Directed Technological Change in the Florida Community College System

Derrie B. Roark

It has been noted throughout this book that technological change has outpaced the organizational development of academic institutions and their libraries in the 1990s. This chapter describes how leaders in community college library and learning resources (LR) centers have assisted their institutions in technological adaptations that are geared to organizational change. It focuses on the impact of two concurrent processes—statewide library automation and regional accreditation—on the restructuring of LR programs in Florida. The implications of this experience for the general role that community college libraries can play in the development of their parent institutions are summarized.

Introduction

Hillsborough Community College (HCC), located in west central Florida, serves 45,000 students on a complex of four campuses, each having a library/LR center. With a total program staff of forty-three, thirteen are faculty or professional positions. The program includes library and media services, satellite telecommunications, support for distance education, and technology planning.

The organizational structure of the LR program at HCC is fairly unique. The chief administrator is a staff officer (not a line officer) who heads the district LR office, which oversees centralized technical, media, and computer services. However, each of the four campus library/LR centers reports directly to its dean of student services. A campus library/LR center is charged with the implementation of collegewide policy; the district administration overseeing HCC’s four campuses and those of neighboring colleges is not involved in the implementation process but does set policy, procedures, and timetables.

District oversight and campus autonomy make strange bedfellows. However, as HCC has participated in the development of a district-level instructional technology plan, its LR program—the linchpin of that plan—is viewed as a model of centralized training and purchasing. In that regard, planning from above has benefited both the LR program and its academic institution. Change, which sometimes must be imposed from above, is easier to accept from below if done across the board. At the same time, HCC’s general experience suggests not only that strong coordination is necessary to ensure that technological development is done expediently but also that staff input and two-way communication on problems and processes are needed to make the whole process socially acceptable.

Directed technological change can also focus a college on the relationship between the particular needs of staff, faculty, and students, on the one hand, and the organizational design of an LR program, on the other. For instance, if a goal is networked access to information, planning and budgeting may call for a certain distribution of computers collegewide. Although feelings among LR staff of not being completely in charge may lead initially to frustration, such feelings can be overridden by the benefits that centralization brings in the way of shared priorities and matched equipment allocations. Overall, three factors have shaped HCC’s organizational development in the adoption of new information technologies: (1) a statewide library automation project, (2) regional accreditation criteria for instructional technology, and (3) the general structure of the college’s LR program.

Statewide Library Automation

Florida’s automation of higher education was initiated in 1982 with the adoption of the NOTIS system at the university level. Automation of the community college system, however, did not begin until 1991 with the adoption of the DRA system. By 1994, all sites at the twenty-eight community colleges were connected under the organizational auspices of the College Center for Library Automation (CCLA); by mid-1996, they had completed the connections for cataloging and the next year for circulation and serials management. 1

With the advent of the CCLA statewide system, each community college LR program has been required to participate on CCLA’s advisory board, to oversee state projects, and to appoint staff to liaison positions between the institution and the CCLA central office. A liaison may serve on a general regulatory committee (e.g., hardware, technical services, circulation, or public services) or on a more specialized standing committee (e.g., bibliographic quality control, resource sharing). Because the automation project was mandated by the Florida legislature, each community college was able to achieve fairly rapid technological progress without competing (politically or fiscally) with other college priorities. CCLA provided equipment, wiring, installation, training, and support. LR centers eventually adapted staff functions to the statewide system after a review of each college’s policies and procedures.

The technological development of LR centers was thus shaped by state requirements for library automation. For example, the state mandated that community colleges approve a stronger policy on borrower privacy; that the interlibrary loan policy include student privileges; that staffing patterns be reviewed for work flow efficiency and cost-effectiveness; that reciprocal borrowing privileges within the state be given priority; that all library catalog records be included in the statewide system, with quality controls; and that cooperative collection development agreements become institutionalized. With resource sharing a major component of CCLA’s philosophy, it became necessary to find staff time and alternate funds to process interlibrary loan requests; local sacrifices were made by cutting some unnecessary procedures (such as covering book jackets and making print copies of item-records).

Gradually, learning resources staff and library faculty across the state have come to rely on and trust other state-trained LR staff, as well as CCLA decisions made for the state LR programs as a whole. The professional staff who participated on CCLA’s advisory board thus became the core of leadership within the state’s LR community. CCLA projects put those local librarians in the forefront of a relatively new technological process in Florida’s system of higher education. It was inevitable, then, for some librarians to become leaders in the development of technology within their respective institutions.

Accreditation and Institutional Effectiveness

Hillsborough Community College was reviewed in February 1996 by a team of library and education specialists to assess its progress in meeting resource and service criteria of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). To prepare for the visit, the library and LR program had a preliminary review, by various college committees, based on the HCC strategic plan. Technology has become an increasingly significant part of SACS’s criteria to develop an institution’s research and curricular programs in conjunction with library resources and services. The criteria require an institution to develop a technology plan with input from key constituencies, to conduct periodic evaluations of that plan, and to incorporate those evaluations into a broader assessment of the institution’s overall strategic plan. However, the accreditation criteria do not stipulate specific performance goals for particular information technologies, nor do they amount to a “cookbook” approach to organizational restructuring. Rather, the criteria call in a general fashion for the articulation, implementation, and evaluation of certain “principles of institutional effectiveness.” Following are examples of this loose-in-principle, tight-in-local-application character of the criteria:

Institutions should supplement their traditional library with access to electronic information. Where appropriate, institutions should use technology to expand access to information for users at remote sites, such as extension centers, branch campuses, laboratories, clinical sites, or students’ homes. The institution must provide evidence that it is incorporating technological advances into its library and other LR operations.

