Library Administration and Management 

"On Managing" 

REVISED Draft August 28, 1998 

a quarterly column by 

John Lubans, Jr.  

Foreword to the column : On Managing  will scan the many-faceted management crystal and reflect on the responsibilities, complexities and opportunities facing library managers.

Its purpose is to raise awareness, to question, to suggest and, centrally, to encourage. 

Column #1

“It's not love, but it's not bad”: Cyber-Collaboration

I started with a different title, “Creative Collaboration: Surviving and Thriving” for this inaugural column, but in the course of my writing I realized that my focus was on the Internet - it was in cyberspace where collaborative initiatives by library managers could lead to productive results, to help us thrive in this tumultuous information era.

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Collaboration on the Internet Frontier: Opportunities for Libraries

At it’s present state the INTERNET is paradoxical, mercurial, and evolving at a vertiginous clip. It is:

Dis-intermediated, liberating but the lack of informed             and expert             intermediation allows for inferior quality and services. Many cybernauts want more but settle for less in uncharted cyberspace.

Efficient to a seeming ubiquity , yet maddeningly             inefficient - the World Wide Wait  attribute is the least of the inefficiencies.

Free, but only like in the axiomatic “there’s no free lunch” sense. In reality the Internet is heavily subsidized at all points of the network.

Private, yet intrusive: Like the classic cartoon says, “Nobody knows you are a dog on the Internet”, yet every click can be tracked.

Inclusive and exclusive: while many people have access, large numbers do not - a worrisome matter of haves and have nots.

Growing at a blinding (reckless?) speed: systems and relationships evolve at “geek year” (90 day) rates; Internet II (100 times             faster) is just around the corner - most of us are hardly coping with Internet I.

Alluring and repulsive: while it is  an unsurpassed educational medium and agent of social change, the Internet geography includes “vast wastelands”.

Empowering and productivity enhancing but, more often than not, this is unintended and unanticipated - the potential is there for more if we can resist imposing controls on the rampant self organization of the Internet.

I use the term "cyber-collaboration" to emphasize the importance of Internet technology to our work and that the frontier-like environment of the Internet provides an accepting and encouraging climate in which managers can try out new things, new arrangements, new relationships.

My working definition of cyber-collaboration is a process by which disparate-appearing components wired to the Internet (e. g. libraries, publishers, bookstores) deliberately move beyond their boundaries and merge so that mutually beneficial improvements occur. The primary beneficiary is the information seeker, the reader.

The Death of Distance  is how a recent book by Frances Cairncross heralds the new hypertext proximity between sources and users, between producers and consumers, and especially among sources on the Internet. Another way to put it is “technological juxtaposition”. We are cheek to jowl on the Internet,  a landscape that has no distance but that between point and click. This  immediacy of use and feedback promises to open the door to new applications. Communities of users and partnerships between producers and consumers will follow.

“Technological juxtaposition” refers to something as simple as the ability to cut and paste Web addresses from an e-mail in Netscape for connecting to that Web site or as complicated as the NYPL/ONLINE Bookstore cyber-collaboration with Barnes & Noble. On this Web site (http://www.nypl.org/bookstore/) the NYPL features their best "picks" for readers to borrow or to point and click to B&N for purchase, both linkages and partnerships made possible by hypertext connectivity.

Cyber-collaboration is driven by the notion that most resources are highly amenable to connection in multiple, unpredictable ways. Sites and bases bumping up against each other, caroming in new directions, may be the best way to find what does work best. There is no road map, "there are only adventures", to quote Roy Tennant, Berkeley's Web expert.

If we are to answer the numerous calls for strategic partnerships and collaborations, are there recommended ways to do this? Libraries have experience in collaborative enterprises - we need only look to interlibrary loan systems and cooperative cataloging initiatives for outstanding examples. At one time these now routine endeavors were but ideas; how they came into reality probably holds lessons for all managers.

Robert Hargrove in his books about creative collaboration sets out a series of steps (formulation, invitation, preparation and facilitation).

required to take a good idea to fruition.  For something to happen there has to be a process for inventing collaborations, call it “storming collaboratively”, among stake holders. Because of the fuzziness around undeveloped ideas, the initial interaction among stakeholders may be uncomfortable. After all, the storming process  requires us to suspend judgment and put in abeyance immediate concerns about “bottom lines”.

