News & Opinion

Tech Services Departments are Changing

by on August 1, 2013

My first crisis in charge of a public library’s technical services was not an inter-departmental revolt against the new guy. It wasn’t passive-aggressive undermining, which can happen when the boss is the youngest person in the department. It wasn’t even learning a new ILS or mixing up someone’s name (it only happened once and I apologized). The first crisis was actually an opportunity to make my first major decision on the future of my department. My first crisis was a retirement.

While the library director assumed I was going to fill this position, she was surprised when I told her I didn’t need to fill it. This meant, however, that the technical services department was losing a position. I was repeatedly told by library managers and staff, “if we lose a position, it isn’t coming back.” And, more importantly, the library organization as a whole didn’t want to lose those full-time hours.

So, my first major decision was to voluntarily given up a position, and, knowing that in all likelihood, it will never come back.

I decided to take the long-view. If the largest chunk of library funding is in staff and stuff, and assuming cuts are going to strike sooner or later-depending on the political winds, I am going to lose staff or lose stuff anyway and I would rather these decisions be as deliberate and purposeful as possible

I was never worried about filling the position.  There are many qualified and capable people who could handle working in technical services. However, examining the previous years’ annual reports showed that circulation is dropping (not significantly or troublingly– but the numbers don’t lie). I also know that technical services departments are changing along with our profession. Old processes and workflows will evolve. With the slow-yet-gradual decrease of funding for print material, fewer materials will eventually be ordered. Processes are changing and shifting toward managing digital content. This is a huge benefit in our department because electronic content needs very little, if any, processing.

These were all my own thoughts, but, in making this decision I learned that my staff also believed we didn’t need to fill the position. This is a close-knit group and some have worked together for decades. The individuals involved, when asked directly, all stated that they thought our department could absorb the job duties. They are aware of the trends affecting our department and organization and were proactive in helping me decide a course of action.  And, luckily, the hours and position went to another department so the whole library benefits.

I said at our last staff meeting that the person retiring was irreplaceable so how could we replace her.  We didn’t even try.


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