ASIS Midyear '98 Proceedings

Collaboration Across Boundaries:
Theories, Strategies, and Technology

Pragmatic Collegiality:
A Collaborative Planning and Governance Model
for the Digital Library

William J. Hubbard, George E. Whitesel
Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville, Alabama

 

Abstract

The manager of today's academic library sometimes feels overwhelmed by the pace of technology. New situations arise with little or no forewarning and planning may take a back seat to reaction. Planning in the library is an important exercise, and one that must be used to mesh with the parent institution's goals and objectives. However, the rapid development of technology sometimes outpaces even the short-range projections of the academic administration, making elements of the plan obsolete before they can be implemented. At Jacksonville State University (JSU) steps are taken to include the entire staff in the planning process. Even so, events often overtake good intentions and immediate responses have to take the place of group deliberation. The problem is how to engage the faculty in the ongoing planning and implementation of almost constant technological change. Pragmatic collegiality is a term coined to describe a management model that uses a combination of standing committees for information gathering and dissemination, collaborating with ad-hoc committees and individual expertise in order to fully involve library faculty throughout the implementation process. The evolution of public access digital databases at JSU's Houston Cole Library serves as a case study in the use of this technique.

Sometimes goals conflict. Managers find that they may be divided between two worthy objectives, one of which can only be accomplished at the expense of the other. This conflict may be more apparent in this age of rapid technological change.

Collegiality has been a prized objective in the academic workplace. Likewise, technological enhancement of the learning process is a valid and increasingly necessary goal. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, at York University in Toronto "In what may have been a first, new instructional technology was a major issue in a faculty strike - one that lasted 55 days." and "Among the technology-related provisions in the final version of the contract is an unusual promise from the administration: Professors will not be forced to use technology in their classrooms or to deliver courses over the Internet." [1] In the same article the chairman of the faculty union said "...that forcing the university to accept the restrictions was a pre-emptive move stemming from 'fears that the administration was moving too fast into technology that no one understands.'" [2] While this demonstrates just how high emotions can run over the changes taking place in academe, librarians can sympathize with those facing this problem for the first time. They have been wrestling with it for decades.

The roles of the librarian and the technocrat are said to be converging. Some who make their living in the world of information feel frustrated by a sense of powerlessness in the face of changes that affect their workplace, of having to stand by while decision makers rush ever more quickly to decide questions of import without consultation. Must the trend be to leave more and more knowledge workers out of the loop when the technocrats convene?

A researcher has raised this question on the Internet. Asako Yoshida, a social science bibliographer, used the PACS-L listserve to place a request for information concerning the practices in place at other libraries for bringing everyone into the decision making process:

I have just begun to research how different academic libraries plan or manage the ongoing process towards the Reference Services with increasingly more electronic resources (Internet and CD-ROM, etc.) available to the end-users. Do many libraries have any short- or long-term planning ideas or processes? Do they work adequately or do they have many problems? Does anyone have successful scenarios or models?

Since many subscribers to this list are involved in the technical side of the library operations, in your libraries, how do you bring in other librarians and professionals or paraprofessionals into the planning? I am especially interested in how the reference staff get involved in the process...Do they tend to be the recipients of the ideas or plans made somewhere else in the library or are they proactive and have some decision-making power, especially when the planning involves some technical changes...[3]

The purpose of this paper is to place in context the problem posed by Yoshida to his readers on the Internet. Using one library as an example, and combining the experience of two persons, a library director and a reference librarian, the authors seek to give a local habitation to this contemporary dilemma which troubles people of goodwill on both sides of the technology divide (The separation, of course, is not complete - most librarians would insist that they have a foot in both camps).


Development of the Digital Library

From the beginning one major objective in the Jacksonville State University (JSU) library's long range plan has been "To continue where practical and cost-effective to transfer information resources from traditional hard copy to digital formats, such as CD-ROM and on-line." [4] This has been an objective since the formal JSU library planning process began in the late 80's; but with the rapid expansion of digital publishing, it has become more relevant every year since. A timeline may help put this in perspective (Fig. 1).

