Introduction, John McDonald, library director at the Claremont Colleges. We’re located in Southern California and have the unique model of being a consortium of liberal arts colleges with a set of shared services, like the library. Today’s talk will focus on how we are restructuring the library to face the challenges of 21st century librarianship and one of the key aspects is to shift our workflows from being designed around print processes to focus first and foremost on electronic resources.
Talking about the old prank of Cow Tipping seems to be apropos for us here in the great state of Texas. For those of you who didn’t grow up in rural Illinois, like me, cow tipping is a prank whereby red blooded American teenagers often talk about doing or having done at one time. Here’s how it works: You go out to a pasture and spot a cow sleeping standing up (and that’s the assumption that cows sleep standing up). You walk over and push it over, or tip it, and it falls down. Then you run like hell. And usually celebrate with some cold libations later.But it’s also an urban legend. You can’t tip over a cow. A study led by Margo Lillie, a doctor of zoology at the University of British Columbia, concludes that cow tipping by a single person is impossible. Also, cows don’t sleep standing up.Why do I bring this up?It’s an appropriate analogy for today’s talk, because in my experience, we have in the past and continue to talk about restructuring or reorganizing to support electronic resources more than we actually take steps to do it. We might tinker around the edges, hiring an e-resources manager or digital something-something librarian, but often they are an island within the organization, expected to do everything if it’s a resource that comes in digital format.And although many of you in the audience are probably e-resources librarians, the vast majority of our librarians are not. And most might never be able to be, given the skill sets necessary.
So assuming the flesh is willing and the spirit is not weak, if you were starting a library from scratch, would you organize job roles and responsibilities around print collections? Probably not.
…given that our print subscriptions have dropped precipitously in the recent past...
Meanwhile, our online presence expands and expands
So, what did we do during this time of rapid and dynamic shifts in collection development? Well, at Claremont, not much. This is our library’s org chart as of Spring 2008. We had 85 staff and exactly zero of them devoted solely to electronic resources management. That’s not to say we didn’t have portions of some staff devoted to e-resources. We certainly did, but it wasn’t their sole focus…and in many cases wasn’t their primary focus…We knew we had a problem and that some important tasks were going undone. We were also stressing out our staff who were willing and able to handle some e-resources responsibilities but didn’t have the time or focus to scale those efforts.
So we were focused on print tasks more than e-resources tasks.What do I mean by that? An example: even though gov docs have been published online since 1996, until 2010, we had two staff devoted to processing the paper copies. And that was their whole job. “Things to Stop Doing” had to become a mantra. But when prompted to come up with some things to stop doing, only the technical services department came up with a discreet list – and those proposals were routinely rejected by one or another person or dept.Maybe each of your institutions has ‘stopped doing’ some of these things, but we made a radical and dramatic and IMMEDIATE change to stop doing some things as we started this process: No paper checkin of journals or newspapers (in fact, no receipt) ; No binding ; No microfilm ; No card catalog cards for our special collections ; and a variety of other things…
But that’s not to condemn all our operations from that time. Like most libraries, we had ‘cylinders of excellence’, which worked well in a reactive, staff-centered, pull technology, conservative set of operations within the organization. In those days, a user had to identify what they wanted (print, online, book, journal, current, historical, library instruction, research appointment, etc.) and then seek that out from the right cylinder.
So I knew we had the opportunity to change what we were doing. A great opportunity to re-imagine the organize. The economic crisis of 2008 made sure that we had to do something to enact change.
Resistance to change wasn’t great – at least an acknowledgement that we needed to change to address some of our weaknesses. The spirit at Claremont has always been willing, it’s the flesh that has been weak. Not even weak, just full of institutional inertia.
We knew we had to change and we knew it would be hard. We realized that we might make some mistakes. The important thing was to design an organization that embraced ambiguity to benefit from its flexibility. An organization that was not afraid to fail. An organization that was not afraid to start over.
