Up the Beanstalk: An Evolutionary Organizational Structure for Libraries

By Hoadley, Irene B.; Corbin, John | American Libraries, July-August 1990 | Go to article overview

Up the Beanstalk: An Evolutionary Organizational Structure for Libraries


Hoadley, Irene B., Corbin, John, American Libraries


Up the beanstalk: An evolutionary organizational structure for libraries

DURING THE PAST FEW DECADES, UNIVERSITY and research libraries have encountered new and tremendous pressures from all sides. Libraries have been forced to examine their effectiveness in the face of such developments as: the information explosion; the shifting societal emphasis to information as a commodity; the rising cost of materials, labor, and equipment; declining library revenues; advances in automation and technology; and competition from other information-disseminating organizations.

Among the areas that have come under scrutiny in these large libraries is their organizational structure. Will traditional organizational structures enable them to meet these new challenges? If not, what structure would? Some suggest that the structure must be more flexible; [1] others, that it must be organized by subject; [2] still others, that it should be organized for matrix management; [3] and some recommend only minor shifting of responsibilities, such as the merger of cataloging with bibliographic searching. [4]

However, no specific proposals for a total reorganization of the libraries have been put forth. In order to fill this gap, we would like to offer a model organizational structure for university and research libraries to meet the needs of an information-seeking, technology-oriented clientele.

Historically, the division of labor has been an accepted principle for organizing work since the seventeenth century and the theories of Adam Smith. Since then, work has traditionally been organized by its major purpose or function, the process being used, the persons or things dealt with, or the place where a service is rendered. [5]

Following this pattern, early university libraries were organized by function into acquisitions, integration (cataloging, classification, and processing), circulation, and reference. [6] But as collections, staffs, clientele, and services grew, a more complex organizational structure became necessary. By the 1950s, libraries were commonly organized by a combination of function (acquisitions, circulation, reference, etc.), activity (order, repair, extension, etc.), clientele (children, adults, undergraduates, etc.), geography (branches), subject (fine arts, history, technology, etc.), and form of material (serials, audiovisuals, documents, etc.). [7]

Since then, no single organizational method has predominated; rather, the structure selected by a library has tended to depend principally upon the library's size, the wide variety of material, existing personnel, past history, the building, and accident. [8] Some methods seem to predominate for a number of years and then sink into obscurity or disuse; for example, subject departmentalization, once popular in both public and academic libraries, appears to be diminishing, no doubt due to the high cost of providing duplicative staff and facilities for separate service points. Of all the methods of dividing the work in university libraries, the functional organization appears to be the most lasting and consistent method.

There are several assumptions that form the basis for our proposed model; if these assumptions are not realized, the validity of the model is weakened. The first assumption is that access will equal acquisitions; i.e., equitable amounts will be spent for offering access services and for buying materials. Already libraries are experiencing a leveling-off, if not a decrease, in the number of items added to the collection. At the same time there are an increasing number of access tools (such as CDROM databases) being added to libraries. There will probably never be as many dollars spent on access as are spent on acquisitions, but the prejudice in favor of acquisitions will disappear as the emphasis moves to fulfilling the needs of users rather than simply building larger collections.

Another assumption is that the Online Public Access Catalog will contain records for all library materials, making it much more than the traditional card catalog.

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Up the Beanstalk: An Evolutionary Organizational Structure for Libraries
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