Although the diversity of educational programs and goals will be a major determining factor in the selection of information technology resources by an institution, there must be a reasonable infusion of information technology into the curricula so that students exit with the fundamental knowledge and basic ability to use these resources in everyday life and in future occupations. Institutions must provide the means by which students may acquire basic competencies in the use of computers and related information technology resources. A reliable data network should be available so that students, faculty, and staff may become accustomed to electronic communication and familiar with accessing national and global information resources. There must be provisions for ongoing training of faculty and staff members so that they may make skillful use of appropriate application software. These requirements apply to all programs wherever located or delivered.

The dual mandates of institutional effectiveness and technological advancement offer libraries and learning resources programs a salient opportunity to provide leadership for the institution at large. Because all of Florida’s LR programs are now automated whereas many of its community colleges have had little or no technological development outside the library, they have had an important head start. Nearly all LR administrators, having been involved in the statewide library automation process, acquired an in-depth understanding of organizational redesign. With the CCLA office having served as a resource to community college libraries for hardware specifications, training programs, and other work flow transitions, an LR administrator tends to be viewed as having valuable and even unique experience in technology planning and development. Moreover, the SACS accreditation criteria support an LR administrator’s prospective leadership role at the colleges. Even if not leading the development of an institution’s technology plan, an LR program can use such criteria to enhance its own position to be the main provider of resources and services in support of the curriculum.

For example, because accreditation criteria require that students demonstrate competency in the basic use of computers, an LR program can have a main position in formal programs of information literacy and in credit courses on electronic information. Or, if not accorded faculty status, librarians can use accreditation criteria to justify library instructional programs becoming part of the academic system. (That may be a long-term goal. At HCC, for example, librarians with full faculty status have the opportunity to teach courses for academic credit, yet only one actually does so.) The essential point is that by generalizing what has worked well within libraries to assist educators and students, librarians have much to offer the larger institution in its attempts to foster social adaptation to new technology in the workplace and in the curriculum. For example, many of Florida’s community colleges have placed the planning and implementation functions for instructional technology and distance learning within the institutions’ respective LR programs.

Organizational Restructuring of Learning Resources Programs

The organizational restructuring that has evolved within the HCC Learning Resources Program (as well as within each campus LR Center) has become evident during the 1990s in manifold ways. Some staff gained their first experiences in academic-level meetings and state-directed sessions; all staff use electronic communications for daily information sharing; and the training role of the HCC district office has strengthened as LR staff require new skills. Overall, a certain trust has developed between campus staffs and the district office as LR centers have become regarded by their campuses as initiators, rather than followers.

Campus LR centers have thus thrived with oversight. Although some staff still interpret it as “control,” oversight enables an efficient redistribution of newly upgraded hardware to centers that demonstrate increased levels of staff expertise. Community college administrations, for their part, appreciate the accountability that CCLA imposes on the library and LR center staff because it reduces campus competition for technology-related funds, provides better library budget lines in the bureaucracy, and carries some assurance of quality control.

With the rising level of staff expertise, the college initiated a classification study of the paraprofessional employees in the LR program. That led to a restructuring of grade descriptions and specifications to strengthen the educational and experiential qualifications of entering paraprofessional staff, generally requiring more of a blend of library work and computing skills.

More important, HCC’s eight reference librarians had been functioning as both members of the faculty and managers of the LR program. In order to provide the time necessary for the library faculty to develop professionally—in terms of computer expertise, library instruction, reference, collection development, and collaboration with teaching faculty—the college has created a new position of campus LRC manager to handle administrative duties.

Summary and Observations

HCC’s experience indicates a natural progression for an LR program to be called upon to initiate, or at least to participate in, the development of a collegewide strategic technology plan. Library automation has been fairly rapid and successful, occurring almost completely in the first half of the 1990s. Roles of both professional librarians and LR paraprofessionals have expanded. The regional accreditation criteria have bolstered technological development and facilitated the budgetary process on campus. Library faculty have gained valuable experience in state liaison positions and advisory boards, so it is now common for instructional technology and distance learning to be placed with LR organizations. Against this background, many of Florida’s community colleges have had relatively little technological development or organizational restructuring outside the library/LR center. Accordingly, some of Florida’s LR deans and directors, having taken up the challenge, are viewed on campus as change agents. They are active on the state level in initiating resource sharing, reciprocal borrowing, and cooperative collection development agreements, as well as in collaborative teaching and distance-learning projects. After all, their libraries have already been restructured to meet both statewide library automation and regional accreditation goals.

Rapid technological change is now commonplace. Organizational structures and social adaptation must keep pace. Institutions cannot thrive in the electronic era with industrial-age attitudes, policies, and procedures. As Florida’s community college experience demonstrates, organizational development can be anticipated and planned as a centralized, top-down process of technological restructuring.

NOTE

  1. Paul McGinniss, Pete Tanzy, and Beatrice Smith, Technical Feasibility of a Statewide On-line Catalog under NOTIS (Tallahassee: Florida Instructional Resource Network, Florida Department of Education, 1988), appendix B; Jose Marie Griffiths and Lawrence W. Lannom, Plan for Library Automation for Florida’s State Community College System: 1989–1994 (Rockville, Md.: King Research, 1989); The Path to LINCC System Implementation (Tallahassee: College Center for Library Automation, 1992); Library Automation of Florida’s Community College System: Status Report, 1995–96 (Tallahassee: College Center for Library Automation, 1996).