Everybody agrees that public libraries continue to change. They are offering new services, technologies, and helping to transform their communities. Have public libraries themselves really changed though? With a few exceptions, the public library organizational structure has remained pretty much the same for decades.
Internal and external forces have necessitated the formation of new departments, like IT or customer service. Economic, political and social forces have driven the flattening of many public library org charts. Do these shifts and additions really help manage the complexity and change that the public library is experiencing? Is it time to rethink public library organizational design? Is it time to leave that Microsoft org chart template behind?
The idea of tearing down the silos in public library is a popular one. Yet, the artificial boundaries of Public Services and Support Services persist. All of the work done in the public library is done in service to the public, so aren’t all public library staff engaged in public service?
Many, if not all, of the processes in the public library are highly systematic. Traditional public library organizational structure treats most processes as disjointed and disconnected. Attempts to rectify this and apply systems type operations in public libraries are challenging, because the structure is often not designed to support integration of tasks.
It may also be time to look at audience defined service models more holistically. This doesn’t mean that public libraries should stop serving audiences like, children, young adults or seniors. It does mean contextualizing services for those audiences in within broader concepts and with specific outcomes, like learning, engagement, innovation, experience and so on.
It is quite possible that the traditional public library organizational design may work just fine for some and that’s great. If not, then maybe it’s time to think about how to make it work better.
If you could redesign your public library organization, what would it look like? Would it be circular, like Columbus Metropolitan Library? A network of self-directed teams, like Portland (ME) Public Library? Is it driven by innovation? Efficiency? Experience? What is your ideal public library organizational design?