The Management Information Needs of Academic Heads of Department in Universities

Chapter Eight

The University Librarians' Perspective

8.1 The Interviews

The Librarians or Directors of Library and Information Services in the sixteen universities who participated in the project were interviewed. Of these, fifteen were Librarians (or equivalent) with the other being a Sub-librarian who, owing to the Librarian's sudden illness, was willing to act as a substitute. All were interviewed using a semi-structured interview schedule whose primary aim was to examine the current or potential role of the university library in supplying management information to Heads of Academic Departments. The interviews also sought to explore: the organisational structure of the libraries; the Librarian's attitude to the Follett Report; any move towards an access rather than a holdings culture within university libraries; and the prospects for electronic delivery of information. These face-to-face interviews were supplemented by an short e-mail questionnaire to other librarians. Respondents were asked: to outline any management information they supplied to HoDs; what place, if any, this support had in the information strategy of the university; and whether or not they would be providing such information in the future. 8.2 Organisational Structure

Distinguishing the organisational structure of university libraries is not an easy task. Many factors - the nature of the collections, staff profiles, management style, users' needs, the number of sites, funding, institutional policies and attitudes, and the external environment impact on the range, nature and style of services provided. For the purposes of this project, however, the libraries in the nine newer universities and the seven older universities were categorised according to their degree of convergence with computing services. This factor, in particular, was stressed since it was anticipated that with the increased formal and administrative convergence between university libraries and computing services there might be a greater and/or different role for such services in responding to the information needs of HoDs.

Stratifying university libraries according to the degree of convergence produced three distinct groups:

  1. four newer university libraries with fully converged services;
  2. three newer university libraries with partially converged services;
  3. seven older and two newer university libraries with strong links with academic computing.

In the first of these groups, the university library was formally converged with computing services. Managed by an Information Director, the service had teams which, while operationally distinct, were each charged with providing a portfolio of electronic and print-based services. The aim was to provide a 'one-stop shop' whereby students and researchers would be able to satisfy all of their information needs within and through one co-ordinated service.

The reasons given for this integration were partly pedagogical, partly financial, and partly strategic. The Librarians (or Information Directors) had noted that students were beginning to use a wider variety of information sources than print-based materials. Similarly, academic staff were also becoming more familiar with and willing to use electronic materials and were increasingly willing and anxious to develop the use of these information sources in their teaching and research. Additionally, increased student numbers and the changing nature of the student population, modularisation, and a falling unit of resource, had forced libraries and information services to respond imaginatively if they were to continue to be able to support the teaching, learning and research mission of their institution. Electronic delivery of materials opened up new opportunities to meet these needs. By combining library and computing services they would be strategically placed to take advantage of the possibilities that the interface between electronic and print-based materials offered.

The second group of university libraries, again drawn from the former polytechnics, were partially-converged services. In each case, the university library was part of a much larger administrative unit, headed by a Dean of Academic Services, who was responsible for the library, media, print services, computing and student support services such as careers and counselling. Within this, the Librarian, who was effectively a Head of Department, was responsible for the library and printing and media services. Links with computing services were close since the librarians recognised that computing services played a key role in delivering and maintaining the network infrastructure for many of the libraries services. All Librarians in this group confirmed that they too had been forced to reconsider the nature and delivery of their services owing to resource and user pressures. Such pressures had led one of them to suggest that, once an information strategy had been formulated for the university, there was a strong possibility that the library and its associated services would become fully integrated with computing services.

For the third group, made up of seven older universities and two newer universities, pedagogical, financial and strategic demands were also affecting service delivery. While each of these university libraries was formally and administratively responsible for its own services, all the Librarians recognised that the exploitation of information technology was increasingly central to their operations. Thus, although each university had formulated its own individual policy, all saw the necessity of extending their delivery of on-line services. This was particularly important in terms of meeting the research mission of the university. For these Librarians, all too aware of monograph and periodical price inflation, it was increasingly clear that levels of services would decline without increased resources or more targeted services. As the former is unlikely in the present economic climate, they were keen to extend such services as document delivery to users.

