Friday, May 12, 2006

Are Libraries Placing Value on Technology Innovation?

One could simply look at their library organization's resource allocation to determine what is valued by leadership. One can also look at their organization's processes and priorities and how they are designed to support those values.

Anyone working in an academic health sciences setting knows that a high value is placed on journals. As a result, a significant portion of health sciences library budgets are allocated to their purchase, access and management. We place this high value on journals because we are good librarians that listen to our customer's needs (ah, the Librarian's Dilemma again).

In an effort to uncover what academic libraries in general value one could look over various library statistical reports, like ARL Statistics. I decided to save time and looked over a ARL Library Trends summary report. The only part of the report that addressed innovation was:

"The Web has revolutionized the way libraries are delivering services, enabling them to offer more value ranging from remote access to online catalogs, indexing and abstracting tools, and full-text resources delivered at the user's desktop. The delivery of new and innovative services through digitization projects and distance learning technologies is transforming the brick-and-mortar library model to a virtual model. We are still in the early stages of a long transition period where a hybrid model will reign.

"These trends are largely due to the ready adoption of technological innovation and the gradual reduction of barriers to access. It is very likely that as the access model continues to offer more information at lesser cost to an increasing number of people, the ownership model may be reserved for the high-cost, low-usage information resources that are of value to smaller groups of people. Where would libraries fit into this environment? The only answer to this question can be at best speculative and at worst dead wrong."

Since these statistics do not provide a clear picture regarding innovation (I need to look at the statistics picture some more since I know that IT expenditures have been increasing) I decided to look at human resources. I looked at the ACRL Career Opportunities list from January 30 - May 8, 2006.

The assumption I am making is that libraries are recruiting librarians to support highly valued services. There are some obvious problems with this approach. For example, libraries may not recruit for such positions at the ACRL site. There could also be low turnover in these positions and they simply are not being recruited. Some of the IT positions may include dual roles not detailed in the job descriptions.

The following are the categories I came up with and their percentage of total postings:

Administrative 17%
Reference/Information Services/Outreach 16%
Acquisitions/Collections/Technical Services 15%
Subject Librarian /Bibliographer 10%
Archive/Special Collections 10%
Instruction/Literacy 10%
Cataloging/Metadata 8%
Circulation/Access Services 5%
IT/Systems 4%
Digital Library/Media 3%
Web Services/System Design 2%

Job postings alone are not evidence that libraries are not placing a high enough value on innovation. If position recruitment can be an indicator of the the value libraries are placing on services, it appears we are continuing to grow our sustaining services (ah, the Librarian's Dilemma yet again) such as reference, technical services, and instruction. The administrative percentage may indicate the retirement bubble.

In the end, library organizations that do not place a value on disruptive technologies, and do not allocate resources and processes to deal with them, may find themselves faced with serious challenges in the coming years. Sphere: Related Content

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