ALCTS Symposium: Re-envisioning "Technical Services" to Transform Libraries

The Association for Library Collections & Technical Services (ALCTS) sponsored a Midwinter Symposium titled “Re-Envisioning ‘Technical Services’ to Transform Libraries: Identifying Leadership and Talent Management Practices.” The forty attendees were primarily from academic libraries, with a small number from other types of libraries. October Ivins, Chair, ALCTS President’s Program Committee, was the moderator for the symposium. The symposium consisted of nine presentations with a Q&A at the end of each and a break-out session facilitated by one of the presenters, Meredith Taylor. Handouts were provided for several presentations.

Norm Medeiros, Associate Librarian at Haverford College and ALCTS President, began the session by delivering the keynote speech and welcoming all the participants. His presentation covered new opportunities for positions in Technical Services versus past traditional roles in cataloging, serials and acquisitions. On the edge of a new cultural shift (RDA), ALCTS’ new strategic plan is intended to raise awareness of ALCTS’ mission and activities to outside groups, increase participation in ALCTS’ activities and to develop ALCTS as a significant organization.

Following the keynote speech, there were four presentations and a breakout session.

Keith Webster, Dean of Libraries and Director of Emerging and Integrative Media, Carnegie Mellon University, presented “Leading the Library of the Future: W(h)ither Technical Services?” He gave highlights of Peter Murray-Rust’s view of the impacts of current technology, web-based knowledge, publishing, and research activities that occur outside of libraries. His presentation included an overview of the history of libraries from print centric collections to a future of collaborative knowledge, media, and fabrication facilities. Libraries are faced with additional roles, new formats, new services, and new niche technology projects. He then discussed the changes in format and cost of scholarly articles and the impact on libraries. Media, as well, has undergone changes from physical formats locally distributed to cloud-based access. The presentation included a discussion of the workflows of researchers from the traditional workflows to the workflows used in open science. Not only are the researchers’ workflows changing, but the ways that they communicate and share knowledge has changed. These changes impact the future focus and direction of libraries. The focus for libraries will include a move away from print; there will be an increase in leased collections, and collection development will focus on local data. Libraries will continue to be repurposed as primary learning spaces, while library expertise and resources will be more closely embedded into research and teaching. For technical services this means changes in collections and formats, new opportunities to work with researchers and publication, the development of new partnerships, and adapting to new technologies. As we move forward, there are current challenges that need to be resolved such as discovery, e-books, mobile platforms and shifting patterns of demand. The speaker advised that consideration for the future of technical services must include sustainability of local cataloging, budgetary pressures, and demonstrating the efficiencies gained from the shift from print to digital. We should also consider how our clients view us, how well we align with the university goals, what direction do we want to go, who do we want to benchmark against, what are our clients’ biggest problems and how can we help solve them. Libraries must have a culture that supports and drives innovation, have capabilities that match the evolving academic and scholarly landscape, be able to demonstrate the library’s impact on the university’s goals, and be in a position to inform how resources are allocated.