8.3 The Follett Report

Resource, research and user pressures on university libraries were recognised by the Follett Report (Follett,1993) which noted that: student numbers had increased by 57% between 1988-89 and 1992-93; periodical prices had risen by virtually 300% while higher education expenditure on periodicals had, on average, risen by only 111%; and library spend as a percentage of institutional expenditure had declined in both newer and older universities. The report advocated the greater use of information technology in the management of university libraries and reinforced the view that as information technology became ever more pervasive, it would profoundly alter the traditional notion of the library as a repository of information and a supplier of information in support of teaching, learning and research. Information technology would allow university libraries to move from storing information to enabling users to access materials either in the library or remotely. Such a shift would allow the move towards a 'virtual' library in which students will access materials remotely, academics are able to use a variety of on-line resources, and librarians, amongst other things, will be responsible for teaching information management techniques.

All the librarians interviewed felt that Follett had made a contribution to the debate surrounding developments in information provision for university libraries. One suggested that this was because Follett had increased the profile of libraries in universities by making clear to senior managers the important role which libraries had to play in developing a university-wide information strategy. Three, all in older, more research-oriented universities, welcomed the report because it brought the opportunity of extra funding to expand their electronic forms of support for users. The majority, including the four mentioned above, while appreciating Follett's sensitivity to the prevailing funding climate, felt that the report had not told them anything they did not already know or contribute anything further to developments in the library field. Libraries were already anticipating the move towards an access rather than a holdings culture and were becoming more dynamic in their approach to meeting teaching, learning and research needs. Librarians had built up short loan collections, made their collections more dynamic, restricted speculative buying and targeted, either through ballot or by consultation, the research interests of the academic community.

For one other, former polytechnic librarian, the report's conservatism represented a missed opportunity. This librarian, keen to promote the culture of an electronic library, considered it was important to move much closer to the needs of customers by delivering more electronic information services. Others were not so confident that it would be possible to move in the short term to a fully-fledged access culture. The move towards an access culture, while accepted in principle by all the librarians interviewed, was something that eleven of them identified as having been brought about partly by financial pressures from their institution. Such pressures were not simply confined to newer universities. One librarian in a university with a very strong research bias commented that the move to access provision was "...being driven by financial concerns". Similarly, for seven of the librarians, the pressure from students and academics on their resources made access seem the only viable solution to their problems. All sixteen librarians agreed that one reason for the shift towards an access approach was the need to be both tactically and strategically placed to take advantage of future developments in information provision. As one, in a newer university, suggested:

"I would far rather that other people made expensive mistakes than we did but at the same time you have to keep a very close eye on developments because some of them will fall by the wayside and others will prove their value and will be here to stay. Once we realise that things have proven their value and they are going to be here to stay it is then that we should take them on".

Despite the optimism and enthusiasm of one librarian for the 'virtual library', all the other librarians felt that there still remained distinct problems with electronic materials. Two identified the actual digitisation of materials as a problem, given the vast number of printed materials that already existed, while another felt that full-text retrieval still presented unresolved problems. Four librarians also suggested that copyright was still a major difficulty. This was particularly important owing to the escalating costs of periodicals. Similarly, nine librarians felt that it was too early to talk of the demise of print-based materials. As one put it: "The paperless environment I am sceptical about. I think we are going to have a lot more pervasive digitised products but I think it is going to be a long time away if ever before we get rid of print". Besides the reasons already identified, two librarians argued that the reason for the continued popularity of print-based materials was that people actually preferred to digest information on a page rather than on a screen. One librarian believed that electronic provision of information had increased the productivity of print: "Computing has allowed staff, students and researchers to exploit the traditional print collections much more effectively".

8.4 Information Support to Academic Heads of Department

These doubts notwithstanding, it is clear that the university librarians were gearing up to move towards a more mixed economy of print-based and electronic information. An essential component of this, as recognised by the Follett, is that any information strategy should have at its heart the needs of users: "The strategy should pay particular attention to defining the needs of various groups of library users" (Follett, 1993, p. 28). University librarians have, of course, been familiar with this approach for quite some time. In the working papers of the information sub-committee of the Follett Committee the working group "...constantly reminded itself that technology should be subservient to user needs" (Libraries and IT, 1993, p.x.) while Corrall, elsewhere, had suggested that one of the important factors in Aston University's strategic plan was " acquire more detailed knowledge of different user communities and their academic objectives, in order to tailor services to specific needs" (Corrall, 1993, p.17). Amongst the librarians surveyed there was a general recognition that the needs of clients were a central issue. One librarian, in an older university, commented that

"...the electronic revolution is forcing us to try to analyse what we are about". Two others felt that it was important for their library to look closely at its relations with academic departments. One suggested that close co-operation could actually bring benefits to both the library and departments"

We feel that actually focusing on the departments is the best way of ensuring that we get the optimum benefit from the resources available. Also, if in negotiation with departments we discover that they feel that there is a mismatch, in that they feel that what we are providing does not actually meet all the needs that they have got, we can then negotiate with them to supplement the budget in some way from departmental funds in order to ensure that we can actually deliver what they need.