At many libraries, including JSU, OCLC was the introduction to digital bibliographic processing. In the 70's, when introduced, OCLC was almost exclusively a product used by catalogers. Gradually during that era, reference librarians in most university libraries gained access to on-line indexing and abstracting systems, services which not long before had been the tools of special librarians, most often working in medical or scientific libraries. When the on-line public access catalogs became widespread in the early 80's, rank and file library users were exposed at last to bibliographic searching.

In perhaps one of the shrewdest marketing moves in library history, Information Access, in the mid-80's offered free trial subscriptions to its standalone, laser-disk, bibliographic search system, InfoTrac. Quickly academic library users were hooked, succumbing to a pitch comparable to the neighborhood dope pusher's mantra "Try this, kid, the first one's free." From that point on, there was no turning back from the move to digital library access, and JSU's planning objective of the late '80's can be seen only as an attempt to control a natural evolution taking place throughout the library world.


Factors Affecting Control

The dynamic development and growth of digital bibliographic resources has been awesome, to say the least. New products are announced frequently. Often these replace or improve upon existing hard copy resources, but entirely new products, developed with direct computer access exclusively in mind, also have burst upon the scene. These new services require special attention to funding, equipment requirements and specifications, maintenance, training, and support.

Even when digital services can replace existing subscriptions, fiscally speaking it is seldom on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Thus at a time when serial inflation rates often outpace library budgetary growth, the cost of new digital services may well mean the cancellation of other entirely unrelated resources. Most library materials budgets are zero-sum propositions, so new services in one area might drive out old in another. Which services and resources to purchase and which to cancel is a predicament faced by collection development personnel, although final budgetary decisions must rest with the library director.

Hardware and software pose their own built-in problems. Besides the cost of the digital resources, special access equipment may be required. At a minimum, CD-ROM or on-line workstations are needed. These may require upgrades as the technology progresses; and, as resources are added, more workstations with higher speed, greater capacity, and more technologically advanced printers become desirable. Recently local area networks and Internet access have become de rigueur, and these high tech modes of information access create a whole new set of installation and maintenance challenges. Once again, funding these has become a headache for administrators.

Planning Process

Strategic planning, beginning with a mission statement supported by goals, objectives, and strategies is a model familiar to most library administrators. Strategic planning works from the top down, with the administration providing the big picture by defining the organization's vision, mission, and goals. In contrast, bottom up planning is contributed by those closest to the daily operations through identification of objectives in attaining established goals and the strategies to be used in meeting those objectives. Committees may be used with both types of planning and at each level of the planning process, either on an ad hoc basis, such as the committee to develop JSU's telecommunication master plan, [5] or as standing committees, such as a permanent planning committee.

Functional committees can be very useful in developing focused objectives. At JSU, for instance, the Automation Committee would advise on meeting the aforementioned objective of transferring from hard copy to digital resources. Other standing committees with possible involvement would be the Subject Specialists Committee and the On-line Committee. Happily, in a medium-sized academic library, there is considerable overlap among the membership of these committees, so cross-fertilization of ideas can take place.

Yet another planning model might be termed hierarchical. At JSU, which has a very flat organization, the University Librarian consults with the two department heads (Library Services and Audiovisual Services) who, in turn, consult with library personnel reporting to them. All three administrators seek out expert strategic advice from those closest to the objective. This may be an informal, one-on-one process or it may take place within the structure of a committee meeting. Nevertheless, it is an effective method of information gathering for decision making, and one that makes use of the many talents and interests included in a diverse library staff.

