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Organization and control


4.1 Organization and communication
4.2 Specialization in information work
4.3 Centralized or decentralized service?
4.4 Self-management in the information service


4.1 Organization and communication

Organisational structure and communication
Annual archives report

Organisational structure and communication

Richard EMERY

THE TERM 'organisation' relates to a system by which departments and units are controlled and coordinated, resulting in an administrative structure, through which authority is delegated and control is exercised, and the performance of tasks (eg elements of library service). All libraries, in fact, have a formal system of administration, that is a set of rules regulating such matters as the division of labour, responsibility and power between members, the use of defined channels and procedures of communication, the selection, promotion, discharge and payment of staff. Parallel with this runs an informal system of behaviour and organisation, sometimes extending, sometimes modifying, the formal system.

The importance of organisation as a subject for study and control by the administrative librarian can be seen from a statement, issued by the Association of Research Libraries, in which the organisation of the library is seen as the 'librarian's primary management tool for focussing and directing the talents and energies of staff to deliver services to fulfil programme objectives. It is also a means of balancing and coordinating work effort and for channelling internal and external communications and relationships' (ARL 31).

Two basic elements are implicitly contained in definitions of 'organisation' presented in the above paragraphs. One is the basis of organisation, or departmentalisation - the division of work for production or service purposes. The other is the form of organisation which establishes lines of authority for supervision, in other words the structure of control mechanisms. Both elements require attention and analysis before relating them to considerations of communication.

Bases of organisation

Divisionalisation is a means of dividing up a library into small and flexible units so as to facilitate its administration and to accommodate peculiarities relating to stock (eg a large donated collection which has to be maintained as a separate unit). Admittedly, the ideal or logical method of division does not always prevail. Other factors affecting the departmentalisation of a library include size, ability of staff, accident and relation to other neighbouring libraries. The ways in which library stock and services have been divided up are, however, basically six in number:

  1. function (acquisitions, lending, etc)
  2. activity or process (orders, repairs, etc)
  3. form of material (serials, rare books, etc)
  4. clientele (adult, children, etc)
  5. geography (branches, outlying sections)
  6. subject.

It seems apparent that departmentalisation will continue to be the basis of organisation for libraries, although change is likely to alter the relative grouping and importance of the patterns of specialisation. Thus it is possible to envisage the grouping of subject departments with reader service sub-divisions to form a public service department, as is recommended for large public libraries by INTAMEL. The latter body lists library services under three general headings: administrative services, technical services and public services (Intamel 259). Such a listing could, of course, be applied to other types of libraries, such as academic and national libraries, where an important addition to 'public services' would be a research unit or research/information officer.

It is possible to argue the advantages of various bases of organisational division. Thus the arrangement recommended by INTAMEL might be said to provide better coordination of departments, reduce costs and allow the work of the three main divisions to proceed more smoothly than with an alternative form of arrangement. However, all libraries are unique in so far as they provide or develop organisational peculiarities and varying characteristics. Furthermore, various bases of organisation or combinations of divisions are probably most practically applicable to individual libraries, to accommodate local differences relating to stock, required services and available staff. Irrespective of the bases on which libraries are divided and subdivided, effective organisation and service requires not only a grouping that provides for homogeneity of one or more types but also a suitable form of administrative structure and the realistic and flexible utilisation of this structure in all forms of staff relations.