Next, Meredith A. Taylor, Ph.D, Director of Administrative Operations, Enrollment and Curriculum Management, Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, University of Texas at Austin, presented “Talent Management Overview: Align Staff to Strategy.” She began with a brief definition of talent management and the differences between traditional human resources (HR) and talent management. Talent management involves HR practices, programs and processes that are integrated rather than separate. The focus is on organizational capabilities, proactive services, customizable consulting and programming, and strategies that align with the parent organization. The speaker discussed the elements of talent management that are strategy, systems and programs, processes, tools, assessments, and indicators. Talent management increases organizational capabilities and personal abilities. Some of the current challenges faced by libraries include becoming more service-centered organizations, increasingly complex work driven by technology, an increase in campus initiatives that include library services, changes in jobs and the required skill sets, and decreased budgets. The speaker discussed both past and future changes in library staffing and the resulting demographics. As technical services faces staff reductions, outsourcing of functions and increased dependence on paraprofessionals, we are also experiencing retraining challenges, losing critical knowledge through attrition and having difficulty finding job candidates with relevant skills. The need for talent management has increased, but it can be difficult to implement because of factors such as scalability, that it is a customized process, potential staff skill gaps, declining resources, and centralized tools. The presenter discussed the highlights from the Association of Research Libraries’ (ARL) talent management survey and study in 2014. Included in the presentation were the survey findings for topics such as talent strategy, recruitment, hiring, retention, employee engagement, job classification management, and leadership and succession planning. Trends included a lack of a strategic and systematic approach to talent management, an increasing gap in workforce skills, and the need for staff with IT skills and executive expertise. She discussed strategies for libraries such as developing a big picture perspective, developing competency models, job analysis, and succession planning. She also offered suggestions for individual actions such as reviewing the organization’s strategic plan, aligning your team’s goals with the strategic plan, identifying and addressing your team’s biggest challenges, and developing a succession plan.

Sylvia D. Hall-Ellis, Ph.D., Adjunct Professor at the School of Information, San Jose State University was the next speaker. Her presentation, “Invest in Me -- I'm Your Future: Succession Planning for Libraries,” began with a definition of succession planning and an overview of the current workplace environment in libraries. She covered topics including retirement rates, the interests of new librarians, a shift to competency based education and new certifications and credentials. She suggested a strategy to address succession planning that included planning for the future by anticipating challenges, identifying the skills, experience and expertise that will be needed, reviewing jobs descriptions and describing new positions that will meet those challenges and to consider reorganizing. The next strategy is to conduct a talent study that looks at aspects of the profession such as theoretical knowledge, skills, and competencies. Libraries should develop high performance work teams by looking for leadership potential, strengths and weaknesses of potential team members. She recommends conducting annual reviews that will assess performance and potential, and including succession planning with performance management, recruitment, hiring, staff development, and rewards. It is important to recognize both individual and team contributions and to invest in developing competencies, leadership potential, and communication skills. The final stage would involve implementing a program that makes a commitment to staff development and identifying development opportunities such as digital badging, credentials, and apprenticeship models.

Amira Aaron, Associate Dean for Scholarly Resources, at Northeastern University Libraries presented “New Research on Staff and Leadership Development in Technical Services – Preliminary Results Conducted by the Program Committee.” The presentation covered a survey that was sent to 625 librarians and paraprofessionals at ARL member libraries, the Oberlin Group, the University Libraries Groups, and others from selected lists. He discussed the importance of the survey results for libraries and the ALCTS’ continuing education programming. The survey’s focus was on how respondents felt their libraries were addressing leadership and succession planning, development of staff skills, training needs, available opportunities, and training. He shared some highlights from the preliminary survey results as well as comments that were provided.

Just prior to lunch, Meredith A. Taylor facilitated breakout groups that briefly discussed management challenges such as turnover, training, succession planning, recruitment, and resistance to change. Members from the individual groups reported back to the larger group with the highlights from those discussions.

The afternoon began with “Three Case Studies in Cultivating Talent: Residency Training, Peer Training, and Leadership and Succession Planning.”

Jacob Nadal, Executive Director for the Research Collections and Preservation Consortium (ReCAP) discussed the residency model in his presentation “Early-Career Residencies: The National Digital Stewardship Residency Model & Lessons for Technical Services”. He began by describing some of the events and challenges that led up to the development of the residency program model such as heavily recruited graduate programs, a poor economy, retirement delays, reduction in library staffing, and difficulties faced by graduates when look for employment. Nadal poses that what we need now are a new generation of technical services leaders that are inspiring experts. Additionally, libraries need to be diverse in staff, collections, and services to serve a diverse community. Residency programs take problems and use them as design constraints rather than failures. Residency programs can build a professional network, develop a professional identity, create a sense of goodwill within that identity and offer opportunities for individuals to learn and experience a diversity of skills and knowledge. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) funded a program that is now in its third year. It began at the Library of Congress and has expanded independent programs in New York and Boston. Currently there are 25 residents in the program and it is expected that there will be additional 15 to come. Critical features for the program’s success include location, having cohorts for support and feedback, mentors who provide coaching and professional guidance, residents being given projects that are more than assignments, and that they have the opportunity to engage in reflective practice. The program cultivates diversity with differences in education, size, and makeup of the cohort, a mix of in-person and online interactions, and the types and scopes of projects. The cohort-based model can help individuals to get engaged and position them for leadership roles.

