It’s the same. But different.

There are obviously a lot of similarities in academic libraries – there is a common language and similar goals (however broad they may be) that academic libraries share, research, and discuss.

And that’s where I am now. There are conversations and attitudes that I’m very familiar with, but the smaller, more granular elements are mixing differently, creating a different alchemy of organizational culture.

How do we do more with less? How do we create a culture of collaboration? of innovation? How do we move forward with a shared vision when everyone is already so busy and tired from keeping all the plates spinning?

These are questions that need conversations. [And ultimately, decisions, but that’s a little further beyond the point I’m trying to make right now.] In my very limited experience at two academic libraries, it’s these conversations that don’t happen. At least not on a larger organizational scale. They happen all the time among informal groups. But how long can these informal groups meet and discuss issues in an environment in a way that elicits change within the larger organization?

The movement to a more modern educational system that places more emphasis on collaboration and group work for our students, many libraries find themselves in limited spaces that discourage serendipitous conversations and critical thinking.

Many academic libraries I am familiar with have done well to create individual work spaces/stations for both their students and their employees. There’s been a major push and move towards creating collaborative spaces for students. But what are we doing for our librarians and employees?

Organization(al) Culture

I’ve been having lots of conversations with colleagues about organizational culture. I’m in a pretty interesting position; I have all the qualities of a professional-level librarian but I rank low on the organizational chart (as far as status goes = library technician). These conversations have been with others on a similar level as well as all the way up to the associate and head deans.

One of the biggest concerns seems to be that we need ideas. Sorry. We need IDEAS!

Yet, when everyone already talks of having to do sooooo much, where do we find the time to think about ideas, much less talk about ideas. Another term I hear quite often is the “silo effect”. Asking and encouraging individuals to present their ideas works within this silo effect – if we don’t have the opportunity to talk about, combine, or transform one person’s idea, then it’s only going to go as far as that one person can take it. (Though I acknowledge that even asking for ideas and being available to talk and listen to everyone may be a vast improvement for some organizations.)

My initial thoughts revolved around suggesting that we set up periodic days (or half-days) in which different departments could come together and actually talk about ideas – you know, brainstorm.
Herein lies question number 1: How does one best provide an example of the brainstorming process without being in a position of leadership (at least, according to title)? I’ve been around long enough to see what happens when ideas are suggested – “that won’t work”, “we tried that years ago and it failed”, “we don’t have any policy for that”, “we’d have to change too much” and so on…

This difficulty with change or implementing new ideas leads to my next question:
Is it inherent within larger organizations to install a clear line of hierarchy? Do organizations just have it in their DNA to create highly specialized levels of structure as a way to produce efficiency? How do we shift focus to effectiveness? And flexibility?

I know there’s a lot to unpack in that last bit but I’d like to hear from others about your organizational structure and culture.