Restructuring Academic Libraries: Adjusting to Technological Change

Charles A. Schwartz

An emerging problem for academic libraries is the lag of organizational development behind technological change. The key factor, which gained momentum in the mid-1990s, has been the rise of sophisticated computer networks that disrupt old organizational arrangements and invade the library’s traditional autonomy. Such rapid technological change does not necessarily lead to new structural patterns or new interdependent relationships. But it does create an overriding need for them by broadening the demand for network-to-desktop information resources to support new research and curricular programs. Networked resources require restructured, boundary-spanning library services throughout the academic institution. Forecasts for academic libraries in this transformed environment are mixed. In this book, some of the contributing authors identify, collectively, a broad range of opportunities for expanding the quantity and quality of library services, leading to significant organizational development. Other contributors lean toward an opposing prospect—that, in the absence of such development, academic libraries will face organizational decay, with a consequent deterioration in the library’s relevance.

Organizational development and restructuring are similar terms. Organizational development is a general term for structural–functional adaptation to new environmental challenges. Restructuring is defined more specifically in this book in terms of the changing scholarly communication system: Restructuring is the development of boundary-spanning library services—allied with computing center services—to deliver networked information resources campuswide for the broader purpose of supporting new research and curricular programs.

Until now, the literature on technology in libraries has not dealt much with organizational development, restructuring, or organizational decay. Rather, it has focused on a different process which can be called social adaptation, occurring primarily at the level of the individual. Social adaptation involves workaday concerns about “keeping current with technology,” “using electronic communications effectively,” “assisting faculty and students with information resources,” and so forth. These were at the top of a 1993 survey by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) on what its members considered their most pressing challenges at that time. 1

Although we may never fully adjust on a personal level to the pace of technological change, such adaptation is old hat by now. This book is based on the distinct premise that our profession is now shifting its focus to the more fundamental problem of organizational development. This is a new area for both theory and practice, and has only begun to attract systematic analysis by researchers or sustained attention by administrators. Indeed, before the acceleration of computer networking with the advent of World Wide Web in 1993, there was no general movement toward a convergence of public services and technical services, or of public services with either the library automation department or the campus computing center. 2

Telling in this regard is a 1995 survey by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) that focused on organizational changes undertaken over the past three years. 3 Of the 108 member institutions, seventeen (15%) have undertaken a librarywide reorganization, whereas thirty-four (31%) have merged specific units, with the main trend involving a reallocation of personnel from technical services to public services. The report concluded that “organizational change in the mid-1990s appears to be incremental rather than dramatic and transformational.” The case studies in this book, however, represent much more fundamental, or at least continual, reorganization processes begun rather early in the decade.

“We Haven’t the Courage” versus “Just Do It!”

The newness of restructuring, along with its sweeping implications, has evoked a polarity of assessments on what can be done in the foreseeable future. For example, on one side, Jerry D. Campbell, in a proposal for a new budget model for libraries in transition from the print age to the electronic era, reflected that “technological assault” combines with “organizational rigidity” to produce an “unproductive anxiety” in our profession. 4 To “improve the sense of confidence and control among library staffs,” Campbell recommended that planning, training, and team-building programs be run for some years before any restructuring might be attempted. “Given the trauma associated with major changes in libraries,” he reasoned, “few librarians, including library administrators, have the necessary courage to risk it.”

On the other side of the debate, Carla Stoffle, Robert Renaud, and Jerilyn R. Veldof, against a backdrop of the new realities of the higher education environment, contended that “academic libraries have to undergo radical, revolutionary organizational change quickly”:

The price of failure to act now and to begin building the necessary new structures and paradigms will be the decay and degradation of library services and the narrowing of library roles to the point where it will be impossible to make the shift.” 5

They peppered their clarion call for a restructuring movement with a host of admonitions against slow change: “Be willing to risk errors rather than lose opportunities”; “Be prepared to thrive on chaos”; “Just do it!”

The examples used to illustrate the poles of the spectrum of contrasting viewpoints are more philosophical than real, given Campbell’s and Stoffle’s similar track records. Campbell is a versatile writer who can argue both sides of the organizational development issue. For example, along the lines of the “lag of organizational development behind technological change posited in this book,” Campbell has noted that “technological possibilities always race ahead of the culture’s willingness and ability to embrace them.” He is perhaps best known as an advocate of restructuring reference service. 6 Stoffle’s article on “revolutionary change” should be read with an eye toward her interest in a then-upcoming ACRL conference on organizational change. Her institution—she is dean of the University of Arizona Libraries—has a “Vision Statement” that focuses on becoming a “learning organization”; the statement does not have adjectives such as “revolutionary.” 7

The philosophical difference Campbell and Stoffle have elucidated is nonetheless real in that it reflects a divide in our profession’s outlook on prospects for major organizational changes. Campbell sensed that libraries will seek to maintain a predictable world by reducing ambiguity, even at the risk of organizational development; for Stoffle, our energies would be much better spent developing resilient organizations that can absorb and institutionalize rapid change. Against that background of abstract standpoints, the case studies in this book occupy a new middle ground that centers on the planning process for noteworthy programs already under way. This joining of strategic analysis and action, though differing in scope and method from one program to another, demonstrates that the “unproductive anxiety” that Campbell sensed in our profession can be superseded by a certain “creative tension” between converging units. In that regard, these chapters mark far more actual progress than either polar assessment or the ARL survey suggest.

Nonetheless, other chapters on a broader analytical plane than this book’s case studies suggest that major organizational change will be a process with recurring bouts of instability. Because even reconsidering library services is usually troublesome, reconceptualizing and restructuring them may prove very difficult. Yet, prolonged failure to move in that direction—by either a library that lacks the capacity to develop, or one that puts a premium on avoidance of instability—will lead to organizational decay. The overarching issue, as David W. Lewis puts it in his chapter titled “Change and Transition in Public Services” becomes, “How is it possible to move a library organization from where it is today to where it needs to be tomorrow and still have a functioning organization when you get there?”