Finally, we might consider the just as important, though highly informal, "opportunity knocks" planning phenomenon. Suppose funds suddenly became available to establish a local area network, or the state agrees to license a database for access by all its academic libraries. Such largesse cannot be turned down, even if unplanned. The difficulty when circumstances drive planning is that there may be additional expenses, such as new equipment requirements, which are introduced coincident with the opportunity. It is here that the committee approach to planning runs into trouble. In those instances, the existing plan can be revised, but an immediate decision to accept or reject the offer may be required. In a zero-sum budgeting world, each of these expenses affects some other aspect of the existing plan, several of which may have to be deferred in order to implement the desired but unplanned feature. Then, under time pressures, the institution has to have someone somewhere step forward immediately and say with a firm voice who takes the hit. Timing dictates this, and timing is everything in this planning situation; but the questioning voices won't go away. Was this speedy action really necessary? And how do you determine when a valid decision crisis is upon you?


Case Study - InfoTrac

Although Information Access Corporation's InfoTrac was the first user accessible on-line database in the JSU Library, the faculty had previous experience with trade-offs engendered by the move to digital resources. The standing On-line Committee, which included the serials librarian and several reference librarians, early-on recommended that certain hard copy indexes in the sciences be dropped in favor of free searches, on request, in corresponding files in Dialog or BRS search services. This cost cutting move was readily accepted by the faculty in the affected departments (Chemistry, Physics, Biology) and has caused virtually no hardship for majors. This change was suggested by the library faculty closest to the problem, cleared by the pertinent academic departments, and authorized by the library administration. It was a collegial approach to pragmatic decision making, which answered a direct need to resolve a pending fiscal problem (a high proportion of the subscription budget earmarked for a small number of very expensive, little-used abstracts). This decision was made before the library began its formal planning process; however, it demonstrates vividly the concept of pragmatic collegiality initiated by a standing committee.

The aforementioned free-trial of InfoTrac created a demand for end-user searchable databases. After the six month trial, a subscription was entered. This was not planned, but occurred as a direct response to usage and need. The InfoTrac system almost immediately became the most popular bibliographic service in the library. As demand for InfoTrac grew, about the only planning involved was whether to install two or even more additional workstations.

More recently, InfoTrac became the subject of a top-down decision when the Network of Alabama Academic Libraries (NAAL) determined to license that database for use by its statewide membership. With this decision, collegiality succumbed to pragmatism and planning took a back seat to opportunity. Rather than discuss the question of whether or not to accept access to this database on-line, decisions revolved around the question of how to implement it (OPAC access through the NOTIS-PACLINK server or Worldwide Web access through the Internet server) and how to deal with transmission of images through 286-level workstations. So the pragmatic decision was driven by an outside agency. Only the details, albeit extremely important details, lent themselves to collegial planning. That was done by the Automation Committee with certain budgetary constraints imposed by the University Librarian. An additional constraint was the inability of the NOTIS system to handle the full-text, InfoTrac database through the PACLINK server. That eliminated the preferred method of access. Nevertheless, and despite some raised eyebrows, library personnel understood both the advantages to be gained by quick action and the factors that governed the original decision. Therefore, they cooperated fully in making the implementation work.


Case Study - ERIC

The evolution of ERIC access demonstrates a similar case of taking advantage of opportunities in order to provide the best means of user access. Initially ERIC was accessed through the hard copy indexes Resources in Education (RIE) and Current Index to Journals in Education (CIJE), with full-text provided on microfiche or in the journals indexed. Later, mediated on-line access through BRS and Dialog was made available to faculty and graduate students. Next, a CD-ROM version of ERIC was obtained through a research grant awarded to the serials librarian, who conducted a comparison of searching success with hard copy versus CD-ROM. As with InfoTrac, once students got used to end-user searching on the CD-ROM version there was no possibility of retreating back to hard copy. In fact, a second CD-ROM subscription and workstation became necessary a year after the first was installed.

Although the first ERIC on CD-ROM subscription was initiated with grant funds to support one librarian's research, its implementation and ongoing maintenance involved a number of librarians. Again, the On-Line Committee and the Automation Committee were kept informed of the progress being made on the program, while the recipient of the grant reported to the remainder of library personnel from time-to-time in weekly staff meetings. The education librarian advised the staff throughout the implementation process, as did two other librarians with well-developed computer skills. One librarian's single handed initiative fostered the CD-ROM installation; but once the grant award was made, group decision-making entered the picture. Collegiality, as demonstrated by committee discussion and expert advice, enhanced the probability of a successful implementation.