Form of organisation

The organisational division of stock and services, necessary for the manageable workings of a library, creates the problem of coordinating and controlling these activities or divisions so as to establish uniformities in service and the achievement of library goals. Out of the attempt to solve such problems of divisionalisation and integration develop the structure and formal relationships among persons of varying administrative levels. This administrative structure, relating to staff and positions and establishing lines of authority for supervision and control, can vary just as much as the bases of organisation or departmentalisation

In relation to companies it is usual to identify four principal types of administrative structure:

1 Line organisation

This is basically a simple structure, a pyramid of several horizontal levels. Responsibility and control stem directly from general manager to superintendent to foreman to workers. Staff at each level report to supervisors at the next level above and each level of supervisors pass down instructions to the next level below. It is closely linked to the concept of central administration, which emphasises concentration of directive processes in the hands of very few people, and clearly defined patterns of activity. Such a form of organisation may be suitable for an organisation performing basically routine production functions but in an organisation such as a library, employing numerous professional persons, it could stifle initiative and creativity, especially in the face of changes or unique emergency situations, involving as it does limited participation by most employees in the formulation of service goals and coordination of effort.

2 Line and staff organisation

As companies become larger they become more complex and top executives can no longer be responsible for such different functions as research, engineering, planning, distribution and other activities requiring training and experience. Accordingly, executives and supervisors retain authority and control over activities in their particular departments but this line function is aided by staff assistance from engineers, personnel officers and other specialists. This development has been witnessed in libraries. Division or department heads have in the past normally combined line duties with staff duties. The tendency in large libraries is to split off auxiliary staff functions and assign them to staff of a comparable or lesser status responsible directly to the chief librarian (possibly through the deputy). Examples relate to personnel officers; administrative assistants; supervisory office staff in charge of general accounting, supplies, salaries and so on (eg University of Michigan Library); and display or exhibitions assistants (eg Luton Public Library- responsible to the chief assistant). Such persons do not form part of the authority structure in the sense of being responsible for a number of other staff (except where, as in the case of the University of Michigan Library, he heads a department of his own), although of course they are themselves responsible to a person above them. Largely they assist the line executive in the performance of his function, their authority being an extension of their superior's.

3 Functional organisation

This structure is an extension of the line and staff organisation. More attention is given to specialised skills, mainly at the supervisory level. One foreman may serve as the production boss to meet quotas, another as inspector and a third may be responsible for maintenance. In libraries this type of organisation is sometimes known as 'service' organisation and is usually linked to line and staff organisation. Thus in Britain many county libraries have county or area librarians responsible for services such as work with children and young people, music, and so on. A similar type of organisation exists in Camden Public Libraries where services include reference, bibliographical, music and children. The disadvantage of the functional system of organisation is that it mars the clear-cut lines of authority and responsibility of the line organisation, be they rigid or flexible. In the libraries referred to service staff intercede in the traditional pattern of librarian-deputy-branch superintendent/regional librarian-branch librarian, having responsibility for, say, music services in the branches as well as at hq. The advantage of such an organisation, of course, is that gains are made in terms of facilitating more specialised work performance and supervision.

4 Group or committee organisation

Some large companies, such as DuPont and General Motors, construct a network of committees to work with the line and staff organisation in order to facilitate communication involving decision making. A similar arrangement is evident in the academic administration of universities. Here committees or groups may be permanent and meet regularly or they may be organised to serve a temporary function only. This type of organisation has not generally been adopted by libraries, save in so far as it is possible to designate temporary working groups (eg Luton Public Libraries - service to teenagers) and regular staff meetings as this type of organisation.

As with bases of organisation, the form of organisation most prevalent in libraries is a combination of different elements, largely a combination of line (flexible) and staff plus elements of functional organisation. The latter combined form of organisation and any single form of organisation, such as group or committee, can be applied to any of the bases of organisation or departmentalisation such as function or clientele, or a combined form of such bases. Thus it can be said that Luton Public Library exhibits the following organisational characteristics:

Base of organisation or departmentalisation - function, plus clientele, plus geography, plus subject.

Form of organisation - line and staff, plus group or committee.

Just as there is no right or best base of organisation for all libraries, so is there no right or best form of organisation to march a particular base. One evident tendency in libraries is for larger ones to adopt the more flexible and expansive bases and forms, namely function regrouped into technical services and reader services divisions, or subject, and line and staff combined with functional and group. In this limited sense it is possible to say that a combination appears to be correct, or the most advantageous organisation for large libraries employing numbers of professional staff, but to go further would necessitate introducing rather meaningless generalisations relating to organisation and libraries.

