Open Forum Notes – Virtual and Embedded Librarians
Divisional Structure Task Force
University of Illinois Library
October 10, 2011
- What has changed since the division structure was implemented in 1993? E.g., changes in technology and communication channels, changes in number and type of employees, etc.?
- If we did not have a structure, what principles would be the foundation of an ideal structure? E.g., facilitates communication, minimizes hierarchy, etc.
- What are the strengths of the current divisional structure?
- What are the weaknesses of the current divisional structure
[Note: Group decided to discuss the first four questions in a single discussion.]
- Speaker is still figuring out what being embedded is.
- Not sure if you want to call embedded librarians a group. Would be iffy - there is no pattern, no one format, everyone’s work is unique.
- No matter where you are physically, the same work is with you everywhere.
- What impact does this have?
- Contact with other librarians through the division is even more important for embedded librarians. Having a divisional home to bounce ideas off of people is important. Speaker can see merging Physical and Life Sciences as an emerging option.
- The fact that someone is a virtual/embedded librarian doesn’t necessarily mean that he/she has an individual unit. May be a member of a unit with other librarians as well.
- The way we do librarianship has changed. Shrinking of subject specialists numbers. Cross-functional, cross-disciplinary does not meant that you’re in three separate divisions even though the work is.
- Bylaws assume that each person does one job in one unit and therefore belongs to one division. That’s not the case anymore.
- Interdisciplinarity is not going to decrease.
- Organizational chart doesn’t clearly represent embedded.
- In our divisions like Technical Services, there is a distinction between people doing traditional roles and people doing more electronic resources. How do things fit together?
- Divisions are points of communication, tenure homes (you need tenured faculty within the divisions to support tenure track faculty) and occasionally, in dire budget times, divisions have been a point of decision in how money should be spent. Divisions are also the locus for ideas (or heel-planting) in discussions of structural changes.
- Divisions have also been homes for finding coverage when there are staff shortages. That’s not so much an issue for embedded librarians, since there is no “desk” to cover, but embedded librarians become coverage for other units, in practice.
- Speaker would like to know more about how a department works. What is the difference between divisions and departments, and is there anything we can learn from department structure to guide us now.
- According to University Statues, departments are independent decision-making bodies with budgets; as defined in the Library Bylaws divisions are not.
- Not everyone finds their division to be a great home for communication and support.
- Is that because of the individuals in the division or the structure?
- There are different “atmospheres” in different divisions, but they essentially do the same thing, at least in the subject-specific divisions.
- Learn a lot by going to other division meetings, just seeing what other divisions (and their librarians) are doing. Different experiences and different people.
- When someone moves from one division to another, does he/she take all of their subject area with them to the new division? Not all pieces may fit in the new division.
- There needs to be one “home” division for each faculty member for promotion and tenure and sabbaticals, but other than that, there has been a lot of divisional cross-over with people’s own initiatives to reach out, but nothing formal. Are there structural things that could improve and encourage this?
- Some divisions have joint meetings (Physical Sciences and Life Sciences), but how many joint divisions/meetings can we have until they all just merge?
- How many things do divisions vote on, besides tenure cases?
- Who goes to the Collection Development Committee (CDC) and the Faculty Review Committee (FRC)? Some divisions have strong cultures of voting on other issues internally.
- What about a unit heads council instead of the Administrative Council (AC)?
- A problem could be “differing voices.” E.g., if the head of a unit is on a council of unit heads, will the minority voice of the unit be heard?
- Is that not a potential failing of our current structure?
- Not really, because we have consensus in our divisions but the division coordinator also represents minority opinions in AC.
- This is not true in all divisions, though. In some, the division coordinator only represents the majority perspective.
- The head of a division and the head of a unit may think in different ways. Speaker concurs with previous speaker about the concern over unit heads being in a council.
- What is a unit head? How many units do we have?
- If we do 5-year rotations, it means a unit head wouldn’t be on the council for more than that time.
- Back to minority voices in a unit—clarification that divisions are a place for minority voices to be heard. Confirmation from the earlier speaker that this is what was meant.
- There is value in small groups versus large groups.
- One of the things appreciated about this library is its relatively flat structure. This helps us more than it holds us down. So many more people have a voice.
- So would the suggestion be that we make more explicit the role of the division coordinator in representing the panoply of opinions? Reply was yes.
- What structure can move us all toward this more positive experience? One person suggested coordinator training and another concurred.
