This article was co-written by the e-Forum moderators.
The ALCTS e-forum “Changing Ideas, Roles, and Organizational Structures in Collections and Technical Services” took place on May 21–22, 2019, and was moderated by Michael Arthur (The University of Alabama), Alison M. Armstrong (Radford University), and Rachelle McLain (Montana State University).
We discussed our organizational structure changes over the last eight years or so. Libraries have seen the merging of departments and the restructuring of departments. They have seen teams of people dissolved and new teams and positions created. Positions have moved from one department to another, or roles have been reassigned. As people leave their positions through retirement or other reasons, those positions may not be filled right away or at all. As these positions move around, the tasks and roles assigned to the positions may also see changes. A few libraries noted that some positions are doing less physical processing or in general have less work to do — thus prompting adding new workflows or reassigning tasks from other positions to them. This has created an opportunity for libraries to cross-train their employees and provide work to employees in the library who are experiencing slower shifts. In general, collections and technical services departments are doing a lot more work with fewer staff and less money. Department make-ups are varied in that some include their information technology and/or interlibrary loan folks, while others don’t. One positive is that mergers and restructures have led to more cooperation and collegiality.
Libraries are using a variety of collection practices. Many who have a liaison program give liaisons money to spend in their areas and rely on them for collection development. Work that perhaps was once done by librarians may now fall to classified staff, and work that was once done by classified staff may now be being done by student workers — print processing, for example. In general, libraries may be seeing a reduction in physical acquisitions, but find that their faculty and students still favor print items.
Throughout all of these changes, collections and technical services departments are expected to handle change and maintain their usual level of service.
Libraries face the challenge of cut or flat budgets year to year, while costs of resources rise. Staffing continues to be lower than ideal. As challenges present themselves to library staff, decisions may be made as a reaction to those challenges versus libraries having a proactive approach to the challenges they face. When requesting feedback from internal library stakeholders and those outside of the library, libraries are either given too many opinions (some uninformed) or are given too little (or no) feedback. Throughout all of these changes, collections and technical services departments appear to be expected to handle change and maintain their usual level of service.
Our final question of the day was about marketing. It was heartening to hear that some libraries do have a dedicated employee to handle their marketing and public relations and that this position lies outside of technical services. Libraries also market their resources in other creative ways on an ad hoc basis.
We discussed new areas being explored within collection development and technical services. We learned about trends to shift staff from technical services to public services. Some participants described the impacts these types of changes have on selection, purchasing, discovery and access to content. These are areas that technical services tend to manage, and reductions in staffing can have a major impact on the ability of users to find information, particularly when so much of the usage is now from remote users who do not interact with public services. In addition to staffing and budgetary changes, libraries are moving in new directions with open educational resources and textbooks. We heard from public libraries, including one that has moved much of their emphasis to services that directly impact users, including offering training and services. There seems to be more blending of roles between public and technical services with some concerns expressed that public services is always the priority.
There was a discussion about a model within a public library that is based on switching selector roles by periodically having them change areas of responsibility. Changes in collection development, new content delivery and evolving purchasing models were discussed along with the challenges libraries face when indicators point toward the advantages of e-books while users are still asking for print. Demand-driven and evidence-based models were mentioned as ways to increase the size of the collection while reducing the impact on physical space.
Outreach to the user community, marketing library resources, shared collection programs and working collaboratively were common themes. Another challenge discussed during the forum is how to convince upper management that the change from print to electronic does not necessarily mean less work. The migration to online has reduced traditional processes and workflow replacing those with new, more complicated processes that can often require a different type of staffing.
We want to thank everyone who participated to make this a successful e-forum! To view the full e-forum transcript, visit the ALCTS e-Forum email discussion list.