Similarly, it cannot be said that any one organisation (base plus form) is conducive to good stall communication and other elements of administration, although certain qualifications can be introduced to amend this statement. Thus the geographic base of organisation is probably less conducive to good staff communication than other bases. Due to physical separation of library units over a wide area, communication between the individual units will most likely be less than communication between hq departments. This is not to say that library services in such a system will be less efficient than in a library with a functional organisational base, since much depends on the quality and enthusiasm of administrative staff, but certainly communication will be more difficult and hence perhaps less effective.

So far as form of organisation is concerned, it can be said that the line is efficient in terms of communication within certain limits. Such a system traditionally witnesses information going up the hierarchical structure and orders going down it. Rigidly organised, such communications would pass up and down in an efficient manner. However, the rigid line would stifle communication outside the formally accepted or specified limits and this could be disadvantageous to work involving creative thought and effort. Designed to be rational and logical, and to keep the human factor to a minimum, the rigid line organisation is liable to fail when faced with the irrational and emotional aspects of organisational life; designed to deal with the predictable, the routine, the typical, it is weak when confronted by the unforeseeable, the unusual and the illogical.

Many libraries and other professional organisations have a noticeable horizontal structure for communication and all administrative purposes. Hence it might be said that a line and staff form of organisation is more suited to libraries than is a rigid line form and that such a form is more conducive to general staff communication necessary in an organisation such as a library. There are elements of truth, in this. But it would be much harder to differentiate between line and staff, functional and group forms or organisation, or various combinations of them, in terms of communication and administrative effectiveness. Similar considerations apply to judgements between bases of organisation (excluding geography) and to links between individual forms and bases.

Considering libraries in general, a more realistic statement relating to communication and organisational base and form would appear to be as follows:

Communications flourish and work most effectively in libraries with flexible forms of organisation, not handicapped by difficult bases of organisation such as geographic division, where the form of organisational or administrative structure is utilised through conscious effort by good administrative staff dealing with personnel arranged in reasonably sized groupings.

Since libraries are not generally organised for optimal communication but for other purposes or due to other forces, such as the desire to maintain an authority structure and the demands of specialisation. and service, attention must obviously be paid to organisational base and form in any study of communication. The basic elements in the statement presented above will now be examined.

Flexible form of organisation

Some form of compromise is necessary between excessive rigidity, which can stifle creative communication and excessive flexibility, which can result in disorganisation and ineffective administrative efforts. Some authority and control structure is needed in any library or other type of organisation Some system of formal structure is necessary in a library to provide direction of staff work, in the performance of library services, and general control during occasions of dispute or difficulty. Without some authority structure and rules work may be impeded due to lack of understanding relating to individual responsibilities and lack of directional control.

Such an authority structure does not necessarily stifle initiative or creative work. Indeed, some formal structure is necessary to encourage the display of initiative and direct and utilise its occurrence. Furthermore, since libraries employ non-professional as well as professional staff, a certain pyramidal structure is necessary to regulate such staff whose activities are not based on professional consultation but rather the issue and receipt of orders. Thus, lo facilitate the work performance of varying groups in a library, the administrative structure, incorporating levels of authority and communication channels, should be designed so as to seek a balance between a too rigid and a too flexible system.

Flexible systems of communication must, as was indicated by Fayol (Fayol 34-5), be formal in the sense that they are provided for and recognised in statements or understandings of communication policy and practice. Two preconditions or prerequisites for intercommunication are 1 a relationship and 2 mutually understood rules and/or roles for enabling and regulating the transaction (Thayer, 1968 - 95). In a formal communication system such relationships and understood rules and/or roles should be administratively recognised and outlined, preferably in written statements, and not solely established and utilised by individuals according to their abilities and interests. This is not to argue that channels of communication should strictly adhere to lines of authority in a formal and rigid administrative structure but that departures from such adherence should be recognised by administrators and some effort made to define and approve the directions and degrees of departure from the basic lines of authority that are thought to be justified and reasonable. Hence the wider, more flexible, system of communication channels can still be thought of as adhering to lines of authority and responsibility in the administrative structure, even though not all links are shown on the library's basic organisation chart.

