Library Issues

Editor: Richard M. Dougherty, University of Michigan.
Contributing Editors: Mignon Adams, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science; Eileen Fenton, University of Michigan;Steve Marquardt, South Dakota State University; William Miller, Florida Atlantic University; Maureen Pastine, Southern Methodist University; Sarah Pritchard, Smith College;
Vol. 18, No. 3 January 1998

Library Director/Provost Relationships and Faculty Attitudes toward Changes in Libraries

An Introduction and Overview by Richard M. Dougherty
Addressing the Specifics by Herb White

Many librarians feel that the age of technology has provided libraries and librarians with limitless opportunities. However technology has also presented librarians with enormous challenges. So much is changing so rapidly that organizations are being stressed and strained in many ways. Technology is proving to be much more expensive than almost anyone imagined. But in the final analysis, as one of our editors noted, "In spite of the expense, it really is satisfying in an intellectual and substantive way to see the kinds of new resources and services that we can now offer."

I too sense a climate of excitement, but I also realize from personal experience that managing an academic library, whether a four-year college or a private or public research university, has never been more difficult. Economic constraints are frequently cited as the chief villain, and yes, that forces us to become better managers, but I don't believe economics is at the heart of the problem. People and communication are still the issue.

From Then to Now
I still recall managing the libraries at UC Berkeley and the University of Michigan during the 1970s and 1980s, times of extreme financial difficulties. I'm always amazed when I remember how much the campuses and their libraries achieved during those "hard times." We were forced to make choices; we all understood that those choices had to be made. Even the faculty, if administrators took the time to involve them in an issue, went along with justified changes.

Higher education and libraries are in the midst of a paradigm shift that many of us who are so close to the action don't fully appreciate. Most academic officers realize that creating and supporting a campus technological infrastructure is intellectually complex and economically expensive. Moreover, technology is forcing a reshaping of the campus budget. It is also creating fundamental changes in the way education is delivered to students, particularly via the Web. The difference today is the rapidity with which change is taking place.

Roles and Rates of Change

I also have the sense that many academics still don't appreciate the role librarians can play in introducing changes in information services. Many academics view library staff as "gofers, clerks, or waitresses" who are at the beck and call of faculty. I still remember a historian, who at the time he was elected to a Senate library committee, expressed to his new committee colleagues, "what is the big deal, anyone can run a library." When he began to understand that the library and its staff had to deal with networks, technology, consortia, and a myriad of day-to-day staff issues, it wasn't long before he realized that he wouldn't be able to solve the issues that had been uppermost on his mind when he was first elected to the committee. It didn't take long before he began to skip meetings, and he didn't run for reelection either.

There are probably some academic officers who are not satisfied with the rate at which change is occurring in their campus libraries. Most likely they do not fully appreciate the difficulties libraries are encountering as they attempt to shift gears from a traditional library with its physical collections to an access-oriented library.

Why Change is Painful
One of the reasons why change is often so painful in academic libraries is because library directors must, at times, deal with dysfunctional faculty attitudes. Dealing with faculty egos is nothing new; librarians often swap stories about their personal experiences. Like the classicist who didn't want classics books transferred to a remote storage area even though none designated for storage had been checked out for years, or the East Asian faculty who insist on dictating how books should be originally cataloged—even though they don't have the foggiest notion how books are cataloged, or the faculty member who rants and raves at a circulation clerk when he is asked to submit a legible list of reserves instead of a penciled syllabus that nobody can read. Most library staff have experienced such behaviors; they are part of the job. But what is especially worrisome today is that such incidents can get in the way of necessary change. A single faculty member might take umbrage that one of his books has been sent to storage, or two English faculty members make it their cause to impede the acquisition of digital products because the money "could have been spent more wisely on paper publications," or the Engineering faculty member insists the library not drop any of his subscriptions even though the library's periodicals are literally covered with dust. Such idiosyncratic behavior comes with the job, all library administrators realize that. But when a single faculty member or a small group decides to make it their cause to block change just to satisfy some personal grievance, such behaviors become extremely counter-productive.

