Monday, February 7, 2011

Workflows, library staffing and collaboration

Today I was thinking about a tweet from Connie Crosby where she was asking about workflow and looking for a good definition. I immediately thought of R2 Consulting (Rick Lugg and Ruth Fischer) and all of the great work they've done on the topic of workflow. Years ago they did a workshop for the NELLCO Acquisitions and Collection Development Special Interest Group that was very well-received, so I went to their website to see if they might have a good definition. Of course, that rabbit hole was deep and I stumbled across some great recent resources by R2 about collaboration and consortia that led me to penning this post.

Two underlying themes run through both brief articles; the future for libraries is sharing and sharing is hard. So, drawing on philosophy 101, the future for libraries is hard. Are we surprised? No. Are we resistant? Yes. Reading the R2 pieces will likely strike fear into the hearts of many. When workflows move from redundant environments to centralized ones, someone(s) is likely to be out of a job. If the work you do is in the categories of work identified by R2 as suitable for either the cloud or the collaborative, you probably have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. But I believe we can accomplish this shift in an evolutionary, rather than revoluntionary, transition.

I was recently (in the last few months) reading a post or an article about the flagging numbers of incoming students in MLS programs. I looked every where for that post and couldn't find it. If anyone recalls this please let me know! Anyway, the premise was that the low enrollment (I think the author had the figures in the post) would in fact result in librarian shortages, and measures should be taken to avoid that eventuality. I think that's a mistake. If in fact enrollments are down we should exploit that reality to facilitate real change. If we can see that the work of libraries needs to be redistributed as part of the sustainability of libraries, let's move in that direction. It's a huge task, but it can be done. Library staffs that are visionary will reorganize in ways that will protect current employees so that they can be engaged in the shift, rather than in opposition. As workflows are distributed up and out there will be new demands on library staff, new skills needed and new jobs created. New disciplines will emerge that will complement the work of libraries. Just today Social Media in Organizations tweeted that they are working on a curriculum for a Master's Degree in Social Media! There will (dare I say always?) be plenty of work that needs to be done around the creation, curation, access and preservation of information in all formats. We can achieve it through thoughtful collaborations!

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