Three years ago, an HEA Library Technology Grant to NAAL funded acquisition of PACLINK software for the eight NOTIS libraries in Alabama. Not only could those libraries access each others' OPACs, but they also could share databases loaded on other sites' computers. Consequently, JSU provided end-user searching of the ERIC database residing on the Auburn University computer to anyone who could access the OPAC. That included searchers at library terminals, those with access to the campus backbone network, and numerous dial-up users, including local schools and nearby public libraries. Collegiality in implementing this opportunity extended beyond the confines of the library and the University. Librarians were involved in promoting, installing, and training on this system, while ongoing advice was sought and was willingly given. Once more, this development was made possible by an outside opportunity. While the decision to take advantage of that opportunity was pragmatic and made unilaterally by the director, implementation was, and continues to be, collegial. Also, it is interesting to observe the evolution of ERIC access from hard-copy in the 60's, to mediated on-line searching in the 70's, from end-user CD-ROM searching in the 80's, to end-user on-line searching in the 90's (Fig.2). Full-text on-line access is next, and it will likely be here before the new millennium.


Pragmatic Collegiality

In both of the aforementioned case studies, fast changing technology drove planning and, ultimately, decision making. This phenomenon is recognized by a most structured administrative oversight organization, the National Education Association, whose Rachel Hendrickson noted:

It's difficult to negotiate changing technology because the pace of change is fast, and faculty and staff have little time to find out what's available, how much it costs, and what the pros and cons of different technologies are. [6]

Perhaps the solution is a pragmatic collegiality, where all parties accept the pace of technological change as an environmental given. Administrators can seek counsel on specific library operations from those closest to the operation. Library faculty and staff can consider the runaway aspects of technology when second-guessing administrative decisions. And, foremost, mutual trust must prevail. Sixteen years ago a wise history professor at JSU addressed an administrative/faculty divide at that time as follows:

The ancient system of collegiality which blended effectively the faculty-administration roles may never again be re-established. However, it makes sense that the best way to solve the problems in higher education today is to have the constituent parts of the system work together in a cooperative manner. Until administrators can feel comfortable as co-equals with faculty instead of viewing themselves as managers, and until faculties can accept the unique demands which require specialization in administration, such a solution will likely not be found. [7]

Now, when the pressures of technological change combine with the realities of budget reductions to generate uncertainty and anxiety in the minds of faculty members, a situation which greatly complicates relations with administrators, such understanding is even more important. On both sides of the technological divide emotional as well as rational elements must be engaged. If high morale and loyalty are maintained and combined with a good bit of pragmatism (or a realization of what can be accomplished with the resources at hand given the pace of emerging technologies), then the planning and decision making process discussed here will have the best chance of success. If all parties to the decision sign on wholeheartedly to this collaborative approach, collegial governance will endure.

REFERENCES

1. Canadian University Promises It Won't Require Professors to Use Technology. Chronicle of Higher Education, XLIV, (6), October 3, 1997, A28.

2. Ibid.

3. E-Mail transmission from Asako Yoshida.

4. Jacksonville State University (1996). Houston Cole Library Long Range Plan (p.2). Jacksonville, AL.

5. Hubbard, W. (1991). "Strategic Planning's Role in the Understanding and Acceptance of Information Systems." In Systems, People, Understanding: Proceedings of the 54th Annual Meeting of the Association for Information Science (pp. 226-229). Medford, N.J., Learned Information.

6. Can Campus Change Be Bargained? NEA Higher Education Advocate, XIII, (5), April, 1996, 7.

7. Hollis, Daniel W. III Faculty Struggles to Close Campus Gap. Anniston Star, November 30, 1980, 11D.


Paper presented at the 1998 midyear meeting of the Association for Information Science, May 17-20, 1998, Orlando, Florida.


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Last updated 5/14/98

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