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How Should We Organize the Academic Library?
The View from the Director’s Chair

Library leaders are faced with no shortage of imperatives. They are building new strategies to align the library in support of the research enterprise and student success. They are grappling with the challenges of stagnant budgets and rising costs. They are rethinking their tangible collections and renovating their facilities.

In support of these types of efforts, library leaders are beginning to take on new approaches to management and organization. Especially at large research libraries whose employees number in the hundreds, organizational structure is essential to aligning resources with strategic objectives. In a new research project, which is published today, I interviewed nearly 20 library leaders to understand the approaches being taken to organizational structure and related issues. They describe how they have re-defined leadership roles in their institutions and the ways in which they used organizational structures to effect change. Under the protection of anonymity, the directors offered candid assessments of the pros and cons of different organizational models, and analyzed their own successes and failures.

Today, many research libraries are making important efforts to rethink organizational structure in ways that are no longer just experimental. Although there appears to be no single optimal model for a research library’s organizational structure, the project produced several key findings:

  • Library directors appear to be shifting how they structure the role of associate university librarians (AULs), moving away from seeing them principally as division leads and towards seeing them more fully as organizational leaders.
  • Directors are using organizational structure to drive a reallocation of the staffing and materials budgets for general collections, with a long-term objective of reducing both in favor of other priorities. The alignment between strategy and organizational structures in these areas of responsibility are especially well established.
  • Directors are also pressing for new approaches to outreach and engagement roles, an area with a great deal of experimentation.
  • Finally, directors are least uniform in the areas of library technology, where approaches range from efforts to build Silicon Valley-style product organizations to those where directors seem uncertain how best to manage technology resources strategically.

While organizational structure is essential, it is but one management focus area for the successful library leader.  Ithaka S+R is also helping guide library leaders on how to take a talent management approach to staffing and on improving equity, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace, as well as working to sustain and enhance leadership development.

I hope you enjoy this latest of our work on library leadership, with its focus on organizational structure, and I encourage you to share other perspectives on these issues here on our blog.

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