Our driving tendency to get to a product, to next steps, to an action plan may result in restricting ourselves to the pseudo-collaboration model of “I Sell/You Buy”. Sell/Buy inhibits, if not prevents, true collaboration, which is the seeking of a Win/Win situation where, metaphorically, 1+1 = 3.

My own experience is that not-for-profit agencies more quickly understand the Win/Win concept than do corporations. A business friend advised me when contacting a Web company about collaboration to have a product in mind. Lacking that sort of specificity, he advised me to talk to the person in the company who has "something to lose". Generally, this is not the head of the sales division or the marketing V-P. This consideration would be important in the invitation phase, deciding who the players will be.

The library manager’s challenge in this is to set up an enabling and welcoming environment and to make overtures  while keeping both feet on the ground. To quote the Technorealists (<http://www.technorealism.org/>): “We must not confuse the thrill of acquiring or distributing information quickly with the more daunting task of converting it into knowledge and wisdom.” Facilitating the latter is the library's assigned role.

Exploratory step in cyber-collaboration, could be the provision of links from our catalogs to Web sites. When we know of the whereabouts of excellent information-rich, durable Web sites (now numbering in the thousands) and “catalog” these resources we will quickly understand that this is a new type of collaboration with its own implications. The library’s relationship to a cataloged Web site is fundamentally different from our relationship with the producers of the books on our shelves.  We are linked dynamically to the Web site, and whatever happens to it happens to us. One book publisher told me that she was not concerned about what happened to her books after they were published, as long as they sold, that is what mattered. The immediacy of the Web changes this.

Incidentally, the suggestion that libraries catalog selected Web sites was one of the strong conclusions from my study of freshmen students (<www.lib.duke.edu/staff/orgnztn/lubans/firstyear.html>)

and their use of the Internet for academic purposes.

The students also told me they want librarians to be exploring and making the most of technological juxtapositions. The users see us as expert information navigators, even while they pursue a self-sufficiency in finding and using information.  The observed drop off in reference questions does not symbolize a loss of our importance to the user, rather it confirms that users can do more on their own and that libraries are already helping users make good use of the Internet.

An idea that derives from the NYPL and B&N experiment, for exploration on a university campus, is the integration of a campus bookstore with the library and student's independent reading. How might the library better serve students (alumni and present) in this regard? How could we explore the implicit concept of “buy or borrow”? Are there “communities of users” waiting to be established? If we build it, will they come?

At Duke, the campus Gothic Bookstore and the Perkins Library are now past the formulation  or the way-finding stage of collaboration. With strong support from the upper administration, the library and bookstore are preparing to explore best ways to collaborate on the Internet. Our agreed upon goal is straight forward: increased reading and book sales resulting from new services to readers.

As I write, a select group of stake holders is developing a plan and scheme for a Gothic web site, with links to and from the library and other units on campus and off. Testing the tantalizing concept of  offering a buy or borrow option to our library users is among the most important collaborative elements. Where this collaboration may lead us is, of course, unclear -  "there is no road map, only adventures" takes on meaning. 

If our management job descriptions don't already include responsibility for investigating new ways of doing things and bringing this information to teams, catalyzing and stimulating the consideration of alternatives, (including a variety of collaborations) perhaps now is the time to revise these job descriptions.

The manager, as catalyst, could engage like-minded counter parts in other not for profits about  what new services or products might be desirable or seem like a "natural"  in the cyber-educational environment. Ask the question of a targeted partner, “What could we create together? And, once we have some "best ideas" for collaboration what are the next steps to make a "best idea" a reality?

At the risk of unseemly exhortation, I suggest it is time for us to practice our skills in the area of collaboration, of working together, of creating an environment where coloring outside the lines is more than tolerated, it is expected and rewarded. One consultant speaks of the resignation among many staff in firms, a resignation that tends to shut down collaborative efforts. Too little trust, too much fear, too few opportunities, etc., contribute to this malaise. The solution is not greater involvement by management, but rather the paradoxical relaxing of management control.

Notes:

Cairncross, Frances, The Death of Distance: How the Communication Revolution Will Change Our Lives, Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1997

Hargrove, Robert,  Mastering the Art of Creative Collaboration,

“A Business Week Book”, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1998

Lubans, John, How First-Year University Students Use and Regard Internet Resource Perkins Library: Duke University <www.lib.duke.edu/staff/orgnztn/lubans/john.html> February 26, 1998


http://www.lubans.org