Thinking about Organizations

I haven’t written much recently about MPOW, but we had a really interesting retreat before the holidays about organizational structure that I thought might pique some interest. We’re a growing library at UTC, but we’re growing in ways that seemingly aren’t typical for libraries in the US. Whenever I read about changes in structures for libraries, it tends to be in the direction of fewer professional librarians, more staff, more temporary/part time work…the same deprofessionalization that drives labor practices in the corporate world. I’ve even seen reports of public libraries going the Wal-Mart route, and hiring “part time” people just under the full-time limit in order to not have to pay them benefits…which may keep libraries open, but at a much larger cost to the stability of the workforce, I would think.

So when we started examining our own structure, and the changes that have been happening organically for years now, it was somewhat of a shock to see that our library is doing the exactly opposite of this. We are small, but even at our size the traditional ratio of staff-to-librarians is very different than at every other University that I am familiar with. When I was hired almost 9 years ago, there was a very small majority of staff-to-librarians..something like 18 staff to 14 or so librarians. The numbers at most of the institutions we looked at were much closer to 2-1 or 3-1 staff-to-librarians. The interesting part to me is that over the last almost-decade that number has shifted significantly, but towards the professional positions, the faculty positions. With our newest set of faculty hires, we are going to be something like 18 librarians to 13-14 staff…and in most cases that I can think of, the increase in librarian lines has come through the attrition and combination of staff lines.

We are in a position in librarianship where the “traditional” staff positions are being more and more disintermediated by technologies. When we moved our library ILS to OCLC Worldshare, we knew that it was going to have an impact on our departments. By eliminating the traditional copy cataloging functions, smoothing out acquisitions workflows, and other efficiency gains, we’ve been able to reposition a huge amount of hours towards more professional work. It’s allowed us to begin to expand in ways that we couldn’t without those efficiencies, and every time we’ve asked the question “What do we need to be a better library?” the answer to the question has been “Someone to head up this new thing…a librarian that can handle X”. So in almost every case we’ve had, we’ve chosen to go the route of creating more professional positions, and not less.

CAVEAT: This is not to draw massive distinctions between LIBRARIANS and NON-LIBRARIANS in some insane¬†hierarchical or judgmental way. It’s simply that my library operates under the auspices of the UT system, and for us, hiring staff means a lower payscale, less flexible responsibilities (changing the job¬†responsibilities¬†of a staff member vs a faculty member is more difficult) and we are tied to those things and really can’t change them. These are the rules of the game we play in order to make the best organization we can to serve our patrons.

So with this move to a new library, we have a different set of challenges. We’re reaching a size now where communication and management is becoming more difficult, and we’re struggling to maintain a flat structure when the pressures of hiring seem to be driving us towards more levels of management. We don’t necessarily want that, and prefer a structure that keeps as many of us “on the front lines” as possible, without the reporting/management hierarchies that can bog down operations. But it’s a struggle to see how that can be done given how and where our growth is occurring.

So, libraryland: How do you handle growth of an organization that actively wants to prevent increasing the complexity of structure? Is anyone else seeing the growth of professional positions at the cost of staff or paraprofessional?


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