Note: the first five segments of this meeting will be to outline the reasons we need to undertake this project, while the last five will illuminate some specific actions and activities that will be taking place.
Over a period of three months, beginning on September 22, 2007 and ending on December 22, 2007, an unobtrusive study was undertaken of a reference department to see how well it was doing answering a variety of government document inquiries. A series of ten questions was asked by each of the fifty proxies used in the study. Special care was taken to make sure that the same proxy would not be asking the same reference librarian all of the questions, nor would one reference librarian get asked the same question repeatedly. Time was taken to reconcile the work schedules of the proxies and the reference librarians to have an equitable circulation of the questions.
The results are quite telling, with an overall success rate of only 37% for the questions asked over a three-month period. What that means is that changes must be made to the approach used to answer government document reference questions, if service to the public is important to the library.
One of the main goals of this meeting is to make it clear that no one person or persons will be blamed for the failure rate in this reference department. For this reason, data was not collected specifically on the performance of individual librarians and information officers in the library. This is not a hunt to place blame on anyone, but rather a request that each of us take some responsibility for the decisions we make when on duty at the government documents reference desk. Feelings of inadequacy and blame should be left at the front door when you report to work your reference shifts, and instead, be replaced with the knowledge that "you own this job, and you can be held accountable for it" (Thompson 1990,47). Success rates can and will increase if we work together to reach that goal.
One of the purposes of this meeting is to redefine and clarify the assigning of responsibilities within the department to ensure that the objectives put forth will be accomplished in a timely manner (Thompson 1990,46). Each of you will be given a chance to act as supervisor on a rotating basis to give you the authority to make sure that the problems we are presently experiencing will be tackled and minimized (Bentley 1996,156). Ultimately, the overall responsibility for increasing our success rate will lie solely with the head of reference and the head of government documents so as to minimize the amount of stress placed on frontline workers. To bolster these changes and to guarantee some level of success must be a group commitment to be positive, keep up the morale, "and breathe life and fun into the organization" (K-Burr 1994,29). In addition, a rebuilding of our levels of our commitment will be necessary to create and sustain "superior performances" (Kinlaw 1989,1).
The next two sections of this meeting agenda will be an attempt to refresh our memories on the direction government documents is taking; the problems that the trend of mainstreaming can cause; and the importance of the reference interview. Following these overviews, there will be a presentation on the steps we will take to increase our success rate and a discussion on how to raise our level of service.
As we know, the government is under a lot of pressure to decrease the costs of running this country and have been following a model based on big business to reach their goal of reducing our national debt. One of the ways they have been doing this is to reduce the number of paper publications they produce, and instead, have opted to use the Internet to offer access to the information. What this means is that we may no longer receive valuable print indexes and cannot afford some of those offered commercially. We must, therefore, be prepared to go online to access the indexes we need and download publications such as Hansard, because they will be continually requested. Some questions included in our study were designed to find out if the staff were taking advantage of government websites to access information. It was the conclusion of the researchers that we are not using the tools that are available to us.
Before the details of the project are discussed any further, it is my responsibility to remind all of you of the dangers of not working together to resolve some of the serious problems facing this department. Since budget cuts are the mainstay of every university operating in today's economic climate, there has been a move to transform library departments by mainstreaming collections into the main stacks. Typically, these departments are costly ones like ours, which have specialized staff working on a separate collection of items. If it is believed that the presence of a unique and independent department is not necessary because information requests are not being properly handled and resources are being squandered. The university could put the government documents collection into the main stacks and drastically reduce their commitment to being a federal depository library for the government. This could mean our jobs.
One of the major problems uncovered in the study was that again and again no attempt was made to conduct a proper reference interview. In case you've forgotten, it is the basis of how librarians communicate with patrons and is the proper and proven way to find out what they are actually looking for. To be honest, four of the ten questions were designed to be answered without the need of a reference interview, but the remaining ones really did need information elicited from the proxies to gain a proper understanding of what was being requested.
The only way to tell if we are doing a good job is to know we have accurately answered questions. You will be expected to ask your patrons follow-up questions to make sure they have found what they were looking for. You will be monitored through a delegation of authority by your managers. You will also be expected to support each other by helping out when one of you is asked a question you are not sure of (K-Burr 1994,35). By working closer together, you will be more aware of your colleagues' strengths and weaknesses, and be in a better position to expand each other's reference skills. In view of our attempt for honesty this morning, we will admit that a part of our plan will be the continual use of proxies to monitor the development of common goals in order to keep track of our progress.
The foundation of this project is the development of small support teams to help staff feel as if they have a niche in this organization and a say in some of the decisions that get made around here (Bentley 1996,22). Part of the power of teamwork is that it makes you realize that your level of performance can and will affect how well the team does and therefore, raises the level at which individuals strive by increasing their commitment to reach personal goals (Bentley 1996,79). Small teams of librarians will be encouraged to conduct role-playing exercises and will be expected to undergo training sessions together (Graham 1994,113).
Training sessions will be undertaken to refresh employees' knowledge of where resources are located in the library and how easily they can be found when needed. In addition, there is a great need to have further training with government websites so that everyone is familiar with the digital sources that are continuing to explode at a record rate, along with "the provision of effective meaningful learning opportunities" (Bentley 1996,38). Overall, these training sessions will help employees feel better about themselves and be more confident and successful in answering reference questions.
Part of the training will be carried out by communication consultants. The reason for this expenditure is because many of the librarians working here have not attended basic communications training sessions to enhance the skills they learned in library school. Suffice to say, that is problematic for everyone concerned. These professionals will teach us good communication skills, such as the techniques used in asking open-ended questions in the reference interview. One of the tools that will be used to carry out this training and to keep all aspects of the project flowing in a timely fashion is a Gantt chart. This type of chart is simply a horizontal bar chart that graphically displays the time relationships that exist between different tasks in a project. The consultants and your supervisors will provide you with a number of tasks or responsibilities you will be expected to fulfill in a given amount of time. They are logged on a chart for convenience, and to provide a visual picture of the experience. In addition, these useful planning tools plot tasks that are done simultaneously, as well as those started when others are finished (Thompson 1990,131).
Before any aspects of this project can be put into play, there must be some display of group consensus or "inclination to support the team" (Graham 1994,43). We need a collaborative place from which to start. Without this commitment for success, we will have no way of developing new organizational goals in this department, nor be able to increase our level of service. If we all work together, everyone wins.
Related PapersWhat is a Learning Organization?
Bentley, Trevor J. 1996. Bridging the Performance Gap. England: Gower Publishing Limited.
Graham, Morris A., and Melvin J. LeBaron. 1994. The Horizontal Revolution. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
K-Burr, Betska. 1994. Creating Champions. Toronto: Macmillan Canada.
Kinlaw, Dennis C. 1989. Coaching for Commitment: Managerial Strategies for Obtaining Superior Performance. San Diego: University Associates, Inc.
Thompson, Brad Lee. 1990. Concise Handbook for New Managers. Illinois: Scott, Foresman, and Company.