Support from Administrators
What a library director needs most of all is the support of campus administrators. In a real sense the job of a vice president for academic affairs or a provost is very similar to that of a college or university library director: Both positions must serve all campus constituencies. Both are charged with bringing about change. (True, the scope and complexity of a provost's job is far greater.) Saying yes to one dean and no to another dean will only force either the provost or librarian to expend precious political capital. And there is only so much political capital he/she has available. I've always believed that a provost and library director should be strong allies, and during this period of turbulent change in which a campus information infrastructures are being transformed, the need for these two positions to work closely together has never been more urgent.

In light of all this, I have asked Herb White, a well-known contributor to library literature, and now retired from Indiana University, to give his view of what has happened, and what can de done to address these important issues. R.M.D.


Addressing the Specifics

by Herb White

Robert Hutchins, the former president of the University of Chicago, once observed that political and territorial battles are fought so ferociously in academia because the stakes are so small. Bowen and Schuster observed that faculty members often look at the university only as a convenient place in which they can be paid and supported for doing what they feel like doing.1 They argued that while faculty sometimes acted strangely and irrationally, that was simply the way they were and the rest of the world had to get used to it. Almost a decade later, Clark Kerr was forced to conclude that faculty attitudes had not really changed.2

While all that may be true, the attitudes of outsiders—trustees, legislators, and the general public—have changed, and these groups are no longer willing to put up with business as usual. This places increasing pressure on such academic administrators as presidents and provosts who are besieged by a political constituency which demands change, an entrenched tenured faculty constituency which resists change and really wants more of the same, and alumni whose demands may center almost exclusively on athletic success. What the undergraduate students want adds yet another dimension. It is little wonder that, as Kerr noted, academic administrators are graded by a very stringent system: Nine grades of A and one grade of F create an average grade of F.

However, things are changing, even if slowly and grudgingly. While administrators face declining funds, faculty also face that same reality as well as attacks on preciously guarded freedoms, from tenure to the right to determine how many courses to teach, what courses to teach, and how many students to allow into a section.

Impact on Libraries
The pressures to make the university resemble a well-managed corporation have placed great pressures on academic administrators including presidents and provosts, and have infuriated at least some faculty. These developments are also having a major impact on the way universities want their libraries managed, and what they expect of them. Two reasons are discussed here.

Evaluating the Library
Given the importance of information management as an economic necessity on today's campuses, the need for professional managers has never been more important in libraries. Creating such a cadre of library managers is not easy although some progress has been made. The reasons why progress may be slower than we would all like are complicated, but very important for academic administrators to appreciate. There are at least two reasons for this.

Preoccupied with Bricks and Mortar
The first reason is that, while it would be absurd to evaluate the quality of a History Department without assessing both the number and qualification of the faculty, the evaluation of a library is somehow conducted in terms of the bricks and mortar that constitute the building and the numbers of volumes that sit on the shelves. It is rarely evaluated, in terms of how the library staff compares qualitatively to that of rival institutions or the quality of services provided.

How many times have we ourselves talked about the library as the heart of the campus and not our library staff? I doubt that anyone would make such a statement about the biology laboratory, or about the basketball field house.
And if administrators and faculty can look at a building and a statistical report on the number of volumes and conclude that they have a "fine" library, we as librarians may inwardly blanch, but our behaviors often reinforce such conclusions. For example, if given the opportunity to spend some year-end reallocations, we invariable will make it part of the materials budget, never the staff continuing education budget or the funding of a library research agenda.

Lack of a Management Agenda
The second reason is that provosts and other academic administrators seem to have no management agenda for their library, except to:

This last factor shouldn't be too surprising since so many new provosts are fresh from the ranks of faculty themselves, and the last thing they may want to do is alienate their former colleagues.

Too often this reluctance to oppose faculty has led some provosts to abdicate some of their responsibilities toward managing the library, not to just the faculty as a whole, but to each and every faculty member, who is allowed to carve out his or her own personal library ownership. Perhaps this is seen as a consolation prize to compensate for all of the other things that have been taken away. This "system" permits a perception by faculty members (at least those so inclined) that the library exists to serve them personally, and not the entire campus. It allows them to consider library staff, including the professional librarians in charge, as flunkeys.

That such a system is untenable for librarians is obvious, but that it is untenable for the campus and its proper administration should be equally obvious. However, for many administrators this relationship doesn't seem clear. Whether in a corporation or on a campus, one must know who his or her boss is, and also who that boss is not. While most faculty colleagues with whom we work are very civil, a few are not. Those who are not must understand that library administrators do not work for them, they report to the provost. Library staff members also do not work for them, they report to higher-ranking librarians.