Approaches and Ranges of the Restructuring Process

The contributing authors’ various analyses, taken together, suggest a set of three approaches for “moving from here to there”: toward significant restructuring outcomes without undue organizational instability. These approaches to the planning process are:

  • coupling independent streams of problems, solutions, participants, and opportunities;
  • fostering collaborative realignments between organizations on campus and in a consortium;
  • coordinating academic program goals related to information resources and services in an integrated campus network.

In addition, the different kinds of restructuring outcomes—what is out “there” for a library to move toward—can be categorized in terms of five ranges of a restructured, boundary-spanning organization. As shown in figure 1, the first range is a reorganization of units within a library; the second range applies to a convergence of the library with the computing center; the third range relates to collaborative programs within a consortium; the fourth range, encompassing the library’s parent institution as a whole, involves the redesign of academic programs in an integrated network environment; and the fifth range is more visionary than organizational—it represents a rethinking of the library’s and the university’s societal mission in the age of electronic information.

The abstractions of “ranges” of outcomes are not familiar perspectives in our literature, though they may be intuitively familiar to administrators and researchers. Instead, restructuring efforts are usually couched in terms of the immediate surroundings of a single organization. For example, table 1 shows the outcomes of reorganizations listed in the 1995 ARL survey (with percentiles representing only the third of its members that reported organizational changes).

Except for “partnerships with other academic libraries,” those ARL library organizational changes were confined to range 1; indeed, the survey concluded that “there seems to be little involvement by members of the university community outside of the library.” 8

The connection (intervening variable) between the three various approaches of the planning process and the five possible ranges of restructuring outcomes is boundary spanning. It is the signature activity that makes restructuring a new form of organizational development by virtue of its broadening the scope of restructuring from the relatively bounded areas of library units, work flow processes, personnel, and budgets to campuswide and geographically dispersed fields of opportunity afforded by networked information resources and services. Boundary spanning is the essential difference between the kinds of organizational changes reported in the 1995 ARL survey and those described or envisioned in this book.

The various planning approaches have certain shared properties. First, they involve a series of incremental, or gradualist, projects that build collectively toward larger, more significant advances in organizational development. Next, the approaches are necessarily quite general. Restructuring academic libraries involves a host of nearly unique variables that no model could take into account: differences in leadership style, technical know-how, and the historical–experiential context which any mature organization draws upon to interpret new information or new challenges. Finally, the approaches are open-ended. The 1995 ARL survey noted that library reorganizations are more often situational than strategic:

With a variety of forces currently at work, most notably declining resources and the ability of communications technology to deliver information to the desktop, many libraries have been forced to restructure on an ad hoc basis without an opportunity to plan. 9

The essential point, however, is that there is no Grand Plan that fits our highly decentralized profession. Restructuring challenges and opportunities are necessarily abstract; their results cannot be predicted or even wholly controlled to avoid some disruptions in the process. Efforts to over engineer restructuring actually connote a library unprepared for fundamental change. As some of the contributing authors point out, there are no “blueprints” or “road maps” of this new territory. In that perspective, the three planning frameworks suggest a process along the lines that E. L. Doctorow once used to describe the solving of an ill-structured problem: “It’s like driving a car at night. You can never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” 10 The main idea is to start moving in what amounts to an open field, without a detailed plan, and relying on signs along the way to update one’s sense of the destinations. Venturing like that requires valuing the process of finding one’s way from “here to there” and treating obstacles as workshops rather than failures.

Coupling Independent Streams

Restructuring an academic library entails the design of new institutional arrangements and interdependent relationships, a long-term reallocation of resources, and other more or less formal strategic plans. Such manifestations of orderly development, however, gloss over a certain randomness in the planning process.

The approach termed independent streams emphasizes problems, solutions, participants, and choice opportunities being loosely coupled. Problems may be overlooked or avoided. Solutions may be simply “out there,” unattached to a given problem. Participants wander in and out of problem arenas. Choice opportunities tend to flow through organizations, and converge and diverge free of human wishes or intents. Although the streams are not always independent of intentional coordination (a choice opportunity may be linked to a recognized problem, a ready solution, and available decision makers), their most prevalent source of order is the variable of timing. As a rule, the less organizational control over the streams, the more critical the factor of their simultaneous appearance for a restructuring program to utilize them. This prevalence of temporal order over human design is a departure from the library’s classic situation of an autonomous hierarchy in which there are strong mechanisms for arranging the streams into a decision package. For a traditional library, the timing of streams will not usually be critical, and randomness in the planning process will be regarded as a product of poor management. For a contemporary organization being restructured, however, the framework of independent streams recognizes the fortuity of timing and embraces its meaningfulness in the planning process. 11

In a similar fashion, the ecology of attention—who attends to what, and when—is treated as an independent variable. The spread and flow of decision makers’ attentions do not depend simply on the choice opportunity at hand but, rather, on a rather complicated mix of problems, solutions, and other choices at any one time. Thus, the attention paid to a restructuring problem can be both unstable over time and remarkably independent of its overall importance. For example, the “false starts” in the title of Meredith A. Butler and Stephen E. DeLong’s chapter on the University at Albany’s experience refers to missed opportunities for collaborative planning of a new library system when representation from the computing center was only “sporadically available.”

