Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln


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While in the literature of Library and information Science (LIS) there is much discussion of organizational approaches to solve the problems and opportunities posed by change, there is surprisingly little reference to the “classical” foundations of organizational theory. While by no means comprehensive, the purpose of this article is to provide an overview of classical organizational theory for academic librarians to inform the discussions of change.

How should academic libraries respond to change? Change impacts academic libraries from many dimensions, causing an intensity of introspection and soul searching never before seen in the field’s history. This self-reflection brings into question the changing professional responsibilities of academic librarians and the organizational approaches of our institutions. To inform academic librarians about change from an organizational theory viewpoint, this essay provides a review of organization theory, focusing upon the concept of managing change. In considering the current environment of change for academic libraries, one may note a few points:

The Web has altered the process of library acquisitions, collection development, and reference service delivery.

The trend of delivering access to electronic resources impacts the relationship between libraries and publishers; and between librarians and patrons.

New questions that have never existed before are now being asked: Are physical libraries necessary in the age of digital collections? How does the librarian manage these collections? How does the librarian effectively communicate with patrons in the digital age?

A noteworthy point in this discussion is that while collections are changing as a result of the electronic revolution, and the practices of librarians are changing in how they do their jobs, the institutions of academic libraries are still rooted in the same notions as before, and the organizational structures have not changed to reflect these developments. Tension exists between the expanding digital information system and the traditional scholarly publishing environment in terms of subscriptions and storage. Relating to organizations, tension exists between the mechanistic, hierarchical structures of academic libraries and the new roles academic librarians play in delivering this information.

This essay notes the importance of classical organization theory as a foundation for the management of academic libraries, while acknowledging the impact of other organizational schools in fostering different notions of the post-bureaucratic organizations. The essay provides an overview of the classical, human resource, organizational environment, and organizational culture schools of thought. Next, a brief discussion of change in academic libraries is presented, linking organizational theory to current challenges. The author notes that the Organizational Development (OD) movement has now become the basis upon which academic libraries approach organizational change, but it may be limited if it neglects earlier organizational approaches.