Elyssa M. Gould, Electronic Acquisitions & Serials Librarian, at the University of Michigan Law Library presented “Cultivating Collaboration: Using Soft Skills at Your Institution.” She described to the group her experiences collaborating in her current position, in her professional service and with her scholarship. She also described and summarized the phases of collaboration from the book Collaborating: Finding Common Ground for Multiparty Problems by Barbara Gray. She discussed the external and internal impacts on collaboration, the soft skills that are necessary to have successful collaborations and how to apply those skills in groups you are assigned to and those you create for yourself. She provided a collaboration mapping worksheet to help think about the soft skills that could be applied in each of the collaboration phases. To lead change she advises being proactive and assessing staffing gaps; including staff in strategic succession planning; figuring out what motivates staff; respecting generational differences; providing transparency.

Angela Kinney, Chief, African, Latin American & Western European Division, at the Library of Congress presented “Lead by Example! How Strategic and Succession Planning Motivate, Inspire and Diversify Talent Within your Organization.” She began by giving a brief background and description of her division, as well as discussing some of the challenges they were facing such as large backlogs and reduced staffing. To improve efficiencies, the decision was made to reorganize and reduce the number of divisions. The planning began two years in advance, including activities such as reviewing the volume of work to be done, reducing backlogs and reducing the section size and the development of transition teams. To lead change, she advises leaders to be proactive, build teams to manage change, develop external collaborations, include a diverse group of stakeholders, and provide clarity and transparency during the process. Leaders should balance staff expectations with the organization’s plan, encourage a sense of empowerment, acknowledge generational differences and work styles, and value listening and coaching. Evaluation and assessment should include aligning with institutional goals, prioritizing strategies, a wide distribution of information, looking for consensus, and being open to feedback. The design and implementation of the change plan should include multi-level, varied learning and training opportunities, leveraging digital resources, and the use of distance learning strategies. She advises that the keys to motivate and inspire change include supporting a good work ethic, acknowledging accomplishments, promoting professional opportunities, providing guidance and recruiting a diverse and high performing staff.

The day wrapped up with the final speaker, Jenica Rogers, the Director of Libraries and College Archives, Dorf Endowed Director of Applied Learning at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Potsdam and her presentation “Bringing ‘the Back Room’ Forward: Thoughts on Recruiting, Supporting, and Transforming the Tech Services Librarian.” Her discussion began with an outline of the progression of her career from a student volunteer to library director. She gave a brief summary of SUNY Potsdam, and the campus library’s current focus and projects. Due to staff changes, they realized that they needed to reorganize. Through a collaborative process they developed a new organizational structure for the libraries and, as part of that process, a new technical services position was created. She discussed the challenges they encountered with their recruitment process, the failure of the search, and the issues that were raised when she reached out to the library community for their perspectives. As a result of the feedback, some changes were made to the vacancy announcement and the job title. This experience raised some questions about the recruitment process such as the language used in job descriptions, encouraging individuals to see their potential beyond their job, and supporting the staff we have to become the staff that we want to recruit. This process should include crossing boundaries and putting staff together in a way that respects and focuses on their skills and expertise. A transformation for technical services needs to include a change at the graduate education level and in our professional literature. There is also a need for a broad cultural change and succession planning to prepare for the future.

Reported by Wendy West, University at Albany, SUNY