Of the six single-organization case studies, five depict academic libraries creating choice opportunities within the independent streams framework, whereas the last study looks at the human side of restructuring when careers get disrupted. Rebecca R. Martin’s chapter on the University of Vermont’s experience is the most explicit account of administrators taking the initiative to couple problems, solutions, and participants as choice opportunities happen:

The primary approach has been one of articulating a mission or redefining a function, focusing on problems and prospects for change, and then seizing opportunities as they arise. There is no specific blueprint nor firm timetable for reorganization. . . . Vacancies at all levels are viewed as opportunities to question the status quo and to redeploy resources. Other changes have been initiated by a particular need to reduce a budget line, by an urgency to offer a particular service, by the changing institutional framework to support a new information technology, by an availability of special funding in an area, or by some other “window of opportunity.

At UVM, long-range planning has a “strategic vision [which] provides a compass but not a road map.” Specific strategies and tactics are “continually modified in response to new opportunities and information,” and organizational learning becomes an “almost familiar process.” Martin calls this approach “evolutionary restructuring.”

Caroline M. Kent’s chapter on the Harvard College Library’s experience shows that, even when problems and solutions arrive together, decision makers may nevertheless be adverse to choice opportunities that fail to mesh with a salient aspect of institutional culture. In this case, some forty divisional and departmental libraries at Harvard—traditionally independent (“every tub stands on its own bottom”)—faced restructuring to accommodate the political economy of the campus network:

A presumption of total organizational and fiscal independence and decentralization can only work at a university when there are no deveelopment and supportive costs that the community must share. . . . Networking and networked resources, which require collaborative efforts and payments, made Harvard’s administrative model vulnerable to failure. . . . [Networking, or] “who owns the fiber,” emerged as a major institutional issue: who installs, who supports, and, most important, who pays.

Kent suggests that Harvard’s mixed success at aligning organizational development to a highly decentralized culture may be a “microcosm of how academic libraries will face the problem of collaboration on a national scale.”

Joan Giesecke and Katherine Walter’s chapter on the restructuring of technical services at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UN-L) shows a different, “bottom-up” phenomenon: rank-and-file librarians taking the main initiative to create their own choice opportunities:

Outsourcing, purchasing of cataloging tapes, receiving online catalog records—all such cost-effective changes bring into question the position of the technical services professional. Career development becomes a real concern as technical services librarians foresee the traditional intellectual aspects of their work dwindling. Although technology does not replace the intellectual work that technical services librarians do, they must . . . take the initiative in reestablishing their own futures. These librarians, once relatively isolated, have broadened their professional roles to reference, collection development, automated services, and bibliographic instruction. Those newly won roles are crucial: They create improved access to collections and enrich the librarians’ careers.

Just a few years ago, migration of technical services to public services appeared to be a rather slight and uncertain phenomenon. In a 1992 survey, for example, Gillian M. McCoombs identified some places where catalogers were doing reference work, but he posed the question of whether there was a real restructuring movement under way: “It is not clear whether this is a result of a genuine convergent evolutionary growth, in which librarians themselves are changing, or whether it is the result of enforced redeployment and streamlining due to current budget cuts and staff shortages.” 11 In that perspective, Giesecke’s and Walter’s case study depicts a significant initiative in our profession.

Whereas the Harvard experience concerns an internal factor (institutional culture), Gloriana St. Clair’s chapter on Penn State University deals with an external factor: benchmarks—programs of excellence at other places—against which a restructuring program can be designed and evaluated. In the framework of independent streams, benchmarking is less a case of “windows of opportunity” than it is a deliberate process (akin to Giesecke and Walter’s experience with technical services at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln) to create choice opportunities. The main variables in Penn State’s benchmarking are the availability of appropriate comparators and capable participants:

A significant investment of time must be made to identify strategic areas for benchmarking, select individuals to participate in the benchmarking process, determine appropriate and meaningful measures, justify the processes selected, discern the best comparators, collect significant data for comparison, make the [investigative] trip, and introduce the changes back into the organization.

Of interest, St. Clair suggests that some restructuring problems (e.g., document delivery) are not amenable to a long-term process of continuous incremental change but, instead, may require a whole new structural–functional model.

Peggy Seiden’s chapter, “Restructuring Liberal Arts College Libraries: Seven Organizational Strategies,” finds that with the recent proliferation of full-text databases and Web resources the electronic environment has become nearly sufficient for all undergraduate needs. For better or worse—Seiden finds student learning curves going down and demands for support services going up—“the network is the library.” In an analysis of new-technology diffusion on campus, comparable to Butler and DeLong’s chapter, Seiden looks at prospects for the diffusion of new-technology use in the coming years:

Up to now, most colleges have done reasonably well supporting the “early adopters”, the first 10 to 15 percent of the faculty to use information technology in their teaching. . . . [However], the level and quality of support that was adequate for the first five percent of the faculty is probably strained dealing with 15 percent of the potential faculty-user pool and will not scale up for the next 70 percent of the faculty. Thus, an information technology support crisis looms on many campuses—university and college. . . . [Some libraries in the Oberlin Group] have demonstrated considerable determination and inventiveness in redesigning their organizations, which better enables them to embrace and exploit new information technologies. The essential approach has been one of creativity, flexibility, and trial and error. These college libraries have demonstrated a willingness to try different solutions and to abandon those that are not successful—a risktaking which, however prudent and necessary, is atypical of much of higher education.

The last case study, Rita A. Scherrei’s chapter “Caught in the Crossfire: Organizational Change and Career Displacement in the University of California Libraries,” does not relate to the planning process but, rather, looks at the human side of restructuring outcomes. Scherrei focuses on ten variables generally associated with professional self-identity and job satisfaction in a group of thirty librarians whose careers had been disrupted—either positively or negatively. Not surprisingly, the librarians whose careers were negatively changed (twenty of the thirty in the group) had feelings of significant personal loss:

Seven of them had seen their career tracks moving them into associate university librarian or large unit-head management jobs. At the time of the interviews, these librarians were almost all unclear as to what they would be doing in the future. They felt derailed; most expressed great disillusionment and reduced loyalty to the library and the university. Some talked about going through a process similar to grieving, not only for their career loss but also for the loss of the relationship with the institution. . . . Some had decided to drop outside activities for the foreseeable future as they struggled to find new niches—usually in subject areas for which they had very little background and, in some cases, limited interest.

