APL Case

Marcus Allen sat at his desk with a worried look on his face. When he accepted the job as the library’s new Director, Marcus was told the circumstances of his predecessor’s departure, but he did not fully comprehend the gravity of the situation. During his first meeting with the library’s Assistant Director, Jennifer Walker, he fully began to comprehend how difficult it would be to reverse the decline of this library. Marcus stared outside his office window watching the snow descend from the gray sky pondering what actions he should take in order to ensure the library’s future. He knew that this library had the potential to be a model for other libraries within the state. However, before this vision could be realized, Marcus would have to deal with several issues including: healing wounds caused by the prior director, reversing a nine year trend of declining circulation, and renovating an old building that is ill suited for use as a library.

Situational Background

The APL is a city library located in a small city in the Northeast portion of the United States. The library, which was founded in 1833, consists of the main branch located just outside of the city’s downtown corridor, and four smaller branches. In 1977 the library moved its headquarters from its original building to a new location up the street in order to meet increasing demand for space. Right from the start the new building was not ideal for a library. The building, for example, has low ceilings and the space was spread over four floors including a basement. The new building also lacked the ambiance desired for a public library. In addition to housing the main branch of the library the building is also home for the State Library Association.

The majority of the funding for the library system comes from the mayor’s office. Marcus is concerned that if he is not able to quickly reverse the downward trend of the library’s circulation, the mayor may cut his budget. Increasing circulation will not be easy to do right away several reasons. Usage of the main branch of the library has decreased as city’s population has steadily moved to the suburban areas. Since the economy is very good many potential patrons are purchasing books. The area has a large Barnes and Nobles and a Boarders Books. While driving around the area, Marcus noticed that the parking lots of both bookstores were quite full.

Marcus also believes that the advent of Internet shopping poses another challenge in increasing the library’s circulation. Amazon.com and other Internet booksellers offer customers the convenience they are seeking at discounted prices. Internet booksellers are realizing increases in sales as some people find it is easier to shop on the Internet than to visit local stores. Busy library patrons may choose the convenience of shopping rather than making two trips to the library.

The Library’s Organizational Structure

The mayor appoints five board members that act in an advisory capacity and are also responsible for firing/hiring the library’s Director. In addition to the Board of Directors, the library also has an auxiliary group called Friends of the Library. Historically this group has been responsible for developing programming for the library including guest speakers. While this group fund raises, the funds are used for programming and none of the proceeds go to the library.

The library employs over seventy-five professionals and para-professionals, the majority of whom have Master of Library Science (MLS) degree. Most of the remaining employees have a Bachelors degrees in a related field.

The library’s branches serve local neighborhood constituencies that range from the city’s poorest to the city’s upper class. Like the populations they serve the buildings also differ a great deal. For example, one library is housed in an elementary school, while another is located in costly retail space in a shopping center. One problem with the branches is their location. The branch locations do not serve a number of potential customers who live at the fringes of the city. While most everyone agrees that the location of the branches needs to be rethought, Marcus is aware that moving branches will not be popular with the patrons who live near the branches that would be closed, even though they could be served by another branch that is not much further away. However, in order to dramatically increase the library's circulation, Marcus realizes that he must provide convenient branch locations to under served areas of the city.

Despite the problems caused by the old director, turnover has been quite low. A number of employees have over ten years of service. While overall morale of the employees is quite low, most of them are still dedicated to serving the public. Because of the low turnover, many of the employees lack training in electronic technology. It is felt by the Director that many of his full-time employees are unwilling to update their skills.

When problems became unbearable for the staff a union was formed. Unlike most union shops, the managers were responsible for starting the union. Currently, the union represents both managers and full-time employees, which is a potential source of problems, because the managers are responsible for evaluating and disciplining the employees. Many of the managers are unsure that the union has a role for them since the threat posed by the old Director is no longer there.

Industry/Environment

Although the general role of libraries has not changed much over the past 100 years, the way in which they fulfill their missions have. The role that electronic information systems play in libraries is increasing. During the past five years, for example, the use of personal computers by patrons has escalated dramatically. Many resources such as daily newspapers, company reports, and other reference materials that were only available on paper are now being offered in electronic form via CD ROM and the Internet. Today, many libraries around the country are providing patrons with access to electronic information and software. Many patrons who make use of the library’s computers do not have access at home.

The advent of life long learning and other socio-cultural changes provides libraries with a host of opportunities. Libraries are in the position to provide their patrons with a wealth of information on diverse topics such as careers, resume writing, community life, and retirement planning. The aging population, for example, has more leisure time to read. Many retired people on a budget use the library instead of paying for books. On the other hand, despite of an increase in the number of parents reading to their children, the advent of the two income families make it difficult for parents to find time to visit local libraries.

As the wealthier more educated population of large and small cities moves to the suburbs, libraries have had to not only change to meet new demand outside of the city, but also deal with changing demographics within the city. City populations have been growing increasingly ethnically diverse, economically challenged, and less educated. Once a haven for young children, some city libraries have become hangouts for the homeless chasing away the few children remaining in the area. Marcus is unsure of how to deal with this problem.

An another phenomenon is the impact technology has had on libraries. Access to the electronic information has lowered the cost of providing some services to constitutions as well as helping reference librarians provide more up-to-date information. However, the Internet has also become a competitor of the library. For those who have access to the Internet at home, researching a particular question is easily done without a trip to the library. The future may also bring access to books on-line. Clearly, libraries must actively think about what roles they will play in the future.

The nation’s overall strong economy may also be hurting libraries to a degree. Not only are people ordering books over the Internet, but also traditionally libraries have served as an important source for the job hunter. For instance, most libraries have job postings, books on resume writing, and other materials job seeks need. Fewer patrons are using libraries for this purpose as companies are seeking out employees. The Intranet also impacts the library in this area, since it provides a variety of information and services including the ability to post a resume.

The Organizational Dynamics

The library’s previous Director was not well liked by the employees. The library’s Board finally fired him, but not until library had deteriorated under his leadership. Under his tenor the library’s staff had formed a Union to protect themselves from his threats of firings, circulation steadily decreased, and the facilities became outdated and the facilities were allowed to deteriorate.

Although the employees were relieved that someone like Marcus was hired, they have had a hard time trusting him. For example, despite his open door policy, Marcus has not gotten the feedback he thought he would have. While Marcus has been applauded for being open to new ideas and change, the employees have not made it easy for Marcus to implement change.

Marcus Allen

Marcus Allen was born in the Northeast and was excited at the prospect of bringing his wife back to the northeast. He earned a MLS at a university that has a prestigious information science program. Marcus got his start in libraries as a bookmobile librarian. He believes that bookmobiles bring books to undeserved populations. The Board at the current library hired him because of his impressive record for raising funding as well as increasing circulation at the last library he served as Director.

Conclusion

Marcus has realized that the task of turning around the library is too large for him and his Assistant Director to address on their own. He has decided to go outside the organization for help. Your consulting company has been hired to assist and advise Marcus with transforming the library into one of the best in the state. From your first meeting with Marcus and Cathy (Assistant Director) you realize that that the two have their work cut out for them before they can begin to think about Marcus's overall goal. You will be making a presentation to Marcus and Cathy next week on what you see are the library’s major issues and how you suggest that they be resolved.