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2. Managing information: Introduction
2.1 Management of an information service
2.2 Records management
2.1 Management of an information service
Management and policies of an information unit
Organizing and operating an information and documentation centre
Management and policies of an information unit
Claire GUINCHAT and Michel MENOU
Management is the process of directing individual skills and energies and allocating material resources to attain an objective. It can also be regarded as a set of techniques for reaching rational decisions ensuring that all available resources are fully utilized in their implementation, and checking their effectiveness.
These techniques are based on: quantitative methods, or the use of measurements that are as objective as possible, the need for efficiency, the careful preparation of decisions in accordance with firm criteria, and teamwork and leadership.
Modern management is also a state of mind and an attitude to work centred on effectiveness and rationality. It cannot be effective unless all members of the group or organization feel involved: each individual has a vital role to play and must therefore understand its principles while accepting that the final decision at each level must be the clear responsibility of a particular person or group of persons.
Owing to their wide range of activities, their human and material resources, rapid technical progress and, above all, the many different functions they have to perform in backing up the productive activities of their users, information services must lay great stress on management.
Management deals in varying degrees with: (a) all the personnel and all the material components of an organization; (b) all its activities: routine tasks (the sale of products and services), or organization of the whole (staff promotion regulations). This does not mean to say that management is concerned with all the minor details that crop up.
The purpose of management is to enable the organization to produce the best possible results under the best possible conditions. The world situation today is so difficult and changing that no organization can attain this objective by relying on habit or intuition. There must be a systematic effort: (a) to analyse situations; (b) to define objectives; (c) to select the most economic means of attaining them; (d) to organize resources in consequence; (e) to monitor results; and (f) whenever the need arises to adapt the objectives, resources and organization in the light of the results obtained, new circumstances and new tasks.
Policies are guidelines or general principles which help to express objectives in terms of actions by establishing codes for the taking and implementation of decisions.
The structures of an organization are an essential concern of management, whatever its size. Indeed, the smaller it is, and therefore the more limited its resources, the more efficiently it must be run. These structures form a complex whole and can be regarded:
Communications are very important in the life of any information unit, yet they give rise to a great many problems. There are various types of communication:
The management and policies of any information unit must deal with the following areas: organization of services, personnel, equipment, collections, services for users, production, relations with users, relations with the parent organization and relations with other organizations (especially other information units).
The responsibility for management lies with the head of the information unit. In most cases it is, at a certain level, shared with higher authorities outside the unit itself (the directors of the parent organization) or not involved in its daily routine (the board of governors or advisory committee of a large unit). When the unit is large enough, managerial responsibility is also shared with the heads of each section and the staff. All staff members in fact have some say in the various aspects of management, even though general supervision, evaluation of activities, and choice of policies and plans are the responsibility of senior staff.
The legal status of a unit affects its choice of policy. Some units come under public administration and must therefore respect official regulations which are not always geared to their managerial problems; moreover, they must provide the same quality of service for all users, in many cases free of charge, or respect certain general obligations (preservation of the national heritage, for instance) which can limit their freedom of action.
Other units are private concerns and operate in a context of competition. For example, certain information searches from external sources might reveal the commercial strategy of the firm.
Many information units have been set up to serve the information needs of a larger organization. Their problem is to know how far they can serve users from outside the parent organization and what links can be established with other units.
Lastly, certain units from the start, or soon afterwards, depend entirely on the proceeds obtained from selling their services and are therefore restricted to profitable activities.
Policies have to be formulated, and regularly updated, for the main aspects of the unit's work. Their purpose is to provide the clearest possible guidelines on: the target clientele; priority needs; the limits and scope of the unit's field; the types of services; the creation and management of collections, the nature and organization of technical operations; relations with users; the use of material resources; personnel management; the system of administration; relations with other units and with the parent organization, etc.
The analysis on which policies are based must not be restricted to the unit alone but take into consideration all aspects of its current environment and how this is likely to develop, including the branch of activity with which the unit is concerned, the national and international information infrastructure, information technology and so forth. This will make it possible to clarify the user services to be provided and the most effective methods not only for immediate purposes but in the longer term. It should also be stressed that policies cannot be formulated unless user needs have been adequately defined.