What is surprising, however, is that most of them had been left by library management almost completely unprepared for the rather drastic change in their lives. They felt “genuine anger at the absence of complete information and an opportunity for dialogue and input with decision makers.” In Scherrei’s assessment, “It is possible . . . to mitigate much of this negativity if the job restructuring process is open, consultative, and placed in an overall strategic context.”

Fostering Collaborative Realignments

Collaborative realignments go beyond the boundary of a single organization to encompass a functional convergence of the library with the computing center (range 2) and with other libraries in a consortium (range 3). At first glance, such cross-organizational development would seem to entail a higher order of complexity, or difficulty, than that for range 1 boundary spanning between the relatively limited area of public and technical services. However, the degree of complexity depends more on the character of a particular problem than on the scale of boundary spanning (the number or diversity of organizations involved). Moreover, although the character of a given restructuring problem can be categorized as, say, technical, political, cultural, cognitive, or economic, there is no practical method of comparing degrees of complexity for such different types of restructuring problems.

Consider the various problems of realigning campus computing relationships. Dougherty and McClure take up political matters underlying alternative organizational models; Butler and DeLong identify technical and cognitive barriers to network user support; and Davis-Millis and Owens focus on cultural differences in library–computing center alliances.

None of these cross-organizational boundary-spanning problems is inherently more complex than the long-standing single-organization issue of restructuring the library reference desk, which has sparked bitter debates resembling paradigm conflicts between traditional, print-medium knowledge structures and electronic, network-based skills. 12 The essential point is that attempts to measure the degree of complexity of various restructuring programs, whether at different organizational levels or even for different problems at the same level, will not likely produce useful generalizations.

Range 2 organizational development dates back to Patricia Battin’s 1984 proposal for a new “scholarly information center,” which would combine functions of the library and of academic computing to create a campus telecommunications infrastructure:

According to the traditional cliche, the Library is the heart of the University. I think it is time for a new metaphor—and that metaphor is more appropriately DNA. The new process will be a helix—we can provide a basic set of services and technical capacities, users interact and experiment with the new technical dimensions and develop new requirements which then influence the evolution of a new shape for the infrastructure. As the genetic code of the University, the character and quality of the Scholarly Information Center will determine the character and quality of the institution. 13

Dougherty and McClure’s lead chapter to this section of the book, “Repositioning Campus Information Units for the Era of Digital Libraries,” provides a survey of that “field of dreams” over the past decade, where great expectations of what once seemed logical or plausible, or even inevitable, have largely disappeared:

What happened to the merger debate? For all the theoretical debates, the promise of quick and easy mergers proved to be illusory. Consequently, the goals of reorganization have generally become more modest.

Against that background, Dougherty and McClure coined the term collaborative realignment. Their analysis of this “more modest” framework becomes a practical guide for academic library and computing center directors facing the prospect of working together. On a broader plane, the authors’ conclusions bear on the chief dilemma of development versus decay: “Although at first glance some costs may eclipse the benefits, the consequences of doing little or nothing will be severe. Networked resources are powerful, and any institution that does not adapt to exploit them will find itself in a technological backwater.”

Butler and DeLong’s chapter on the University at Albany’s experience presents what is basically a “bottom-up” approach to collaborative realignment. A new building was constructed for an electronic library together with computing services, but no integrated planning process involving library and computing directors was established for some years. Instead, collaboration between the two units was confined largely to pilot projects: Buy a server, bring up a system, expand network connectivity, design a gateway, and so forth. Now, even with a more integrated administration, collaboration retains its initial focus on resolving salient problems such as user support rather than restructuring institutional arrangements:

But user support and training have continued to be problematic, and they can only get worse because as we upgrade our infrastructure, the number of users will jump from 2,000 to 20,000. Furthermore, although the current users tend to be “early adopters” and much more likely to be comfortable with technology, each of the next 18,000 will probably need substantially more training and help! This realization prompted us to put ‘user support’ under a magnifying glass as a distinctly new boundary-spanning value-added service function.

The chapter by Davis-Millis and Owens on MIT’s experience presents a “top-down” approach to collaborative realignment of the library and the computer center. That university emphasized not only new institutional structures but also staff development groups whose main agenda was to explore their units’ cultural differences rather than to initiate pilot projects:

Ironically, each unit saw the other as being at an advantage politically. The libraries were concerned that they would be absorbed and controlled by IS [Information Services] which, in turn, feared that the libraries had deeper service contacts across campus and could build powerful alliances demanding unsustainable services. Picking up on the ‘marriage’ metaphor, [the directors] . . . saw the possibility that the partnership would be a ‘deadly embrace’ as each tried to leverage resources from the other while retaining complete control—ending with both parties squandering staff and financial capital on fruitless projects. To avoid that, . . . the initial focus was actually on defining the scope of the partnership, awareness of each other’s organizational structure, and then the respective professional cultures. . . . [The directors] . . . avoided discussions about specific projects but, instead, focused on sharing organizational goals and values. . . .

The long-term differential effect of bottom-up versus top-down realignment may be a significant question for future research. On the one hand, it is possible that neither approach would generally leave much of an imprint—that the differences between them are exaggerated on paper because any convergence of an academic library and the computing center involves, over time, a series of shifts between strategic plans (from “above”) and specific projects (from “below”). On the other hand, the case studies presented here do suggest a certain long-term differential effect. At Albany, the bottom-up approach has a universitywide corollary: Responsibility for selecting and funding PCS, and even for funding increased network support, now resides in the individual schools. (Thus, a dean might have to decide whether to fund a computing need or a faculty position.) At MIT, by contrast, the top-down approach has fostered more expansive interunit convergence. The libraries collaborate in the creation of software development methods and in the reengineering of computer services, whereas the computing center runs all the major library servers and audits security of library-operated systems.

