Creating the Agile Library: A Management Guide for Librarians

By Gregory, Gwen | Information Today, October 1998 | Go to article overview

Creating the Agile Library: A Management Guide for Librarians


Gregory, Gwen, Information Today


Does it seem to you as though things are always changing, and that the s eed of change is increasing? Academic libraries face difficult choices right now. We can scarcely upgrade our computers fast enough to keep up with current software versions. Our wish lists for electronic resources far exceed our budgets. Meanwhile, we are still paying for and providing traditional print-based resources to our users, including books, journals, and indexes. What are our most important services? Can we ever stop offering any of our services? How can we prepare for change, though we may not be sure what form it will take? Creating the Agile Library: A Management Guide for Librarians suggests that if we can create an "agile organization," we may be on the right path.

The strategic concept of the agile organization originated in the early 1990s. U.S. manufacturers feared that they were unable to adapt quickly enough to changes in technology and markets. Agility is a new way to think about being flexible enough to succeed in a rapidly changing marketplace. It can include many different business tools, such as lean manufacturing, TQM, and just-in-time production. The editors wanted to apply this concept to libraries, and presented their ideas at the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) 7th National Conference in 1995. Creating the Agile Library was inspired by the questions and comments they received.

Since the "dawn of the second information revolution in the 1960s," libraries have faced many changes. Advances in computer technology have pushed ahead our capability to find and process information. In the first chapter, Fred Heath of Texas A&M University Library suggests that "the self-sufficient research library, containing on its shelves the universe of print materials required to support the university mission, is an anachronism." Academic libraries must focus on the expectations and needs of faculty and students. Do they really want fast access to electronic information, rather than the old "1 to 3 weeks for interlibrary loan"? Switching our funds from just-in-case to just-in-time information provision may allow us to be more agile; we can change more quickly and provide more tailored information.

Creating the Agile Library is a collection of seven articles. Most are written by practicing academic librarians with a wealth of experience in the field. Fred Heath introduces us to the concept of the agile organization. He provides background on the development of this concept, and demonstrates how it can be applied to libraries. The other articles describe various aspects of library services, with an emphasis on anticipating change. Rebecca R. Martin of the University of Vermont Library discusses managing change in academic libraries. She emphasizes that the successful library will be one that "views change as an opportunity rather than a threat. …

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