Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Testing a Model of Intraorganizational Power within Liberal Arts College Libraries

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Testing a Model of Intraorganizational Power within Liberal Arts College Libraries

Article excerpt


Computers and information technologies have had profound effects both upon the lives of individuals and upon organizations. They have changed the way we work, live, and play. These technologies have also facilitated the reorganization of organizational structures, changed their inputs and outputs, and even challenged the existence of some organizations. Internal and external procedures have developed to cope with these effects, often altering an organization's power dynamics.

By employing a wide variety of information technologies, academic institutions have changed the ways faculty and students teach, learn, and do research. At the same time, information technologies have given libraries the ability to provide greater access to a broader array of materials. These technologies, however, have also presented greater challenges to libraries. The costs of purchasing, maintaining, and replacing computer equipment, the hiring of computer experts or consultants, the training of librarians, library staff, and library patrons to use the technologies, and the acquisition of electronic databases has stretched the budgets of libraries greatly. Although many early proponents of automation believed that automation would pay for itself through reductions in cataloging and clerical staff (e.g., Allen, 1986), such reductions, if they materialize at all, have been quickly absorbed by increased costs in other areas of the library.

Competing for funds on campus, especially for the purchase of computing equipment, has become a great challenge for most libraries. Tomer (1992, p. 77) aptly writes, "As many librarians have discovered in recent years, waxing lyrical about the virtues of the online public access catalog or the full-text database is one matter, but finding the money to finance the servers, terminals, printers, and licenses to support this mode of delivery is another." As a result of his survey of chief academic officers (CAOs) and the directors of libraries which were members of the Association of Research Libraries, Hughes (1992) reports that the development of the electronic library is not one of the highest priority issues for funding among campus administrators. Both the CAOs and the library directors agree that the budget is the most pressing issue.

As a result of the importance of the budget, van der Linde (1990) argues that the academic library is imbedded in a network of power struggles and that the library director should not be a passive recipient of power but should actively pursue it. Tolbert (1985), in her examination of patterns in administrative offices in public and private institutions of higher education, found that the sources of monetary support are a major factor in determining the structure of administrative offices.

In the competition for funds, computing and electronic information technologies may cause changes in certain power payoffs or "power shifts" both within and between organizations (Kraemer & Dutton, 1982; Toffler, 1990). These power shifts may alter the political atmosphere of an organization, resulting in changes in the distribution of institutional resources. Although his focus was on business organizations, Petrozzo (1995, p. 17) states that "information technology is intertwined with almost all corporate initiatives." He argues that information technology organizations, of which libraries are one, are facing changing customers and changing roles with the emphasis being on the ability to enable organizations to do things they could not previously do.

This study examines the role that electronic information technologies have played in the distribution of power within organizations, specifically the power of the library within the liberal arts college. based largely on the strategic contingencies theory of intraorganizational power, power is considered a dependent variable that changes in response to a subunit's bases of power. The bases of power include the subunit's ability to cope with uncertainty, its substitutability, and its centrality to the organization (Hickson, Hinings, Lee, Schneck, & Pennings, 1971; Lachman, 1989; Salancik & Pfeffer, 1977). …

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