- One of the key roles now of a division is communication in both directions - bottom-down and top-up. Can we create channels to make people feel freer to speak?
- At what point is a division too small to be a division?
- It is too small when there is group-think. You need a variety of voices.
- Also, when there’s too much for the people in the division to do on a higher level (CDC, FRC).
- The more people you have on a division, the more information transfer you can have.
- To minimally meet your responsibilities as a division, you need two faculty – at least one division coordinator plus one other librarian to serve on the Divisional Advisory Committee. And just two people will not have a lot of variety in their information to share with each other.
- It also matters how much staff input and involvement there is in the division for how much information flow there is.
- What about the number of units in a division? Is it problematic to have one unit in a division?
- It depends on whether there is diversity of opinion. If so, it’s okay.
- How are we looking at other institutions?
- We are looking at organization charts for other institutions.
- The closest to our structure is what Harvard is evolving into now but even there structure is very different, including that Harvard librarians are not faculty.
- Other CIC libraries don’t appear to have divisional structures like ours, but rather groups that are structured under AUL equivalents
- Some divisions have a Library Staff Support Committee (LSSC) representative; others have an open meeting for any staff members to attend, and they often do, so there’s lots of staff involvement.
- Big advantage of divisions now is that you get to talk to people outside of your unit.
- Bylaws for each division dictate the activities inside the divisions.
- The structure on the organizational chart is static, but we are not. We’re trying to fit something that is constantly moving into a structure, which forces us to find work-arounds.
- Another possibility is to separate out things that have to be done in a rigid structure (one home only—like promotion and tenure and sabbaticals) and the rest in interest groups?
- As far as is known, anyone who wants to come to a division meeting is welcome; they are open.
- Not every group is equally welcoming though.
- We have liaisons/representatives from other divisions to come to meetings. It’s our responsibility to contact others when we feel we aren’t getting enough input on a topic.
- That goes back to a negative about the unit heads being in a council—you don’t get outside perspectives, outside voices.
- We definitely need a structure that encourages outside input.
- As an embedded, it’s very valuable to have a group of people to talk to.
5. If you could create any system, what would you create?
- If we could wave a magic wand, speaker would make an organization using the concept of teams, like Arizona (in the team aspect only – not, for example, the rigid time allocations in the job descriptions). Should have teams with goals and resources to work toward those goals and a shared vision.
- Talk more about the resources…
- Some divisions have a GA. Maybe not resources so much as input on resources. A team would be provided with a certain budget under their discretion to hire graduate students to do benchmarking or whatever they need to work toward goals. We are rational enough people that we can articulate goals and work toward them.
- Currently units get allocations, but divisions don’t. This would mean allocations to divisions to work toward goals.
- Going along with the team idea, make them more functional as opposed to subject-based. That may mean that someone is on four separate functional teams, which may not be helpful, but maybe that’s on top of the division structure?
- Are there any new corporate models that we can follow?
- So much of what we do structurally is as a substitute for having money and people. If we make divisions more robust, there will need to be resources added for that. Certainly also if we were to return to the department model, we would need more money.
- Or, re-allocate existing resources.
- Divisions are getting together now to look at joint purchases to recommend to the Library.
- Offices reporting to the AULs as opposed to units as part of divisions is a large number. The top of the organization chart is getting bigger.
- The divisions don’t have any lock on day-to-day decisions, and maybe never did.
- Say we take away all the divisions. In the library, let’s say there are no divisions, no units, only individuals, and just see who people choose to join with, to follow their affinities and shared interests? If you were set loose, who would you choose to work with to meet goals?
- If resources are tied to goals and affinity groups get the resources, then there won’t likely be individuals choosing to be alone (i.e., opting not to select an affinity group).
- There might be difficulty for untenured and visiting librarians in finding their affinity groups. As a new librarian, how do I find and join an affinity group?
- Maybe pull the affinity groups together under a larger structure?
- Summary—there’s no less need to be in a division for embedded librarians than for other librarians, and perhaps more advantages for embedded librarians in having the ability to get together with others.
- We like opportunities to interact with people from other units and exchange ideas.
- A guaranteed opportunity to interact with a group of people once a month.
- Would like a structure with less hierarchy rather than more.
- Even with a strict structure, we don’t want to be prohibited from having liaisons. Leave possibilities open around set structures.
- Need a better definition of the responsibilities of the structure. Whatever we end up with has to be more explicit about the responsibilities of that body and its coordinator.