Good relationships were important for another reason. With financial responsibility devolved to academic cost centres for the acquisition of monograph material, one librarian had become "...particularly concerned about the whole issue of our links with departments and the way in which information flows between us".

This concern, however, did not extend to the management information requirements of HoDs. None of the librarians felt that it was their role to target information to academic Heads. Instead, libraries concentrated much more on the relationship between subject specialists within the library and the relevant named individual in departments. Where information was made available to HoDs it took the forms outlined in Table 14.

From this it is clear that it was only in terms of support for ongoing research and new course development that all sixteen university librarians considered that they provided comprehensive support to HoDs. Support for ongoing research usually consisted of the usual library services to the academic community and the provision of access to such on-line services as BIDS and Uncover. However, part of the reason for the comprehensive nature of this type of support, besides its obvious centrality to the services of university libraries, was that the university librarians recognised that HoDs used the services of the library principally as a research and teaching resource.

Fifteen of the university librarians also said that they were involved in the development of new courses. Primarily, this was as part of the financial validation process. They were concerned generally that resources should be available to support the course and particularly that any new course should be adequately supported from within the library's resources. Being part of the process did not guarantee that the library would be able to make an effective contribution. One librarian complained that although the procedures were in place the library always seemed to come into the process too late to provide any real input. For the librarian who supported the development of courses on an ad hoc basis, negotiations depended on the informal relationships between the subject specialists in the library and the academic departments concerned.

Table 14 Types of information support supplied by librarians to Heads of Academic Departments.
  Number of respondents
Type of Information Type of Support Ad hoc Depository In relation to library Total
Support for ongoing research 16 - - - 16
Developing new courses 15 1 - - 16
Financial management information - - - 12 12
Research funding alternatives - - 11 - 11
Developments in higher education 3 3 5 - 11
Performance indicators - - 1 9 10
Improving teaching skills 1 7 - - 8
Competitor intelligence 2 1 3 - 7
Links with industry 1 3 4 - 7
Student scholarships and awards - - 6 1 7
Travel awards - - 5 - 5
Developing other resource alternatives - 3 - - 3
Links with extra-mural bodies - 2 1 - 3
Developing exchange programmes - - 1 - 1
Other financial support - 1 - - 1

As for the next most frequent type of support, financial management information, in eleven cases this was relevant financial information relating to the library's activities. This comprised the essential statistics on budget, departmental spend and allocation. Similarly, performance indicators on the services of the library were provided to HoDs in some cases. Except in one case where performance indicators on higher education were held, this information again largely detailed statistics on such things as library-usage and inter-library loans. Financial management information and performance indicators were available to HoDs either directly, through Senate or other committees, or was published in the university's annual report. The librarians doubted whether such information made much impression on HoDs. What concerned HoDs, as far as the librarians could see, especially in more research-oriented universities, was any attempt by the library to rationalise the provision of periodicals. It was only then that HoDs seemed to take any real interest in the library.

Research-funding information was not proactively delivered to HoDs or academics in general. In eleven cases libraries held the information but, as one librarian in a newer university put it: "In the best library manner we hold the information but don't do anything with it". One librarian suggested that one reason why libraries where not proactive in this area is that HoDs "...depend much more on the invisible college". More commonly, the librarians argued that it was not really the role of the library to supply this sort of information. Other, more specialised, administrative sections of the university, like the industrial liaison office, were charged with this duty.

