Jaskowska, Part 7
Employee Subjectivity in an Academic Library
There are many empirically confirmed arguments supporting the need to empower employees in academic libraries. In her study of the effects of implementing the concept of organisational development (which includes the notion of employee empowerment) in the activity of American libraries, Karen Holloway identified its numerous advantages manifesting themselves in, for example, facilitation of inner organisational processes, development of training processes and improvement of the quality of services, and even in more rational financial policies(!) .
Research on commercial organisations indicates that employee subjectivity leads to:
- greater satisfaction from the performed work participation increases employee satisfaction in two ways: by providing them with the possibility of greater involvement and putting their abilities to use, as well as by allowing them to influence decisionmaking and cause it to better reflect their own needs.
- higher quality of the decisions made as long as the following optimum is kept: common goals of the individuals participating in the decisionmaking processes, comprehensive scope of their knowledge, the size of the group facilitating communication, existence of certain discrepancies in opinion (to prevent the so called group thinking syndrome) as well as the ability to reach consensus and think creatively.
- better employee motivation in implementing the decisions which is in fact a natural reaction to support the results of ones own labour, the feeling of ownership of the decisions is common, which in consequence reduces the resistance to them and ensures faster and more effective action.
- development of employees themselves, noted in their increasing decisionmaking abilities due to the groupwork nature of the processes as well as in strengthening the bond between the employees and the organisation .
With the encouraged sense of influence and causative power, the developing sense of selfesteem and competence, with the awareness of affiliation and interdependence and the discovery of ones own knowledge which offers a sense of security, the library exercising the empowerment style of management will be by far more likely to achieve success.
Studies of organisational culture performed by the author of this paper in selected Polish academic libraries indicate that the above mentioned benefits are highly unlikely to be seen in state university libraries.
Such facilities are characterised by the cultural profile of significant executive distance. The hierarchical structure was observed mainly in terms of power delegation, or in fact its virtual lack. Over 75 percent of the surveyed librarians working at state university libraries stated that all or nearly all decisions are made unilaterally by management. Only six percent confirmed that they often participate in the decisionmaking process, and no one indicated they did so on a permanent basis. The great executive distance seems to be accompanied also by significant, if slightly lesser, emotional distance between employees and management. Twentyfive percent of the respondents admitted that they never or rarely put forward their opinions to the superiors, and nearly half stated that they do it only occasionally. Nearly 43 percent admitted that there is a distance between management and the employees and that librarians are not free from emotional anxiety when contacting their superiors. It is manifested in the form in which the communication takes place, the use of titles and formal expressions. The authorities strong attachment to the power is confirmed by the fact that over 70 percent of the surveyed librarians claimed that the director is the only person managing the library. It points to strong authority of the management and possibly its legitimisation by the employees.
Considerably different results were obtained from the study of the cultural aspect of authority distance in private university libraries. The main discrepancy in this respect between private and state university libraries is found in the significant participation of private library employees in the decisionmaking process. As many as 81 percent of the librarians stated that such instances take place always, often, or sometimes. The contacts between the superiors and subordinates in private university libraries are less formalised. Eightytwo percent of the respondents indicated they experienced no anxiety when communicating with their superiors; the love of titles is much less frequent and the atmosphere is in general more friendly and informal.
What is interesting and particularly significant is the fact that the librarians express the desire to participate in the decisionmaking processes by declaring equivalent cultural preferences. The results were similar in the case of both types of libraries. In state university libraries 65 percent of the respondents expressed a wish to work in a library where they could participate in the decisionmaking process, and 81 percent of the respondents supported the notion of freedom in presenting their opinions to their superior. In private university libraries as many as 94 percent conveyed readiness to participate in the decisionmaking process and 88 percent admitted that they would like to freely express their opinions.
The above results suggest that the gravity of personality and cultural barriers is less than it may seem and that the implementation of elements of employee participation and empowerment in libraries is far from impossible.
To what extent can empowerment function in the academic library?
It seems that academic libraries have room mainly for delegation of authority to advisory and consultative teams, rather than to particular individuals. The days of individualist talents such as A. Einstein or K. Estreicher are gone. Currently success is the domain of wellcooperating teams which along with logical deduction are able to utilize the methods of creative thinking.
Undoubtedly employee participation in academic libraries can take place in consultative and advisory processes in problemsolving teams, committees or groups. Such organisational structures, whether permanent or temporary, should include representatives of various attitudes and points of view within the library. From the perspective of the efficient organisation of work, it is important to precisely specify the scope of such teams operation: jurisdiction, deadlines and subject matter of their activity. The teams may be entrusted with analysing and solving various problems, both short and longterm, e.g.: planning the professional careers and development of employees, creating the strategic vision of the library in 5, 10 or 15 years, planning and implementing marketing strategies, creating guidelines for library modernisation (the used technologies, new services, tackling specific problems), monitoring the environment and the users, building the longlasting relationship with the parent university and establishing communication with other library, information or scientific facilities. Temporary participation in responding to current operational issues may also be highly valuable, such as development of more effective methods of retrieving books from university employees, reducing the number of destroyed or stolen volumes, finding sponsorship, extending the opening hours of the library in the period of the endofterm examinations, etc.
It should be noted that apart from actual participation in having a real influence upon decisions, organisations may utilize perceptual participation, aimed at the perception (sense) of the employees in terms of their influence in this respect. The benefits enumerated above can often be secured by purely perceptual participation, where the authority is exercised along the lines of: You can participate all you like Ill still do what I think is best. However, this sort of a solution bears only partial and shortlived success, and library leaders should aim to facilitate actual participation rather than just a decoy.
The available literature on commercial organisation management provides numerous hints to be used in empowerment management, which can successfully be implemented in informationlibrary activities. And although it is unquestionably a complex and difficult task, I hope this superior and employee opinion will encourage you to further study the issue and possibly inspire you to put some of the above into practice.