Redeveloping State and Regional Consortia

The section of the book on state and regional consortia focuses on range 3 organizational development, which has a longer history than any other area of boundary spanning for academic libraries. Whereas range 1 development (public and technical services) is just a few years in the making, and range 2 development (libraries and computing centers) began only last decade, range 3 development dates back a half-century. A brief sketch of its historical discontinuities puts prospects for academic library consortia in better perspective. 14

In the 1940s, Robert B. Downs made a precursory case for coordinated collection development in consortia on the ground that it was impossible for even the largest libraries to hold more than a fraction of the world’s literature. 15 Yet, this proposition took thirty years to become a professionwide norm. Until the mid-1970s, organizational autonomy—reflecting the “bigger is better” philosophy of collection management—overshadowed the idea of library interdependency.

Strikingly different was the latter half of the 1970s, when coordinated collection development became an institutionalized concept about “the way things ought to be done.” Whereas only a handful of consortia had been previously established, fifty-three new consortia, each comprising at least one member of the ARL, were set up between 1975 and 1982. 16 The early 1980s, however, marked the beginning of a third period of discontinuity as the immense difficulty of moving collection development interdependency from theory to practice became evident. In 1983, the Resources and Technical Services Divisions of ALA published a model of “Combined Self-Interest,” based on the ideal assumption that academic libraries’ strengths and weaknesses could be rationally combined into regional schemes of coordinated collection development:

If enough libraries would combine with major research libraries—and if each library could state specific needs for its own core collection based on the library’s strengths, weaknesses, and special local conditions—a rational, coordinated collection development scheme could be created to satisfy all participants’ self-interest. 17

Yet, according to a survey conducted that same year by Joe Hewitt and John Shipman, nearly all consortia became stymied in the attempt to move beyond the beginning stage of fostering cross-institutional relationships to the point of determining specific goals and responsibilities. 18

Once consortium participants became aware of the sheer diversity of institutional interests and collection management structures, they found themselves unable to specify even the general aims of their respective programs.

From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, discussions in the literature about the fruits of cooperative collection development nearly disappeared as the gap between theory and practice became increasingly evident. Groups and agreements were announced, but without follow-up reports on the complexity or outcome of particular ventures. 19 (Dougherty and McClure, in their chapter on theory versus practice of library–computing center relationships, note the same phenomenon: a sharp decline of reports since the mid-1980s.)

This book’s section on collaborative realignment of consortia marks a new stage in the historical development of this problem and its literature. The focus is now on practical problems and prospects, particularly in a networked environment, rather than on plausible assumptions about a “rational” or ideal system reflective of the print age. David F. Kohl’s lead chapter, “Farewell to All That . . . Transforming Collection Development to Fit the Virtual Library Context: The OhioLINK Experience,” describes this stage in terms of “two complementary frameworks—based on a new model of technological unity, the other on a radical reinterpretation of library cooperation.” The technological vision is on the use of common hardware and software at all of OhioLINK’s many members (as opposed to a “diverse, historical crazy quilt of individual-institution automation choices”). That infrastructure, notable for enabling patrons to receive interlibrary loan materials within a few days, makes OhioLINK one of the first truly feasible opportunities for reassessing old assumptions about cooperative collection development:

In retrospect, it seems fairly obvious that [statewide coordination of] collection development must follow, not precede, the construction of a virtual library and delivery system. Until librarians and patrons are convinced by personal experience that the physical location of materials is largely irrelevant for their purposes, it is difficult to make the case for a genuine division of statewide (or regional) collection responsibilities. Once that Rubicon is crossed, however, significant opportunities for cost-effective resource-sharing open up.

Kohl’s analysis of OhioLINK’s experience covers an array of practical concerns: institutional versus consortium collection responsibilities (the “tragedy of the commons” problem), economies of scale in statewide acquisition of electronic resources, a consortium’s political leverage in licensing issues, and the transforming role of local subject bibliographers.

Barbara McFadden Allen and William A. Gosling’s chapter, “Facing Change and Challenge through Collaborative Action: The CIC Libraries’ Experience,” describes the Center for Library Initiatives of the midwestern Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), in which collaborative realignments are vertical (intra-institutional)—involving nearly all academic and administrative units—as well as horizontal (cross-institutional):

Because the CIC is organized as a consortium of institutions (as opposed to a consortium of libraries), there are ample opportunities for academic libraries to work with other key academic groups, such as the directors of campus computing centers, the university press directors, and other faculty and administrative units. . . . Together, such boundary-spanning activities provide a range of opportunities for wide-scale experimentation.

Experiments now under way include electronic scholarly publishing by a CIC university press and university library planning group; a Learning Technologies Initiative on the part of faculty, librarians, and technologists; the virtual electronic library of digital information; an electronic journal database of electronic humanities texts; and a task force on the preservation of digital as well as print media.

The concluding section of Allen and Gosling’s chapter points up some lessons learned, such as the need for “constantly evaluating goals and programs with particular regard for a decision-making infrastructure.” Although the lack of an established culture of electronic resources facilitates cooperation, subject bibliographers tend to have difficulty in thinking “globally rather than locally” about more traditional areas of coordinated collection development.