In terms of information on developments in higher education the situation was more mixed. Five of the librarians stored journals, audit reports, books and general information on higher education. This could be used by HoDs if they wished. Three other librarians indicated that they played an ad hoc role in this respect; since all three had built up their own informal networks, they too passed on any information from their contacts in the library profession or the academic world generally which they judged to be useful to particular HoDs. A further three librarians considered that they were regular contributors to developments in higher education. For one of them, this took the form of highlighting in the library's newsletter any new initiatives or funding changes that had been announced. This information, however, cannot be said to be directly targeted at HoD level as it was made available to everyone. Similarly, another librarian ran a current awareness service, which, though largely reactive, was available if HoDs needed it. The third librarian in this group argued that the library's development of the electronic provision of information was in itself a higher education development, although, again, such services did not exclusively cater for the information needs of HoDs.

The librarians were, however, becoming much more involved in improving the teaching skills of academics. This had been suggested in the Fielden Report (Fielden, 1993) which advocated that university librarians should work much more closely with academics in the planning and delivery of courses, especially when there was a great emphasis upon information management. Librarians broadly agreed with such a proposition although one disagreed, suggesting that the report "...was a pretty shabby piece of work". However, of the eight who supported suggestions about librarians' involvement in the improvement of teaching skills, only one actually offered courses on information management to academics. The remaining seven, through their involvement in their the university's teaching and learning strategy, were in the process of trying to promote such things as in-house induction, electronic information sources and trying, informally at first, to encourage academics to work with librarians to deliver teaching packages. It should be noted, however, that while this service may have been made available to HoDs, librarians were not specifically targeting such services at this level. One librarian stated that " they [HoDs] really need to be taught how to search for their information in a more systematic manner". This was especially important for this librarian because "...if we go down the access road many academics are going to have to change their information-seeking behaviour very dramatically".

As for competitor intelligence, three librarians claimed to hold or provide access to information of this type in the form of electronic databases such as CRIB and BEST and through the Internet. One university librarian also provided competitor intelligence in an ad hoc manner by conducting citation analyses for departments as the research assessment exercise drew near. Two others provided regular competitor intelligence. One chose to deliver this in the library's newsletter which gave comparative data on competitors while the other compiled a competitor intelligence analysis which was taken up by the university's external relations department who fed it on to HoDs and research directors.

Links with industry followed much the same pattern. Of the seven university librarians who felt that they provided linkages to industry, four stored information either in the form of lists of local contacts or through electronic databases. Support was also given to HoDs on an ad hoc basis by one librarian who, as the managing director of a company, passed on details of informal contacts of potential use to HoDs. Another, when requested, did a first sweep on a patent database in the library. One university librarian did, however, offer a comprehensive service detailing companies in the region if the HoDs wished to use it. Unfortunately, this was not always used by them, partly because the HoDs tended to rely on their own contacts and, more generally, were not very sophisticated information gatherers. There was, this librarian said, "...a great deal of amateurism and muddling through at departmental level".

Information on student scholarships and awards was held in university libraries and was made available either through maintaining relevant collections or by displaying such information in the library. Only one library varied from this by itself offering scholarships for students to work on the library's own collections.

As for other information sources, it was clear that there was no consistent level of support across the university libraries for developing other resource alternatives, links with extra-mural bodies, exchange programmes or providing other financial support. Where this did occur it was usually of an ad hoc nature. In one university library this took the form of offering to match, in specific instances, funding for new course materials. Besides financial support, this library was also involved in developing other resource alternatives through its involvement in the university's plan to build consortium arrangements in overseas markets. This was replicated in another university library which tried to ensure that hardware and software purchased by the library was being matched by departments. A third library was also trying to offer financial support by developing small resource centres that could be used for multi-media study. Beyond this, one library held information on extra-mural bodies while two others provided HoDs with information on extra-mural bodies when this was requested or when they came across information that seemed potentially useful. Finally, one university librarian suggested that the library held information that could be used by HoDs for developing exchange programmes. This consisted of information on such things as European initiatives like the Erasmus and Tempus schemes.

8.5 Results of E-mail Questionnaire

The returns from the librarians who completed the e-mail questionnaire on the provision of management information by their libraries to HoDs were similar to the results of the interviews summarised above. Of the six librarians who responded, four did not provide any management information to HoDs nor did they intend to do so in the future. The other two librarians did offer management information to HoDs but only in relation to the library. One of them provided detailed budgetary and usage information which was welcomed by the HoDs. So, too, was the support given by the library for academic reviews and research assessment exercises. Such support was not delivered as part of a university-wide information strategy. However, the librarian suggested that this was beginning to happen as the academic planning office was co-ordinating the way information from across the university was being presented to users. The other librarian also offered HoDs information to help with academic reviews and gave regular budgetary information on commitment and expenditure. Again, this information was not part of an overall information strategy in the university, although the librarian thought that when the library was formally converged with computing and the audio-visual department there might be a greater call for this service to provide management information for HoDs.