Planning is the means whereby the unit's resources are marshalled over a given period of time in order to attain predetermined objectives.
Plans and programmes can be regarded from. two points of view:
As all these levels are naturally interdependent, more complex and comprehensive plans must be drawn up, or at least outlined, before the others.
The plans of an information unit must be consistent both with those of the parent organization (which are in turn geared to plans for the branch of activity concerned and the national plans) and with national plans for scientific and technical information.
For large units, the planning process will probably require the assistance of specialists and special machinery such as working groups, advisory committees, a planning committee, and so on. In smaller units, it is one of the normal managerial tasks of those in charge.
The planning process itself goes through several stages: definition of objectives, analysis of the present situation and available resources, assessment of the required changes, elaboration of alternative proposals and determination of the resources needed in each case, evaluation of the various proposals and recommendation of a particular plan, its adoption, implementation and subsequent regular revision and updating.
It is advisable for the objectives of the plan to be quantified. Though it is not always possible to do this with a high degree of precision, the plan should at least contain estimates that can subsequently be compared with the actual results obtained.
Organization of an information unit
The organization of the unit is not an abstract construction reflecting a purely administrative logic; neither is it settled once and for all. It is another means of helping the unit to perform its function as well as possible. It must not, of course, be constantly altered but it should be possible to make adjustments whenever necessary.
The structure of an information unit can be envisaged in accordance with the following criteria:
Naturally, these criteria can be and in practice usually are combined so as to meet user needs more effectively. At all events, it is always important to study, clarify and monitor the distribution of functions because this governs the smooth execution of operations.
Basing organization solely on the functions of the documentary chain facilitates standardization and control, and makes for greater homogeneity in the division of work, but tasks tend to be more fragmented, and it becomes more difficult to staff each section with people who are familiar with different types of document, subject and clientele. Other methods of organization result in more interesting tasks with staff members covering at least one of these different areas, but there is a greater risk of overlapping, and standardization and control are rendered more difficult.
The selected structure should minimize efforts; in other words, each operation should serve directly for as many subsequent operations as possible and everything needed for each service provided should be quick and easy to obtain. Each section should be given a clearly defined role that is logical and interesting. The communication circuits should be as direct as possible and avoid pointless duplication for both staff and users.
FIG. 25. Organizational chart of an information unit (a theoretical example based upon an arrangement by functions).
If the unit is large (the information service of a ministry working for institutions in different places, for example), it will have to choose between centralization and decentralization. With a centralized organization, the services can be fully integrated and are simpler and cheaper to run, but the unit is often located far from its users and even runs the danger of becoming completely cut off. Decentralization presents the opposite advantages and drawbacks. In many cases a compromise is worked out in which technical operations such as cataloguing and the production of bulletins are centralized and input and output functions located close to the user.
It is useful, not to say essential, to have a sufficiently clear and detailed description of the unit's structure and mode of operation for each staff member to know where he fits in, what he has to do, and how and why. This is the point of organization charts, such as in Figure 26.
Task analysis and the organization of work are major concerns with a vital role in maintaining the productivity of units faced with the steadily growing mass of information.
By careful observation of all the work performed in an information unit and a detailed analysis of the processes Involved, it is possible to distinguish elementary tasks, the series of tasks that make up an operation and the set of operations that comprise a function or service.
Tasks are discrete acts which cannot be broken down any further and which have a specific location in the documentary chain or administrative procedures; they effect a single transformation (for example, marking the accession number on a document or identifying the main keyword). The degree of skill required depends on the nature of the task. Tasks are differentiated according to this degree of skill, the amount of freedom left to the performer and the responsibilities implied in regard to other members of the staff.
A work unit or job is composed of a varying number of tasks. The distribution depends on the amount of work, the size of staff and the unit's organization. They should normally involve a set of closely related tasks or consecutive operations at the same level. In principle, no task should be performed by a more qualified, or less qualified, person than the work involved calls for.
