The Ecology of Libraries and Information Networks
Understanding the ecology of libraries and information networks, how libraries function as unique environments, and how they are governed involves three key components. The first of these elements is a contextual understanding of “ecology” as the relationship of libraries and information networks, both to one another and to the library environment. A second important part is an awareness of the different kinds of library environments, and the roles information professionals have in them. Finally, recognizing how libraries are governed entails examining library organizational structures to determine who governs the library environment, what the role of those leaders is, and what processes they undertake to enact change.
Librarians and other information professionals can’t do their job without understanding where it is that they are working. More than just being aware of an organization’s structure, understanding a library environment means knowing who is responsible for a library’s governance, what their qualifications are, what duties they perform, and under what limitations or restrictions they operate. A library professional can use this information to guide them in taking on leadership responsibilities, to assist with performing tasks, or knowing who within the organization might serve as the best resource on a given topic.
Similarly, library administration is but one part of an information organization’s hierarchy. An information professional must also know what roles co-workers play to both give and receive assistance. Recognizing the numerous roles within an information organization enables librarians to serve their patrons better, and the group as a whole to benefit its stakeholders.
Not all libraries are alike. Libraries exist as public branches from rural communities to large urban cities, as functional parts of companies and organizations, or as fundamental resources at academic institutions. Comprehending different library environments and how they interact with each other to create “information networks” is vital to understanding how libraries operate within the context of a larger environment (such as government, a company, or within consortia). Information professionals who recognize these different environments are better equipped to advocate for their stakeholders, continue their professional education, and find success and fulfillment in their career.
Speaking for myself, understanding the possible environments that I may one day work in is crucial for my preparation to enter the workforce as an information professional. If I comprehend the different kinds of information networks and library environments out there, I am better equipped to work within those organizations than someone who would need to be trained from the ground up. Knowing how various information organizations are structured, including in relation to one another, helps me understand my possible future job duties and responsibilities, from what kind of leadership roles might be available to how I can be of service to those both inside and outside the organization.
Almost every class in the Marshall School of Business’s Management in Library and Information Science (MLIS) program has equipped me to better understand library environments, organizations, and structures, including the different roles an information professional can play. However, in thinking about the coursework that contributed to the most comprehension I have had about different library environments, organizations, and structures, I believe that the Fundamentals of Library Leadership (LIM 501) course taught me the most, especially within the context of a team assignment involving an interview with a library leader.
Interview with a Library Leader Presentation
Artifact course context and relationship to program goal. This presentation served as the third part of a team management portfolio that focused on a specific library environment, namely the Supreme Court Library of the United States. By having a course-long, team assignment revolving around a single library or information center, my team members and I were able to hear from two different library leaders about how the Supreme Court Library’s organization and structure relates to other libraries (law and otherwise), how the library interacts within the greater context of the United States government, and how the employees of the Supreme Court Library work with each other. Additionally, this assignment provided insight into how roles from other information organizations and skills from outside jobs can parlay into positions in libraries.
Role, responsibilities, and process. One role I had in preparing for this assignment included commenting on and editing an earlier portfolio submission, an organizational description of the Supreme Court Library of the United States. This document gave us a foundation to work from in deciding what questions to use for the interview, and what noteworthy information to use in our team’s final video presentation. My teammates and I did the same thing for a transcription of my teammate Rob’s interview with the library leaders. The transcription comments permitted us to highlight particularly interesting interview quotes for eventual inclusion in our video presentation. When it came time to assemble the prior portions of our management portfolio into a video presentation, I provided the video introduction and stitched together all of our videos with our chosen slide images using YouSeeU, a video tool included with our Moodle learning management system. In order to provide an accurate introduction, I actually recorded my portion last and made sure to repeatedly listen to each of my teammates’ portions so that I could accurately capture the key points that they were going to discuss.
In putting together the components that led up to this final presentation, I gained clarification on many of the questions that I had from the start of the MMLIS program. While I learned a great deal about library and information organizations in general from my Fundamentals of Library and Information Science (LIM 500) class, by focusing on library leadership in LIM 501, I began to understand that there are some universal structures in place at every library, regardless of size or type. Additionally, learning about the interviewees’ backgrounds confirmed that there are many transferable skills that can lead a librarian from one organization to another, or from one role to another in the same library. Finally, getting to hear from two leaders at the Supreme Court Library served to confirm the idea that libraries of all sizes serve varying, but vital roles. Libraries are not disappearing, but are evolving, and perhaps becoming more crucial than ever in a world oversaturated with information, not all of it factual or reliable.
Skills and abilities. For any assignment submitted throughout the MLIS program, I had to make use of various technology skills, since the program exists entirely online. Using WebJunction’s Competency Index for the Library Field (Gutsche & Hough, 2014), these technology skills can be broadly classified as Core Technology Competencies, and include E-Mail, Hardware, Internet, Operating Systems, Software Applications, and Web Technologies for accessing course materials online, creating and editing shared documents, and compositing multiple videos together for submission.
In addition, I utilized Collaboration skills in working with my teammates for each of the different portfolio components, all the way through to the final video. Since the components of the management portfolio in this course all involved teamwork, I fostered my Leadership skills by inspiring and assisting my teammates throughout each part, helping to set and meet our mutual goals, and taking on various roles as needed to successfully complete each portion of the assignments.
Online courses with a heavy collaboration component also necessitate the use of several skills that fall under both the Learning and Innovation and Project Management categories such as demonstrating critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. Critical thinking skills and problem-solving abilities were useful for examining and editing the two library leader interviews that made up the bulk of this assignment. Both interviews contained a great deal of information that we needed to condense into a presentation no more than 10 minutes long. Our intention in interviewing two different leaders was to get perspective on library leadership, and by coming up with questions suitable for each library leader’s interview, we were able to demonstrate each individual’s point of view in our presentation. In any team project, participants have to use creative and innovative approaches in order to come up with creative ideas, set and meet shared goals on time, compromise and learn from mistakes. They also have to be flexible and patient, since not everyone will be able to do the same things at the same time; Jordan, Samantha and I were all dependent on Rob to actually conduct the interviews since he proposed the interviews from individuals at his workplace. I also had to wait on my teammates to complete their portions of the video before I could record my introduction, such that it would be accurate in preparing our audience for what each of us would say.
Future Work Environments
I am able to demonstrate mastery of this goal for future work environments in several ways. Understanding the ecology of libraries and information networks enables me to identify those work environments in the first place. Walking into an information center already aware of how it interacts with other organizations, as well as how departments and individuals within that organization interact with each other gives me a leg up on other job applicants who might otherwise need training to make those connections. This will allow me to collaborate better with others, network successfully, and better serve patrons.
Awareness of the different types of library environments that are out there (and not simply different types of libraries, such as academic, public, school, and special) allows me to adapt my skill set for the appropriate workplace and find suitable resources for patrons.
Finally, just as understanding the ecology of libraries and information networks enables me to understand an organization’s structure in relation to its employees or outside organizations, so too does recognizing how a library is governed. By being aware of who is in charge of decision-making at a library, what their qualifications are, what they do, who they work with, and what limitations or restrictions they work under, I position myself for career success. This success comes from knowing my resources for mentoring, training, questions, and concerns, as well as what steps I need to take in order to attain a leadership position.
Gutsche, B. & Hough, B. (Eds.) (2014). Competency index for the library field 2014 (2nd ed.). Dublin, OH: OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.webjunction.org/documents/webjunction/Competency_Index_for_the_Library_Field.html