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SWON News: Future of Libraries

“The Library in 2020” – Let’s Discuss (third and final part of a multi-part post)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Melanie Blau McDonald
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Image of sign saying future ahead

In the second post, I discussed some management trends and how they’ve faired in the library environment, specifically self-managing teams and flatter structures. In this final post, I cover some current library management trends and sum up where I think we’ll be in 2020 both in management and structure.

There are a couple of worrisome trends I’ve seen that I don’t believe serves the public (or our customers of any type) nor our profession. One is to eliminate or greatly reduce professional staff in favor of staffing our libraries primarily with paraprofessionals. For example, there are libraries where only the Director/Manager is a librarian. Two, placing the continuing education burden on staff rather than on accepting the responsibility to keep our people trained and current.

Let’s explore the reduction of professional staff in libraries. Have you ever shopped at Nordstrom’s? Isn’t it an amazing experience to receive first-class quality help when shopping? Why would we not want to provide this sort of help to our customers? And it’s true that paraprofessionals may provide great service, but only if given a lot of training. It’s quicker to simply start with professional staff and then give them ongoing high-quality training. There is no shortage of library professional staff and for a person with a Master’s degree, they’re cheap.* So how about the training? It’s a common response to reduce or eliminate staff training when belts need to be tightened. But this approach is short-sighted. Just when you need to demonstrate value to your communities you leave your staff unprepared for what’s in front of them. Libraries must provide a superior customer experience and that experience begins with professional and highly trained staff.

In conclusion, should the library organization be flatter? Should it be organized in self-managing teams? As I discussed in the prior post, a team is not a magic bullet.** So what will library management look like in 2020? Much as the rest of the world’s management will, I suspect. We manage people. That means that some of our teams will take off and be amazing. And some teams will never get off the ground. Some directors are innovators and will lead their systems to innovate and actively support their communities. Other directors are petty dictators and will remain so. And that’s because we’re people too.

You, as a library leader, may be able to lead a flat organization. And you may be able to hire people who can and want to work in such an environment. Or, you may be a great manager. And your people may work really well, in a traditional structure, for you. I don’t believe there’s only one way to go. I do believe that we owe it to our customers and our employees to continue to improve our craft of management. This is the only way to deliver on excellence and innovation; to keep expecting those standards first of all, of ourselves.

~ Melanie

*See the NACE Salary Survey 2013 available here:

Compare to the State Library of Ohio’s “Ohio Public Library Statistics” for 2013 available here: Bottom line, a librarian’s starting average salary in Ohio at a public library is around $32,000 which is the lowest of any Master’s degree program in the NACE Survey.

** See Harvard University’s, J. Richard Hackman’s article about his research into why teams don’t work.

J. Richard Hackman, “Why teams don’t work”, Theory and Research on Small Groups, edited by R. Scott Tindale et al. Plenum Press, New York, 1998. Pp245-267.

Accessed January 16, 2015.

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