Work units can be organized in accordance with the same criteria as those mentioned above for the unit as a whole. A division on purely functional lines might well prove monotonous for the staff, but this danger can be avoided by alternating duties from time to time. On the other hand, a division based on the type of public, product or specialist field-often preferably in combination with a functional division sometimes tends, especially in smaller information units, to result in too many tasks performed by under-qualified staff. As all the functions of an information unit are interdependent, it is better for all the staff to be perfectly familiar with all the unit's work. This can be arranged in providing a thorough introduction for new staff and by job rotation. Since most information units have a small staff, it is advisable to be able to cope with any eventuality, to define jobs with some flexibility and ensure that all staff members are as polyvalent as possible.
Fig. 26 Flowchart of the operations of an information unit
Information units offer many employment opportunities: (a) administrative jobs (typing, bookkeeping, legal services, personnel department, etc.); (b) technical jobs (reprography, binding, computer processing, etc.) ; (c) specialized jobs in scientific and technical information (archives, librarianship, documentation, etc.).
These jobs can be filled at different levels of execution, supervision or management (see Chapter 24). They should be accurately described so that candidates or staff members know exactly what is involved. This 'job description' covers the hierarchical level, the responsibilities, the amount and kind of work, the qualifications required, salary and administrative status.
When information specialists have an officially recognized administrative status, the job description must mention the fact.
Personnel management is of particular importance in information; in many countries, career prospects are still all too often limited. Staff must be recruited with great care and efforts made to keep up their enthusiasm by arranging meetings, discussion groups, etc., and continuing in-service training.
The salary scale and increments should reflect the general conditions of the profession, growing responsibilities, further qualifications and improved performance. Salaries are sometimes supplemented by other payments (,allowances, bonuses, etc.). It is most important that members of the staff have clear salary and career prospects.
Costing and performance evaluation is fundamental to most managerial activities. There are direct costs, which are those related to a particular documentary function (for example, the salaries paid to indexers) and indirect costs which are chargeable either to documentary functions in general (the indirect costs of the system: thesaurus maintenance, for instance) or to general overheads (the indirect costs of the organization: lighting, for instance). There are three categories of direct cost: staff costs, materials (documents, supplies) and equipment (amortization, operation and servicing). Costing calls for the analysis of transactions and the time taken. The transactions cover the quantity and cost of purchased items (for example, the number and total cost of microfiches bought in one year), intermediate products (number of documents indexed), and the products and services delivered to users (number of photocopies). The other element is the time spent on executing each task, for the measurement of which a unit of time and a nomenclature of the tasks involved are required (time spent on indexing a document of twenty pages, for example'). The time spent implies certain labour costs and the cost of using equipment.
The costs are measured on the basis of bookkeeping vouchers and records which are analysed systematically or over a given period of time. In some cases a general estimate ",ill suffice, but good management requires them to be broken down into cost units, that is, according to the functions stated in an accounting scheme. The accounting scheme is a double-entry matrix which shows the various types of cost for each function. The definition of functions depends on the organizational structure of the unit.
Another important aspect of performance is the time taken. This can be checked by recording the dates when documents or queries (individually or in sets) pass through each work place or function. These data can then be noted on a planning chart to facilitate analysis. Even though information work is of an intellectual nature, it is preferable to treat it like normal production activities and to make sure that capacity' is being full) utilized. This is done by establishing the normal work load for each job and each piece of equipment in the form of a chart which states, for a given period, the theoretical production capacity, the expected amount of activity and the actual production. This will show where performance has been good or poor, help identify the reasons and make it possible to take advantage of success or put the matter right.
The qualitative aspect of performance evaluation is more delicate to handle. If the unit has no arrangements for monitoring each task or operation, it will have to resort to sample surveys or artificial tests. With monitoring procedures- which cannot be recommended too highly-the proportion of products rejected and the reasons why (for example, 5 per cent of Indexing operations for lack of specificity) are recorded. A useful form of control, which can provide a partial and subjective indication of performance, is based on user reactions, which can and should be systematically requested. It is also possible to establish special criteria for each function. service or product and to measure performance on a regular or occasional basis. For example, the effectiveness of a question-answer service could be assessed in terms of speed, exhaustivity, precision and case of use. These data, together with the cost structure, will provide enough information to improve this service and the unit as a whole.