Sue O. Medina and William C. Highfill’s chapter, “Shaping Consensus: Structural Cooperation in the Network of Alabama Academic Libraries,” describes that consortium’s evolution from the perspective of certain overlapping constructs of organizational theory and social role theory:

Most definitions of [social] role assume the existence of consensus regarding expectations. Divergence in expectations for individuals, however, may result in conflict because of the pressure created by incongruent or countervailing forces. Organizational theory, unlike role theory, lacks well-defined concepts of role. Research on role has been concerned primarily with intraorganizational issues, the role of the individual within the organization. There is little empirical research on how an organization’s role is defined. . . . As in the case of roles of individuals, conflict can result from incongruent expectations placed on the organization. . . . Acceptance [of NAAL] presupposed a change in the status quo. Responsibility for library quality had always been the exclusive domain of the individual institutions. How would the institutional representatives to NAAL define the consortium’s role relative to those of the parent institutions?

There was a period of several years for discussion and planning for NAAL before funding became available to establish actual policies and programs. That early period was lent not only to philosophical discussions about the nature of Alabama’s libraries but also to research projects on social role theory. Medina and Highfill’s application of social science to NAAL is thus not post ad hoc (hindsight) but, rather, explains a conscious effort by NAAL’s leaders from the start to prepare for certain issues of collaborative realignment among academic institutions whose rivalries extend from football games to state resources.

Derrie B. Roark’s chapter, “Directed Technological Change in the Florida Community College System,” describes a fundamentally different approach to collaborative realignment in terms of a “centralized, top-down process of technological restructuring”:

District oversight and campus autonomy make strange bedfellows. However, as HCC [Hillsborough Community College] has participated in the development of a district-level instructional technology plan, its LR [learning resources] program . . . is viewed as a model of centralized training and purchasing. [Such centralization of learning resources services] 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.

Staff who participated in state library automation projects during the 1980s naturally became technology leaders within their respective institutions in the 1990s. “By generalizing what has worked well within libraries to assist educators and students, librarians have much to offer the broader institution in its attempts to foster social adaptation to new technology in the workplace and in the curriculum.”

Coordinating Network-Based Academic Program Goals

The third and final framework of organizational development in the wake of technological change involves the role of the library in setting the academic institution’s goals for the campus network. In the highly decentralized academic system, this framework is one of “harnessing organized anarchies.” It encompasses the broadest and most ambiguous areas of boundary spanning:

  • range 4—redesigning Internet-based academic programs in a networked environment;
  • range 5—revisioning the library’s and the university’s societal mission in the electronic communication system.

As the scope of boundary spanning expands, the concept of “organization” changes as well. At range 1 (public and technical services), the organization is a rational order of relatively specific goals and formal structures. At both range 2 (libraries and computing centers) and range 3 (consortia), the organization is an alliance, less formally structured, with more problematic and collective pursuits. At ranges 4 and 5 (concerning the networked university’s social mission in the electronic scholarly communication system), the organization is an open system of coalitions of shifting interest groups that develop goals by negotiation; the structure of a particular coalition, its activities, and their outcomes are all strongly influenced by environmental factors.

The concept of “organizational development” also changes at different organizational levels of boundary spanning. At ranges 1 and 2, such development centers on institutional structuresand technologies. At range 3, it mainly involves technological processes and economics (Allen and Gosling’s chapter providing the fullest account of the “significant and intractable economic pressures that require completely new service models and budget strategies” through consortia). At ranges 4 and 5, organizational development is primarily about environments and politics. The very openness of the “organized anarchy” of the university makes distinctions between what is “out there” and what is “in here”—and whether something is an “opportunity” or a “threat”—more matters of perception or sense making than discovery or analysis. 20

Both the first and last sections of this book—“Reassessing Traditional and Virtual Ground-Assumptions” and “Restructuring Library–University Relationships”—relate to range 4 organizational development involving a redesign of research and curricular programs in the networked environment. The authors of the chapters in those sections provide remarkably diverse assessments of the basic situation academic libraries face in the latter half of the 1990s. Pervading (implicitly if not expressly) practically all scenarios of restructuring is the metaphor of the academic library as a “bottomless pit” of escalating costs, which do not have even theoretical limits. 21

In Herbert S. White’s chapter “Dangerous Misconceptions about Organizational Development of Virtual Libraries,” the combination of integrated network-to-desktop information services and decentralized university cost-center budgetary arrangements for such services is a “disastrous strategy” because it lacks intellectual economy for both the user (in terms of information overload) and the university (in terms of fiscal management):

[The] rate of growth might at least be alleviated if [electronic access] costs were centralized under the control of librarians, rather than decentralized and scattered among faculty cost centers (ultimately still funded from the same university budget). If university administrators are concerned about costs, they should consider a different approach—improving the productivity of faculty in the spheres of teaching and research. The purpose of information, after all, is to enable the recipient to do something better. Information is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end.

However, White is not optimistic about academic librarians’ willingness to take up their former “institutional turf” as the intermediaries in the scholarly communication system (i.e., as buffers and brokers in the network-to-desktop information flow now afforded by campus networks) because the option of standing aside seems to be a “way out” of the “bottomless pit”:

. . . librarians seem all too willing to cede the process of information intermediation—to abdicate their expertise in analyzing the content and the value of information to the desks and terminals of the faculty through the virtual library—because in such an organization, though costs may indeed be much higher, they will no longer be our responsibility. In that framework, the virtual library may be understandable, but it remains unworkable.

White’s message is straightforward: “One cannot fritter away money into the budgets of countless and traditionally irresponsible user groups! . . . [If the library manages and controls] these funds, the result will be a great deal more palatable for the institution.”

David W. Lewis makes the opposing argument that library management should “forego turf battles and take a broad institutional view of information, even when that risks a loss of exclusive control of some resources”:

Historically, most [library] efforts to network information began with dialup access to OPACs and networked CD-ROMs, applications that were generally developed and controlled by the library. It might be tempting for the library to try to maintain control, but that would not be a good strategy. Unless networked information is closely tied to institutional and departmental programs and delivered in a way that matches ever-changing local needs, it will not be used effectively. At any rate, the enormous economic costs involved would prohibit total library control.