8.6 Summary

In general, what the interviews and the responses to e-mail questionnaire show is that within universities there is very little information support for HoDs from the library - regardless of how the university was constituted, or its specific history, status or size.

None of the sixteen librarians interviewed, regardless of the degree of convergence, size or status of their libraries, felt that they had any significant role to play in meeting the information needs of HoDs, principally because they believed this was the responsibility of other services within their university. One librarian, in a large, well-established research-oriented university, felt that providing management information to HoDs "...just isn't my function and in a large and complex institution it can't be the library's function". According to the librarians, this was a view shared by their university as a whole. As a librarian in a newer university put it, management information was provided by central services since "... in large institutions like this by and large the Vice-Chancellor has set up quite elaborate structures to provide Heads with data and it is increasingly something that has to be handled as part of the institution's corporate activities".

Another librarian suggested that HoDs themselves did not see it as one of the library's functions to supply them with management information. Instead, the library was there to " undergraduate and research activity rather than the management and administration of the institution", a view shared by all the librarians interviewed. Despite the urge to concentrate services in order to satisfy institutional needs, none of the librarians had any desire to concentrate services to suit HoDs. For six librarians, five of whom worked in newer universities, this was due to the student-centred nature of their services. One said: "Where our interest lies and where our concerns exist is not with the academic staff but .... our concern is about lack of information and services to students". Four librarians suggested that because the role of a HoD was becoming more of a managerial one this was further distancing HoDs from the kinds of services that the library provided. This further lessened the ties between the library and the HoD. As one put it:

I think that they are actually some of the lowest users that we have. That may be something to do with the fact that if you were to say to them do you think that the balance in your life between being an academic manager and an academic leader is right they would say 'No, I spend all of my time being a manager and I have almost no time left to be an academic leader.

Four other librarians wondered about the feasibility of providing management information, given current resource constraints. Under difficult financial pressure, the librarians reasoned, it was foolish to try to extend teaching, learning and research support into management support. For one librarian, such an approach could leave the library open to attack: "If we run something on our own initiative there is a danger that it would be perceived as looking around for something to do and having spare resources to do it".

However, one of the librarians, while feeling that none of the library's services was specifically targeted at HoDs, did see a role for the library in supplying management information to them. Primarily, this was because this particular librarian was responsible for both computing and library services. This entailed responsibility for ensuring that any management information put on the local network was in a form that could be understood and appreciated by users such as HoDs. Given resource pressures and the perceived managerial naiveté of HoDs, this was proving difficult to do. The librarian found that, in the short to medium term,

"...what I am having to manage is a process of getting them to understand why we can't always provide what they want". However, this librarian hoped that, by listening to users, having a management services team, and supplying a networked personal computer to HoDs and administrators, it would be possible to provide management information " a summary form that makes it easy for people to use".

This management information support, as the librarian confirmed, was unusual amongst university libraries: "I would not have thought that libraries, where they are still separate libraries, do very much in general. It is not the sort of material they have, partly because they may not offer that much of a proactive service". Such support could perhaps serve as a model for other libraries but, as has been shown, there was no desire amongst the librarians, generally, to extend their services much beyond management information in relation to the library itself or to support HoDs as anything other than teachers and researchers. In general, the best that they believed they could do was back up the management information support provided by the central administrative services. It was the role of such services as the industrial liaison office, the finance department and the Registrar's Office to attend to the information needs of HoDs. To attempt seriously to provide a wider information service to HoDs was to go beyond the mission of the library, its resources, and have faith in what one librarian interviewed called the "...sick, selfish, ignorant and conservative". One wonders what the Heads in his institution thought of him.

Front Page Contents Chapter 9

The Management Information Needs of Academic Heads of Department in Universities: a Critical Success Factors Approach, by Francis Greene, Brendan Loughridge and Tom Wilson
British Library Research and Development Department Report 6252 1996
Grant no: RDD/G/254