Budget control integrated planning data (that is, the estimated volume of activity: the number of SDI profiles planned for the Year, for example) and accounting data (the actual number profiles served, the rate of production and the cost). This will point to ways of Improving the unit's mode of operation and make it easier to foresee the consequences of decisions or other factors likely to have an influence.
Unfortunately, available data on costs and performance are at present in short supply and difficult to compare. They obviously depend on the situation and organization of each unit. and on the methods of calculation, which vary, consider ably. Disparities in the available figures are too great for the conclusions to be significant.
Budget and financing
The budget and financing of information units depend on their legal status and their type: clearly, there will be a considerable difference between a computerized national centre and the library of a small university research laboratory, but their budgets have much in common.
The main items of expenditure are as follows:
In normal circumstances, Items 1 to 9 account for only a small proportion of the total budget, two-thirds of which is devoted to 1, 2 and 3. In most cases, the unit's resources are in the form of budgetary allocations from the parent organization. The amount generally depends on needs and possibilities but there also exist certain standards and ratios for determining the desirable level of a unit's resources in relation to its clientele and the overall budget of the parent organization. Unfortunately, the actual allocation is sometimes simply what is left over after the requirements of other departments have been met. This explains the need for accurate accounting and efficient financial administration to help the unit defend its requests more effectively, and for high-quality management in general to provide a clear justification for the sums involved.
For some units, especially those which benefit from legal deposit, the various types of free acquisitions can make a significant contribution. Lastly, many units are deriving more and more resources from the sale of products and services.
It should be observed that the separate items of the budget are relatively inflexible: it is not easy to make much change in the distribution of expenditure or to increase overall resources. At the same time production costs, in particular for staff and acquisitions, are rising steadily. This obliges units to pay special attention to management, and in particular to policy formulation and increased productivity.
The budget is prepared in conjunction with the plan and takes the financial data and results into account. It can either start with available resources, distribute them among the items of expenditure and it' necessary try to make cuts or find additional resources, or it can work in the other direction. In many cases the two approaches are combined.
Payment of services: here a frequent problem is that many information units are in one way or another public services expected to function free of charge or come under the general services of their parent organization. Another difficulty with charging is the widespread view that information should be freely available to everyone, or that it is a right. This is perfectly true, but health is also a right and this does not exclude medical fees. Even where no actual charge is made, however, payment can be used as an administrative technique for the unit and its partners, since it is a simple and effective way of measuring the usefulness and utilization of services. In this case, the payments would be fictitious or returned at the end of the financial year.
When information services which have been free begin to make charges, even a very small fee will at first lead to a drop in the number of users. Even services that were free only for a trial period and whose users are perfectly aware that the time will come when they will have to pay experience this. Nevertheless, if the service proves its worth, it should quickly make up the lost ground and then find the number of users rising. The fact is that users are read),, at least those in productive activities, to pay a fair and even a high price-and often do so-for really useful information that reaches them in time and in acceptable form. Often the refusal to pay is simply a sign that the service is being rejected because of low quality or unsuitability.
Information units can charge for admission to the unit, for their various products and services (publications, SDI profiles, answers to questions, translation, etc.), for photocopies or microcopies, for postage, or to help defray the cost of meetings, visits or other activities that they organize.
Payments can take the form of dues, subscriptions or a charge for each service rendered. Regular users would have an account and pay the bill at fixed intervals.
The charges made can cover all the direct and indirect costs of each product or service, but this system is still only practised by a few commercial units, whose prices also include a profit margin. Another approach is for the charge to cover all production costs but not the initial cost of setting up and running in the system and its products. Sometimes only direct production costs or a varying proportion of them will be demanded, while other units require payment only for certain products or services, particularly those which involve extra work in addition to what they regard as normal services: for example, they might make no charge for a retrospective search but demand payment for a selective bibliography.
In each case, once the production cost is known, the price should be set bearing in mind that if it is too high it will be out of the reach of the user however much he is interested in the product or service. The prices of similar products and services available elsewhere should also be taken into account, the aim being to make the unit's activities as profitable as possible or at least to obtain the maximum amount of income.