Establishing a Management Relationship
What needs to be established here is a classic management relationship. The relationship between a supervisor and a subordinate (and those are still the operative terms) requires first of all communication, both formal and informal, on a regular and frequent basis. That communication requirement involves everyone who has a boss, from the circulation clerk and the circulation supervisor to the library director and the provost.

Librarian/Provost Meetings
These meetings should take place as often as necessary. The norm seems to be about once a month. While frequency and regularity are important, the real goal is to simply have enough contact so trust builds and a relationship is formed in which a provost will naturally come to view the library director as a full member of the academic team, and the library director is comfortable in making sure that the provost has all the information he/she will need to respond to individual faculty or faculty groups who decide to end-run the library director.

The main purpose of such meetings is to establish a partnership in objectives and priorities. What do we want to accomplish, and what resources will be required to accomplish it? Librarians should not be surprised that most of the initiative, particularly in such areas as information access and delivery options, must come from them.

Provosts, particularly new provosts (and the turnover among provosts in recent years has been staggering) are still likely to continue to believe that the biggest library collection defines the best library, regardless of services and staff, because to a large extent we have taught them too well. It is precisely because of this preconception of what makes for a good library that meetings between librarians and provosts continue to be educational.

Setting Priorites. The collection should never be the librarian's only priority, or even a high-ranking priority. There are several reasons for this: Given today's technology, access is far more important than ownership, but managing access requires qualified people. Also, given the unchecked increase in scholarly materials prices, that part of the budget will absorb all available funds and leave nothing for the other essential activities. Finally, and probably most practical, is that the faculty will clamor for the materials budget and certainly not for library staffing as its first priority. The materials budget demands will be represented within the institution but only the librarians can represent the other priorities.

From the meetings with the provost (and these could be difficult meetings at times) will result a decision of what can be accomplished given the limitations in funding and staff, and even more importantly what can not be accomplished and should, therefore, not be expected. Ultimately the decisions of what can not be accomplished are those of the provost or president, whose responsibility it is (which can be delegated, but never abdicated). What the library accomplishes and does not even try to do, what it purchases and does not purchase because there are not adequate funds, are both known to and ultimately the decision of the administrator to whom the librarian reports.

When things change, as they do in any dynamic organization, when new programs are started or budgets are cut further in midstream, the entire agreement must be renegotiated. Provosts shouldn't expect library directors to simply accept statements such as "do the best you can," particularly when the statement is simply a tacit admission that one doesn't really know what to do. Here is where a partnership is important; the librarian and provost should strive to develop a mutually acceptable and mutually understandable strategy.

Dealing with Faculty. How do librarians, and members of their staffs, then deal with the occasional faculty member who, perhaps rudely, insists that he or she must have what the budget and the agreed upon plans do not allow? First they do not stoop to arguing with these individuals, and second they most certainly do not give them what they demand simply because they are loud and arrogant. They suggest that the aggrieved faculty member talk to the provost or president, because the demand violates the agreements already reached. Library directors, after all, need the support of their provosts just as library staff who interact with faculty need the support of their directors. The provost then, who should certainly have been alerted to the fact that these referrals will be made can tell the faculty member why the demands will not be met, or alternatively tell the library what not to do for someone else instead, or perhaps give the library more money. What the administrator cannot tell the librarian is to "absorb it". Any Economics faculty member can explain to the administrator that things don't work like that in the real world. The university, even if regrettably, is part of the real world.

What is a danger for one person becomes an opportunity for another. Librarians and provosts, working as partners, can find innovative and cost effective approaches to the challenges facing higher education information management, and together they can prevail against those who still clamor for "more of the same" as though nothing had changed. Working separately, neither librarians nor provosts are likely to succeed here.Herbert S. White, Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Dean Emeritus, School of Library and Information Science, Indiana University


1Howard R. Bowen and Jack H. Schuster., American Professors: A National Resource Imperiled., New York, Oxford Press, 1986.
2Clark Kerr. Troubled Times for American Higher Education. The 1990s and Beyond. Albany, State University of New York Press, 1994

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