The process of communication involves the flow of material, information, perceptions and understanding between various parts and members of an organisation The major channels of formal communication will be determined by the organisational structure of the library. If, however, communication channels depart too far from the organisational channels provided, authority and responsibility in the library may be impaired and certain persons with established positions in the formal structure may find themselves bypassed, thus reducing their information flows and possibly affecting their abilities to perform their jobs adequately. It is true that communication channels are in part deliberately planned, growing through usage, and in part develop in response to the social functions of communication. Formal communication, however, should not depart in undue degree from established channels. Provided that the structure of such channels does indeed develop through usage in a realistic manner for the needs of the library staff, this formal structure should prove adequate and not be subverted by spontaneous arrangements between groups of staff.

Good administrative staff

The subject of good senior staff, that is staff responsive to the requirements of the library, enthusiastic and cooperative, is more fully dealt with in a later chapter on aids and hindrances to communication. Here attention is drawn to the necessity of administrative staff possessing the ability to provide the library with a sound formal structure and to encourage the utilisation of communication channels by patient attention and example. An attitude of cooperation library staff requires that each person have a sense of responsibility towards his work and that of the library in general. This in turn requires adequate levels of information and advice relating to functions and everyday tasks. To encourage each staff member to experience this feeling of awareness and responsibility obviously requires effort on the part of those whose jobs include the communication of information to groups of staff.

Continuous attention to communication, providing staff with examples of the administrator's interest in communication and related facets of personnel regulation and his own belief in communication, will help convince staff of that person's sincerity and the importance of communication. It can be disastrous to simply pay lip service to communication. Should staff become aware of this, it could have more damaging effects on attitudes and morale than the mere non-existence of communication channels or the non-utilisation of provided channels. Attention to communication can on occasions be reflected in an attitude of concern and demonstrations of opinion that all is not as it should be. This in turn will help focus staff attention on problems and indicate that communication and the library administrative structure to which it is linked is not perfect but a growing system, adaptable to new requirements and changing circumstances.

Other attitudes that are conducive to effective communication include a friendly disposition, an interested attitude displaying knowledge and concern with staff problems, a helpful attitude attempting to deal creatively with slat! requests or difficulties, a questioning attitude that indicates a willingness to learn as well as direct and an approachable attitude making it easy for people to reach and communicate directly with the administrator.

Whether the chief librarian retains specific responsibilities in relation to staff' selection, job descriptions, staff training and so on, or has delegated such areas of' administrative activity to other senior staff, it is certain that his communicative pattern is likely to affect the communication pattern of the whole library, irrespective of' the mere existence of channels of communication. Although he may have delegated prime responsibility for communication study and control to his deputy or personnel officer, it is probably true to say that his effect on the communication pattern will still be greater than that of any other person. This is because he is the head of the library hierarchy whose administrative structure and workings take form and directions from his office. In a large library, that is one with a staff of over one hundred, it is desirable for a senior member of the administrative staff, say, the chief assistant to have clearly identifiable personnel duties and that part of that person's stated responsibilities lie in the field of staff communication. Whether such an arrangement is or is not made, however, the attitudes and efforts of other senior staff, not the least the librarian, condition the effectiveness of communication.

Reasonably sized groupings

The question of personnel arrangement in reasonably sized groupings focuses attention on the number of people or links in a particular hierarchical level (say, the level of departmental heads) and on the numbers of persons in particular departments. The first aspect has already been touched on. Considerations of the span of control relate to the immediate command of an administrator or supervisor (ie the group of staff he makes immediately accountable to him) and the extended command (ie all the employees under his control - in the case of the chief librarian, all staff; in the case of, say, the head of technical services. all staff in the accessions, cataloguing, circulation and photographic departments).