Sometimes you just have to say Yes, We Can! And then do it. Since we had an opportunity with our Voluntary Early Retirement Program, we decided to reorganize two major sets of services, e-resources management and library instruction.
We weren’t just cleaning up the house. We weren’t making one small change or an adjustment to one line item in a job description.
And we weren’t going to say we were going to change and then not doing it. We were going to stop doing things even if it meant zeroing out budget lines and shifting staff to other supervisors or other departments.
Again, a change in roles and responsibility and then enforcing that the work took place.
Here are some staff who took our early retirement offer. Some functions needed to be replaced, some didn’t.
This is a re-imagined organizational chart. The Collections Services division, formerly a disjointed and dis-aggregated collection of librarians with no real motive to do collections work, have been reorganized into a few departments: Materials management (aka Acquisitions), Resource Description & Access (aka Cataloging), and Electronic Resources Management, a new department of 3 FTE devoted to all the e-resources tasks that span the breadth of modern collections work from identification to access to evaluation.We also moved the model of librarianship from one of subject specialization addressing all formats and tasks. I wanted a model of librarianship that was format or task specialization with an overview of subject specialization (when we had it). For example, we would not advertise for a Modern Languages Librarian, even though language skills are still important. We wouldn’t find a person who spoke the 9 languages our former librarian did anyways. Instead we’d look for language capabilities among applicants for format specific jobs : and that has been successful, for example, our Science Instruction Librarian hire also speaks and reads Japanese, helping us in two different areas.
So, did we just tell staff to get in line and expect it to work out? Not, really. We did reassign some people immediately, but instead, we talked about a transition plan to new tasks. And we kept at it. People don’t want to change, and that includes library staff. For example, even after zeroing out our binding budget, I found out that two clerks kept doing their binding tasks and sending shipments to the vendor for 8 months after we had already decided to stop doing that task. Either the message didn’t get to them, they didn’t want to hear the message, or they, in the most altruistic sense, thought it was important to keep the task going and did it in addition to their other work.
So, what are tasks for e-resources librarians and staff? Some relatively traditional tasks….these are all things I did as an Acquisitions Librarian at Caltech, which was primarily an e-resources librarian job.
We plan to have our staff do all the above, but instead of supporting librarians on e-resources, our librarians will be expected to support the efforts of the e-resources staff. The e-resources staff will no longer be a bridge from collections to librarians, instead librarians will be the bridge from the e-resources staff to the user.
I know and continue to find some issues that we have with transition. First, we have a hard time stopping doing things. We also don’t know if we can readily transfer our skills to other jobs and roles, especially from a librarian perspective on staff tasks. We often underestimate what our staff can and want to do and therefore under-utilize them.All libraries have a set of legacy print tasks that they can’t end for some reason or another. How do we support those tasks without making or keeping them primary.And usually those tasks are in a backlog – things that we wanted to do but had to delay since we were busy dealing with e-resources tasks.We also feel bad about not keeping up or continue to do those print tasks – often leading to a feeling of betrayal by some of our most fervent supports…usually faculty who are print based.And to round it all out, collections work is becoming more and more complex and demanding yet other services the library performs are just as much. Data services, GIS, instruction, e-reserves, etc. and so on…all demand our attention and time.
What can we hope to accomplish?Integrate those cylindersBridge resources and toolsIncrease discoveryIncrease assessmentImprove our ability to work as a team.
How far will we go? How far will your organization go?How do we scale this within an organization? One e-resources librarian is an improvement, but quickly becomes a gatekeeper…almost always unwillingly.Do we add collections teams and build disciplinary based groups to address the issues and work? What resources do you give to your e-resources librarians once you have them? How do they scale the work to their staff?Where do you put that librarian and their staff? And maybe most importantly how do you address the fact that not all librarians will be e-resources specialist and not have an ability to do the work necessary? How often do you get the report that the ‘database’ doesn’t work, with no other information? How often do THEY expect you to work a miracle and get it going again – while the patron stands waiting at the reference desk?
Tipping the Cow: Reorganizing Staff to Support Electronic Resources