Promotion and market research
All information units, even those whose usefulness seems self-evident, must pay careful attention to these if they do not want to go into a gradual decline.
Market research involves an integrated set of activities whose purpose is to determine:
Strategies for the promotion and dissemination of the products.
In business concerns, for example, the library is often regarded as a possibly useful luxury. By studying the various categories of potential users it is possible to find out the reasons for this image., what the people would like the library to contain and how they would like to utilize it. This will suggest how the library should be laid out, how it should be run and what documents it should acquire. The next step could be to see what other libraries offer the same services and whether they have any particular advantages. An attempt would then be made to discover how many potential users could be attracted to the library and the best way of going about it, and whether the library should be opened up to outside users and, if so, how to attract them. The reorganized library would then be promoted along lines that the preceding research had indicated.
The promotion of an information unit is represented by an interrelated set of activities whose aim is:
A wide range of methods is used: advertisements in newspapers, leaflets given or sent to potential users, the organization of visits to the unit, demonstrations and open days, posters, offers of products and services on a trial basis, and personal contacts with individual users and their superiors.
Though personal contact is the most effective approach, a unit will in practice often find it worth while combining several of these methods to form a promotion programme.
Efforts to promote the unit should not be restricted in time, for instance, to when the unit is created or a new product introduced, but should be kept up at a high level. The aim should be to put the dialogue with users on a permanent footing, one possibility being to organize a club or association so that users can be directly or indirectly associated in the management of the unit as actively as possible.
A natural part of promotion activities is user training, with the unit providing appropriate instruction by means of documents or theoretical and practical training sessions to show how the unit's products and services can be employed to the best advantage.
The unit's links with the parent organization often have a decisive influence on the way it is run. They can be seen from two points of view: the unit's official place in the hierarchy and organization chart of the parent organization as a whole, and its informal working relations with other departments and individuals.
For its official standing, a number of requirements have to be taken into consideration. There is the need for it to be close to the users and especially the most important ones, which explains, for instance, why information units are frequently' attached to research departments; to have fairly direct and effective links with all the other departments; to be of central importance or at least highly respected, especially if the unit's task is to collect the documents produced by the organization; to offer satisfactory conditions of employment for the staff, particularly in regard to status, and to be able to count on stable resources over a long period. Clearly, there exists no ready-made solution to these problems. In practice every possible kind of approach is encountered: units attached to research and development services, to technical services, to administrative services or to general management; units regarded as less important than or as the equal of the other departments. Each organization makes its own arrangements and its decision in this respect has to take into consideration the objectives, policies and resources of the unit and the structure, policies, operation and general life of the organization. These last two aspects can make the situation appear highly satisfactory on paper but much less so in practice, for example, when the unit comes under general management and other departments are kept strictly separate from each other and jealously watch over their privileges. In many cases the unit itself has little say in the arrangements made on its behalf.
These decisions are taken either when the unit is set up, which clearly has important consequences, or in the course of a subsequent general reorganization if the unit wants its position to be changed.
The relative position of the unit in the organization's hierarchy has a pervasive but not decisive influence on its informal relations with the other departments. Owing to the nature of its work, it functions in parallel with production and administrative activities. It has to make sure that it has links with all parts of the organization at all levels and find ways to getting round any reluctance to co-operate on the part of certain sectors or at a particular level. Through paying systematic attention to these links the unit could become the unofficial hub of the organization, a standing that could well make up for its possibly unsatisfactory position in the hierarchy.
Links with the outside: the unit can establish relations with, as the case may be, users not belonging to the parent organization, the authorities responsible for national information policy and the development of information infrastructure, other units, and the profession.
There is no problem with external users unless it is desired to give internal users special advantages. This would make it necessary to restrict the former's access (special opening times, limited borrowing privileges, certain services excluded) or to charge more (a small charge or entirely free to internal users with a varying charge for the others). Such discrimination is only worth considering if the unit is unable to extend its clientele. However, every effort should be made to associate external users with the running of the unit in the same way as internal users.
The purpose of establishing relations with the national authorities responsible for national information policy is to ensure that the unit has a recognized role in the information infrastructure, is invited to take part in policy formulation and the preparation of programmes, particularly through the working groups and commissions of the national plan, and is thus enabled to base its own policies and development on these national actions.
