In this week’s Princh Library Blog post, guest writer Nina Grant sheds light on how libraries are typically run, and the important roles and strategies happening behind the scenes. Check it out.

Library Organization: A Look At How Libraries Are Run

There are roughly 123,627 libraries of all kinds (including, public libraries, school libraries, and book mobiles) currently operating in the United States today, the American Library Association reveals. By providing the public with free access to books and other educational and entertaining materials, libraries play an invaluable role in society. But, how much do you know about how they’re organized? Library management structure and systems play a foundational role in ensuring libraries operate smoothly to best serve users across the country.

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Library management simplified

When it comes to library management there’s typically three general levels: top management, middle management, and lower management. The top managers (namely, library directors) are responsible for general management, as well as setting and implementing policies for the entire organization. Middle management (usually known as branch librarians) are responsible for the smooth operation of their own departments. They also serve as intermediaries between top management and supervisors. Lastly, lower-level management consists of supervisors overseeing daily library operation. These supervisors are responsible for enacting policies and procedures that ensure the library is running at its optimal ability.

In most states, city libraries are created by the city’s governing body, and funded by city tax levies. The city also designates a board of trustees to take care of the library. Regional library systems, on the other hand, are usually created via formal partnership between two or more working libraries. However, the state library board needs to first approve any partnership before it can go ahead. Participating libraries then collectively appoint a board of trustees, composed of as many as 25 members, to govern the regional library system. These libraries have many sources of funding, including private, federal, state, and local funds.

The growing importance of organizational agility

Organizational agility is becoming increasingly important to the success of libraries in the modern age. According to McKinsey, working toward organizational agility involves “optimizing the full operating model across strategy, structures, processes, people, and technology by going after flat and fluid structures built around high-performing cross-functional teams, instituting more frequent prioritization and resource-allocation processes, building a culture that enables psychological safety, and decoupling technology stacks.” And, businesses that have successfully turned agile have experienced a resulting 30% improvement in efficiency, operational performance, staff engagement, and customer satisfaction on average. Agile organizations also typically become anywhere between five to ten times faster on average.

In particular, big data – defined by Investopedia as “large, diverse sets of information that grow at ever-increasing rates” – is a key way organizational agility is being achieved in libraries. By taking advantage of big data tools, library admin and management are able to collect and analyze valuable data sets that can help them understand their ever-changing current environment, along with developing customer preferences, to better serve users. For example, big data can be used to make changes to the library collection in line with customer needs, as well as enable admin to instantly retrieve information and materials as needed, therefore improving customer satisfaction. Additionally, big data can also be used to accurately monitor the use of library materials by users. Ultimately, big data helps libraries become agile, and therefore maintain a flexible and responsive approach to change.

Interlibrary loans explained

Interlibrary loans are a valuable service that involves one library either borrowing material or supplying material to another library – ultimately with the aim of widening their collections to better serve their users. The exact policy regarding interlibrary loans is set by each individual library – and it’s not uncommon for libraries to work with others in close proximity to them. Fortunately, however, thanks to a steady slew of technological advancements over the recent years, it’s now easier for libraries to manage interlibrary loans, and work with libraries further afield. As fax machines become increasingly obsolete, materials are instead being scanned and sent via email, for instance.

Collaborative collection development operates along the same lines. It’s essentially a regional library storage center that involves libraries working together, calculating their individual budgets, and putting what they can towards creating a specialized collaborative collection stored in a joint facility. This isn’t a new idea; libraries have long pooled funds with other nearby libraries to make purchases (such as, monographs and electronic databases) together with the aim of saving money. Participating libraries also draw up purchasing and retention agreements that clarify the materials each library is supposed to purchase.

Libraries are essential

By providing people with free access to materials, resources, and services, libraries are essential for cultivating educated, creative, and innovative societies. However, a successful library relies on effective organization. The right library management structure and systems are key to ensuring libraries run as optimally as possible to best serve users across the country.

We will be back with another interesting article from the library world soon!

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Nina Grant

Nina is a passionate writer and editor who likes to cover a variety of topics.

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