The size of the immediate command is a more important consideration, size of the extended command usually being dependent upon the former. A restricted span of control inevitably produces excessive red tape for each contact between library members must be carried upward until a common superior is found. If the organisation is large this will involve carrying all such matters upward through several levels of officials for decision and then downward again in the form of orders and instructions. The alternative is to increase the number of persons who are under the command of each supervisor, so that the pyramid will come to a peak more rapidly, there being fewer intervening levels. This too can lead to difficulty, however, for if a superior or head of department is required to supervise too many employees his control over them is weakened.

The span of command is a relatively unimportant consideration in small libraries, even those employing up to fifty persons, since the services required (eg reference, children) will usually be instrumental in breaking up the staff into small groups under professional librarians responsible for the various staff groupings. Secondly, the span can vary from organisation to organisation Thus in industry, where comparatively routine tasks are geared to mass production, spans larger than twenty are common and realistic. Libraries, geared to more creative and intellectual work and service, will correspondingly demand small spans. Thirdly, even if it is possible to enunciate ideal spans, the practicality of such sizes would be affected by the individuals in charge; individuals' knowledge and energies vary as well as their set duties and time available. Fourthly, a supervisor will find it more difficult to control a large number of departments or services performing different functions than a corresponding number performing similar functions. Thus a librarian might find it possible to supervise fifteen branch libraries whereas it would prove impossible to. supervise such a number of hq departments with different functions.

Much discussion has surrounded the size of the span of control as related to industry (see McAnally 454-5). In 1943 E W and John McDiarmid reported the span of control in thirty two public libraries. In twenty seven of the thirty two libraries from fifteen to sixty four branches reported directly to the administrator (McDiarmid 105). In 1959 G E Gscheidle surveyed sixteen American public libraries and found most spans over fifteen (Gscheidle 440-1) and identified a trend of decreasing the span of control for top administrators through the creation of major divisions and/or coordinative positions under the direction of top level personnel.

The most prevalent span of control in libraries examined for this study ranges from six to ten. The span of thirteen professional heads reporting to the deputy at University College, Cardiff, Library seems an unusually high number. Luton Public Library has eight professional heads reporting to the deputy through the chief assistant and this number seems more typical. The trend toward decrease in America reported by G E Gscheidle has been mirrored in Britain. An example of this trend is to be seen in Nottingham Public Libraries. As part of a re-organisation programme begun in 1969. eighteen branch libraries have been divided into four groups on a topographical basis, each under the authority of a group librarian.

Optimum sizes of groups, persons working in a particular department under one head, vary according to the considerations given to span of control over supervisors at a particular hierarchical level. C I Barnard stipulated that the effective optimum size of a group should not be over fifteen; for many types of cooperation five or six persons is the practical limit (Barnard 106). In libraries similar figures apply as to the more general question of span of control. The number of persons working in each department of a library is often quite small. In University College, Cardiff, Library, for example, numbers range from one to six only. In Luton Public Library numbers range from one to eighteen. Two additional departments at Luton display higher numbers but are subject to particular considerations. The lending library has a staff of thirty nine, but sixteen of these are nonprofessional staff serving the circulation area and come under the immediate control of a circulation supervisor. The branch libraries department has forty four staff but here the staff is split between branch, mobile and hospital library sections, each with sectional heads.

The figures quoted in relation to span of control and groupings of staff in individual departments indicate that communications in libraries are not inhibited by large departments or unworkable extensions of command as is sometimes the case in industry. On the contrary, staff groupings appear to be geared to effective communication and this condition of effective communication may result if administrators direct their attention to forms of organisation, the communication channels which are closely linked to such forms and the actual performance of communication within the library.

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