Links with other units can serve a number of purposes: first, to establish friendly relations that will allow the units to exchange information and back each other up; secondly, in case of need, to exchange services, perhaps under preferential conditions; and thirdly, to promote co-operation, which can range from task sharing or a simple division of labour in the field concerned to the setting up of joint services or even a network. Whatever the arrangement, it is essential for the senior staff of units working in the same field or located in the same area to keep in close touch with one another. More often than not co-operation proves indispensable, if only to avoid pointless overlapping (for example, the purchase of rarely requested costly books which can be borrowed from another unit). Even in the absence of a national programme, information units are increasingly tending to share out tasks (in regard to acquisitions, their clientele, and the provision of joint services such as bibliographic bulletins or data bases) and to form networks involving adoption of the same techniques and methods of operation.
When it is only a matter of helping each other, the relations can be kept informal, but joint initiatives should preferably be based on a formal agreement stating the rights and duties of each party. Sometimes, however, the unit's official status rules this out, and it is also possible for the conditions on which the co-operation was based to change quite quickly,. When the situation is favourable, two units can develop very close relations without a formal agreement and thus avoid temporary legal or political obstacles. For example, two information units belonging to organizations which themselves are reluctant to co-operate could quite easily adopt the same documentation system and the same equipment and thus in actual practice work together.
It is just as essential to establish and maintain relations with the profession. Contacts through professional organizations will enable the unit to exchange technical information, join in cooperative research on methodology, and so forth. Conversely, the unit's active participation will strengthen these organizations and contribute to the general progress of the profession itself.
Evaluation of activities
This is not a theoretical and purposeless exercise but one of management's essential instruments, which should be applied to all aspects of a unit's work.
One method is to check a unit's operations and functions by regularly monitoring some of their essential aspects. The number would depend on the type of operation or function: for example, 5 per cent of the queries processed each month could be taken to ascertain whether the time needed for the answers, their precision and exhaustivity and the procedure followed were in accordance with the standards fixed. From time to time however, particularly, when a medium- or long-teem plan is being prepared, it is a good idea to undertake a systematic evaluation.
There are three levels of evaluation: the evaluation of effectiveness, of the cost-effectiveness ratio and of the cost-benefit ratio. The first level attempts to assess how far the unit is meeting its objectives or, in short, how far it satisfies its users. The second attempts to determine the cheapest and most efficient way of running the unit while the third is focused on the benefits derived by, users of the service or services and whether they justify, the cost.
Evaluation is a form of research states its hypotheses and objectives, defines the objects to be examined, collects the necessary data (by means of documents, observation, measurement and interviews), analyses them and draws conclusions. Each operation or function has its own special methods of evaluation, which can be adapted as necessary. It is also possible to employ advanced techniques such as models, simulation or operational research. The evaluation can be centred on some or all of the functions of an information unit, and each function calls for special evaluation techniques and criteria. The sectors with which evaluation is most often concerned are the holdings. the provision of primary. documents, question- answer services, information retrieval, data bases and documentary products, catalogues, technical services computerization, and management.
The most usual criteria include standards. costs. effort (,amount and complexity of the work involved for staff and users), response time, qualitative criteria such as exhaustivity precision, recall, novelty and relevance and the various signs of user satisfaction.
When these studies are carried out by or for information units, they have a very specific and practical purpose: either to detect and put right any weaknesses or to help select and organize new activities, and in many cases both. Clearly, the cost of an evaluation and the effort involved must be commensurate with the advantages to be derived from its conclusions; it would hardly be reasonable to allocate resources at the expense of production itself. But this argument is no reason for the systematic refusal to undertake evaluations, which is often in reality a refusal to change. Without evaluation, arty information unit is likely to take the wrong direction, lose its adaptability or become obsolete.
What is 'management'?
What are the advantages of organizing an information unit by functions?
What are the two main items of expenditure for an information unit?
What are the different levels of planning?
Is it possible to define a policy that takes only the information unit into consideration?
What is the function of a campaign to promote an information unit?
What is the purpose of evaluation?
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