In Lewis’s approach to resolving the “bottomless pit,” cost-benefit analyses are necessary to move forward in political debates on how campus resources are allocated. Thus far, however, little is known in any systematic way about that kind of analysis. As Charles R. McClure and Cynthia L. Lopata found in a 1996 survey, universities have had a very difficult time attempting to determine an operational definition of the campus network because each of its manifold components—infrastructure, resource content, user services, user support, and management (governance, planning, and fiscal aspects of the network)—involves a different kind of cost-benefit analysis .22

Charles B. Osburn’s chapter, “One Purpose: The Research University and Its Library,” is a more optimistic assessment of the “bottomless pit” problem, based on his view that the university has reached a historical turning point in the “need for serious institutional strategic planning and the establishment of operational academic priorities”:

. . . faculty can no longer avoid the truth that for so long had been overlooked or ignored: There really are trade-offs to be made and priorities to be applied. Library issues need to be addressed as they have not been for decades. That means that the library will be given closer scrutiny, no longer taken for granted. There will even be occasional debates on campus about the future role of the library in the electronic environment. There will also be opportunities to involve both faculty and administration in library planning in significant ways, thereby creating an overture for the reintegration of the library into the academic enterprise.

Of potentially greater import is the university’s and library’s prospective relationship to society (range 5 organizational development). Osburn foresees a shift in higher education’s institutional response to mass electronic communication systems—away from “ad hoc projects and programs undertaken evidently out of desperation”—toward a recognition that the university “will function in the best interests of society” by disseminating scholarly information through those mass systems. He argues:

We have now arrived at a crucial moment, perhaps a historical juncture. For the first time, both the emergent medium of scholarly communication and the communication medium in demand by all segments and strata of society at large (not just an elite) are the same, the common feature being the seductive convenience of electronic information technology. This concurrent emergence of the so-called information society and the electronic scholarly communication system opens an era of unprecedented opportunity for the university to serve society through a new kind of relationship.

In that perspective, the mission of the university and that of its library have the potential to become perhaps not identical, but highly congruent.

The final chapter, Douglas G. Birdsall’s “Strategic Planning in Academic Libraries: A Political Perspective” deals with practical considerations of range 5 organization development. His analysis of the university as an “organized anarchy” having a variety of decision processes, power bases, and influence strategies brings us full circle to the earlier frameworks of “coupling independent streams, and “fostering collaborative realignments”:

There are three main political strategies for maximizing planning outcomes. These are to build upon the diversity of stakeholder interests, to form alliances and coalitions for the advancement of the library’s own interests, and to market a persuasive planning document.

Specific strategic plans used by Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University at Albany, Michigan State University, and Wayne State University are discussed by Birdsall.

Unlike White’s emphasis on “turf” issues, Lewis’s emphasis on cost analyses, and Osburn’s emphasis on historical turning points, Birdsall emphasizes that academic governance of the virtual library will continue to be highly pluralistic and evolutionary in character—the “accretion of hundreds of largely autonomous actions taken for different reasons, at different times, under different conditions, by different people.” Hence, a strong and growing importance is attached to the formation of alliances and coalitions that benefit the library’s stakeholders, as well as its own institutional interests.

Finally, the epilogue on “Balancing Restructuring Efforts” describes the difference between organizational development and decay in terms of four competing orientations that must be periodically weighed against one another:—boundary spanning and strategic planning (on the external side) versus policy setting and human development (on the internal side). What makes restructuring such an interesting, sometimes emotional, undertaking is that these organizational needs represent contradictory moral positions about what makes a good manager and a good organization.

Concluding Remarks

The nineteen chapters of this book are variations on a distinct theme for academic libraries in the latter half of the 1990s: the lag of organizational development behind technological change. The key factor that will spell the difference between development and decay is boundary spanning. Within a library organization, boundary spanning centers on a convergence of public services and technical services. In the broader environment, it ranges from a realignment of campus computing structures, to a redevelopment of consortium relationships, to a readjustment of the library and university’s dual mission to serve society through the electronic scholarly communication system.

The overall problem of “getting from here to there”—moving toward significant restructuring outcomes without undue organizational instability—thus involves several goals and destinations. To conceptualize the various transition processes, three overlapping approaches may be helpful: (1) coupling independent streams of problems, solutions, participants, and choice opportunities; (2) fostering collaborative realignments; and (3) coordinating academic program goals related to the campus network. The approach that appears to have the broadest prospects of change for the library staff as a whole is the third one, in terms of integrating networked information resources into research and curricular programs. That will be a process characterized by open-ended goals, problematic choices, “paradigm conflicts” among academic departments over electronic versus print-age library resources, and drifting participation of different groups in the decision arena over time. The library’s role will be to help foster and maintain collaborative strategies among the different stakeholder groups: the scholars in the sciences, in the social sciences, and in arts and humanities; the librarians themselves; the computing center staff; and the university administrators, with each group having its own worldview and spheres of influence in the decentralized academic environment. The end result would not be just organizational development for the academic institution as a whole but a significantly higher level of organizational relevance for the library.

For now, the “unproductive anxiety” that Jerry Campbell identified as the product of “technological assault” and “organizational rigidity” is real enough to reiterate the first step for “moving from here to there”: Start in a general direction and make greater sense of the various destinations along the way. When faced with an ambiguous environment, restructuring might seem to require a good map or, what amounts to the same thing, a detailed strategic plan. But we should remember that organizations are judged by what they do, not by what they plan.


