service provided, but certainly the principle of streamlining internal processes is universally sound.
Sullivan described the processes she used in working with various universities, including Brown, Wellesley and the University of Arizona: involve the people performing the work; recognize that change has been significant; redesign the whole system. It is important to analyze the systems of communication and leadership currently in place, and customize reorganization to your own institution. To become leaders of organizational change, four tips were provided:
  • See yourself as a leader, both in the library and in the institution.
  • Monitor the needs of students and faculty, and take initiative in providing for these.
  • Assume responsibility for your own development and capabilities, identifying your desires, abilities, temperament and assets.
  • Examine your work and your focus, identifying what is personally satisfying.
On a more universal level, changes within the profession of librarianship also require personal analysis and flexibility. Suggested techniques for evolving successfully with external changes were also given:
  • Create and clarify your own personal vision, seeing your career as an ongoing process.
  • Take steps to move forward in your professional life.
  • Seek balance in your responsibilities by taking a portfolio approach, e.g., analyze the percentage of time spent in each activity.
  • Contribute to professional associations, including those beyond librarianship.
  • Embrace change as a natural force and look for the opportunities it presents.
  • Take a serious look at how you can contribute to the development of new professionals through mentoring, recruitment and support of diversity.
Respondent: Chris Ferguson
Chris Ferguson responded by presenting a number of points considered in the organizational redesign of his institution, the first focused on identifying aspects of transformation. We need to examine our environment and our relationship with our users, looking for emerging patterns and reevaluating our structures, rather than continuing to add layers to it. It is important to identify and maintain enduring values, such as equity of access; personal service; and service tailored to the specific needs of the individual, then to apply these values to the changed environment. In the case of USC's Leavey Library, this application took the form of providing a complete technological environment for researchers, taking innovative measures to ensure that this environment was equitable--available all hours and in all learning spaces. Effecting these changes required a fundamental restructuring of the organization, which has proven successful in providing for the service needs of the changed environment.

Respondent: Charles Martell
Charles Martell offered balance to a program celebrating change by focusing on enduring values and reminding us of the timeless nature of libraries. He advised us not to view fast and slow, old and new as opposites, but to identify and merge the best of each characteristic. We need to become digital libraries while preserving our institutions as knowledge centers, and it is up to librarians as "the great assemblers" to mend fragmentation caused by technological change. While organizational and environmental change is inevitable, we should not break entirely with the past, since it provides the basis of our identity as librarians. How we free ourselves from our past is important, so that we don't inadvertently place limits on our futures.

*Drucker Peter F. Management's new paradigms. Forbes 162(7): 152-177 (October 5, 1998).

Raye Lynn Thomas
Sonoma State University

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