Business Model Revisited – Business Acumen


Upon reflection, my 21st Century Librarianship – Part 4, Business Model should have been business acumen. While the need to adopt more business-like library operations is essential, adopting a business model is not a skill – acquiring business acumen is!

In my Business Model Post of November 10, I also discussed a business model strategy that librarians might implement to create a 21st Century Library. In that Post I also reiterated suggestions from a March Post (The 21st Century Library is More: Business-like) about ways 21st Century librarians can operate more like a bottom-line business-type organization that included;

  • • Continuous Assessment
    • Service Oriented
    • Marketing Strategy
    • Innovation
    • Efficient
    • Flexible
    • Responsive
    • Nimble
  • Reemphasizing 21st Century Library – “Rebooted” Into Relevance is ALWAYS worth the space in a Post. Libraries are staying as vibrant, dynamic, and popular as ever by redefining the business they are in.

    The point is that in order to redefine the 21st Century Library’s business, librarians MUST understand business principles, and how to implement them in their library operation. They need to develop their business acumen.

    Unfortunately, what little research has been done on the topic of management courses for librarians reveals that library science schools are not providing this in the MLS curriculum. According to Mackenzie and Smith (2008),

    Where do library directors, and the librarians who perform various management functions as part of their work, receive their management training? A review of the curricula of forty-eight graduate library school programs accredited by the American Library Association revealed that, for the most part, library managers are trained on the job. This paper presents the results of a two-part exploratory study focused on the research question: Do ALA-accredited graduate library education programs offer their students the knowledge they will need to enter leadership and management positions within the library profession? Of the forty-eight programs reviewed, 43.8% did not require management-related courses. A review of twenty-four program syllabi revealed that 58.3% of the management courses included human resource management concepts and 54.2% included strategy, planning and process. The results suggest that the library profession has yet to agree upon the requirements for preparing future librarians for managerial positions and leadership roles.

    [Emphasis added.]
    [Mackenzie, M. and Smith, J. (2008). Management Education for Library Directors: Are graduate library programs providing future library directors with the skills and knowledge they will need? Dowling College, Oakdale, NY.]

    ALA’s Office for Accreditation, with approval of the Council of the American Library Association, has published its 2008 Standards for Accreditation of Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies. This is their most current “standards” for accreditation of MLS programs.

    The American Library Association through the Committee on Accreditation protects the public interest and provides guidance for educators. Prospective students, employers recruiting professional staff, and the general public concerned about the quality of library and information services have the right to know whether a given program of education is of good standing. By identifying those programs meeting recognized standards, the Committee offers a means of quality control in the professional staffing of library and information services.

    I.2 Mission, Goals, and Objectives
    Program objectives are stated in terms of student learning outcomes to be achieved and reflect
    I.2.1 the essential character of the field of library and information studies; that is, recordable information and knowledge, and the services and technologies to facilitate their management and use, encompassing information and knowledge creation, communication, identification, selection, acquisition, organization and description, storage and retrieval, preservation, analysis, interpretation, evaluation, synthesis, dissemination, and management

    and management of information! At the risk of aggravating someone else at ALA, I have to say, as both a graduate of an MLS program and a professional librarian, as well as an educator, this description does NOT fill me with confidence that there are any real “standards” for our professional education.

    Page 4, “The Standards are indicative, not prescriptive, with the intent to foster excellence through the development of criteria for evaluating educational effectiveness.” What does this mean? Anybody speak academiana? To me it means essentially, ALA’s accreditation “standards” are nothing more than vaguely described expectations and recommendations that they would like for MLS program institutions to follow. We’ll let you decide what you teach, and the proof is in the pudding.

    SERIOUSLY? Does anybody need to ever wonder again why the old adage persists – “What they don’t teach you in library school.” We are about to enter the second decade of the 21st Century and ALA has YET to agree upon requirements for preparing future librarians for managerial positions and leadership roles.

    And, what about the actual “standards” for the librarian profession. Were Mackenzie and Smith totally right? “The results suggest that the library profession has yet to agree upon the requirements for preparing future librarians for managerial positions and leadership roles.” According to ALA’s Core Competences of Librarianship (Final version, Approved by the ALA Executive Board, October 25th 2008, Approved and adopted as policy by the ALA Council, January 27th 2009), the only use of the terms manage or management regards “management of various collections”. Not even under Section 8. Administration and Management will you find the word management.

    However, in the interest of fairness, Section 8. Administration and Management does contain one reference to leadership, and one element of 21st Century librarianship. But remember, “This document defines the basic knowledge to be possessed by all persons graduating from an ALA-accredited master’s program in library and information studies.” (Sounds more like the Accreditation standards than standards of a profession. Again – let’s leave it up to the MLS graduate programs.)

    8A. The principles of planning and budgeting in libraries and other information agencies.
    8B. The principles of effective personnel practices and human resource development.
    8C. The concepts behind, and methods for, assessment and evaluation of library services and their outcomes.
    8D. The concepts behind, and methods for, developing partnerships, collaborations, networks, and other structures with all stakeholders and within communities served.
    8E. The concepts behind, issues relating to, and methods for, principled, transformational leadership.

    So, apparently there is a SIGNIFICANT disconnect between what MLS programs are teaching and what ALA says they are supposed to teach. But, I guess since the ALA accreditation standards are “indicative, not prescriptive”, even though the Core Competencies document “defines the basic knowledge to be possessed by all persons graduating from an ALA-accredited master’s program”, the reality of the situation is that “43.8% did not require management-related courses”, and ONLY “58.3% of the management courses included human resource management concepts and 54.2% included strategy, planning and process.” If my math is correct, ONLY just over half of MLS programs require courses in management, and ONLY just over half of those include core competencies of planning and budgeting and human resources.

    Hmmmmm. Sounds like maybe there is a correlation between “What they don’t teach you in library school.” and a general inability within the profession to conceive of libraries in a business model. “Transformational leadership”? Sounds important! How do you suppose that is going to emerge?

    One library director I know personally who has earned both MLS and MBA degrees told me that she did so because the hiring trend toward hiring library directors with MBAs was on the increase, and she wanted to be more competitive. Still in her 30s, she became director of a major metro library system three years ago, less than five years after earning her MBA.

    This example below is from a visionary library board looking for librarians capable of leading their library into the 21st Century. Mark Skinner Library in Manchester Vermont:

    As a result of a strategic planning process the Library Board of Trustees recognized the need to upgrade the library to better serve the community. We are currently working with an architectural firm to either enlarge our current facility or move and build a new library. We are looking for a full time Library Director to participate in making the Mark Skinner Library a great 21st century library.
    The ideal candidate is an individual with:
    1. Commitment to the mission and philosophy of public library service.
    2. Excellent leadership, communication and interpersonal skills.
    3. Demonstrated development/fund-raising skills
    4. Familiarity with capital campaigns
    5. Knowledge of marketing and public relations
    6. Financial experience developing budgets and monitoring expenditures
    MBA or MLS preferred.

    [Emphasis added.]

    Are you prepared to apply for this position? If you expect a future career as a librarian – YOU SHOULD BE!

    “21st Century Librarians Create 21st Century Libraries.” It’s up to you to become one in order to create one!

    What other skills would you recommend for 21st Century Librarianship?

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