  1. Althea H. Jenkins, “Members Shape ACRL’s Future,” College & Research Libraries News 55 (June 1994): 368–72.
  2. For reports at the turn of the 1990s on the very slow involvement of either technical services or the library automation department in public services, see: Barbara J. Moran, “The Unintended Revolution in Academic Libraries: 1939 to 1989 and Beyond,” College & Research Libraries 50 (Jan. 1989): 31; Combs, “Technical Services in the 1990s,” Library Resources and Technical Services 36 (Apr. 1992): 135–48; Mike Ridley and Charles W. Bailey Jr., eds., “Symposium on Staffing Issues and Public-Access Computer Systems,” Public-Access Computer Systems Review 1, no. 2 (1990): 15–49, access at; Patricia M. Larsen, “The Climate of Change: Library Organizational Structures, 1985–1990,” Reference Librarian 34 (1991): 79–93.
  3. Library Reorganization & Restructuring, SPEC Kit #215, comp. Joanne D. Eustis and Donald J. Kenney (Washington, D.C.: ARL Office of Management Services, 1996).
  4. Jerry D. Campbell, “Getting Comfortable with Change: A New Budget Model for Libraries in Transition,” Library Trends 42 (winter 1994): 451.
  5. Carla J. Stoffle, Robert Renaud, et al., “Choosing Our Futures,” College & Research Libraries 57 (May 1996): 219; see also “Commentaries on ‘Choosing Our Futures,’” College & Research Libraries 57 (May 1996): 226–33.
  6. Jerry D. Campbell, “Choosing to Have a Future,” American Libraries 24 (June 1993): 560–66; and “Shaking the Conceptual Foundations of Reference: A Perspective,” Reference Services Review 20 (winter 1992): 29–35.
  7. Library Reorganization & Restructuring, 11–13.
  8. Ibid., unnumbered attached flyer.
  9. Ibid.
  10. For discussions of planning in the framework of “independent streams,” see James G. March, A Primer on Decision Making: How Decisions Happen (New York: Free Pr., 1994); Nitin Nohria and James D. Berkley, “The Virtual Organization: Bureaucracy, Technology, and the Implosion of Control,” in The Post-Bureaucratic Organization: New Perspectives on Organizational Change, ed. Charles Heckscher and Anne Donnellon (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 1994), 108–28.
  11. Gillian M. McCoombs, “Technical Services in the 1990s: A Process of Convergent Evolution,” Library Resources and Technical Services 36 (Apr. 1992): 136.
  12. For such debate, see: Jerry D. Campbell, “Shaking the Conceptual Foundations of Reference;” Larry R. Oberg, “Rethinking Reference: Smashing Icons at Berkeley,” College Research & Library News 54 (May 1993): 265–6; Daniel F. Ring, “Searching for Darlings: The Quest for Professional Status,” College Research & Library News 54 (Dec. 1993): 641–3.
  13. Patricia Battin, “The Electronic Library: A Vision for the Future,” EDUCOM Bulletin 19 (summer 1984): 14.
  14. Charles A. Schwartz, “Social Science Perspectives on Cooperative Collection Development,” in Impact of Technology on Resource Sharing: Experimentation and Maturity, ed. Thomas C. Wilson (New York: Haworth Pr., 1992), 47–60.
  15. Robert B. Downs, “American Library Cooperation in Review,” College & Research Libraries 6 (Sept. 1945, part II): 411.
  16. Joe A. Hewitt and John S. Shipman, “Cooperative Collection Development among Research Libraries in the Age of Networking: Report of a Survey of ARL Libraries,” Advances in Library Automation and Networking 1 (1987), 202.
  17. Paul H. Mosher and Marcia Pankake, “A Guide to Coordinated and Cooperative Collection Development,” Library Resources and Technical Services 27 (Oct. 1983): 417–31; as summarized in Richard M. Dougherty, “A Conceptual Framework for Organized Resource Sharing and Shared Collection Development Programs,” Journal of Academic Librarianship 14 (Nov. 1988): 289.
  18. Hewitt and Shipman, “Cooperative Collection Development among Research Libraries in the Age of Networking”; see also Joseph J. Branin, “Cooperative Collection Development,” in Collection Development: A New Treatise, ed. Charles B. Osburn and Ross Atkinson (Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Pr., 1991), 81–110; Richard Hacken, “The RLG Conoco Study and Its Aftermath: Is Resource Sharing in Limbo?” Journal of Academic Librarianship 18 (Mar. 1992): 17–23.
  19. A significant exception to the lack of informative reports on cooperative collection outcomes is John Rutledge and Luke Swindler, “Evaluating Membership in a Resource-Sharing Program: The Center for Research Libraries,” College & Research Libraries 49 (Sept. 1988): 409-24.
  20. Karl E. Weick, Sensemaking in Organizations (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 1995), 70.
  21. Analyses of the “bottomless pit” phenomenon include Dennis P. Carrigan, “The Political Economy of the Academic Library,” College & Research Libraries 49 (July 1988): 325–31; Larry Hardesty, “The Bottomless Pit Revisited,” College & Research Libraries 52 (May 1991): 219–29; Richard M. Dougherty and Carol Hughes, Preferred Futures: A Summary of Six Workshops with University Provosts and Library Directors (Mountain View, Calif.: Research Libraries Group, 1991); and Carol A. Hughes, “A Comparison of Perceptions of Campus Priorities: The ‘Logical’ Library in an Organized Anarchy,” Journal of Academic Librarianship 18 (Mar. 1992): 140–45.
  22. Charles R. McClure and Cynthia L. Lopata, Assessing the Academic Networked Environment: Strategies and Options (Washington, D.C.: Coalition for Networked Information, 1996); see also Vartan Gregorian, Brian L. Hawkins, and Merrily Taylor, “Integrating Information Technologies: A Research University Perspective,” CAUSE/EFFECT 15 (winter 1992): 5–12.