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Cultural and technological influences: an introduction.


Modern Economic Analysis in the United States considers the work force as composed of individuals with life needs which must be taken into account and not merely viewed as commodities in business equations. This leads to the inclusion of factors not related directly to agency outputs in decisions that involve the management of human resources in the workplace. The combination of changes in the culture and in the technology of the information age are seen as the chief influences in the issues of the management of human resources in the research library.

Cultural Influences

The research library is a rich setting for the study of the issues of human resource management. It brings together staffs large enough to exhibit the wide array of characteristics that must be considered in the management of human resources and the powerful pressures of the information age which are defying basic traditions in the work of librarians. Further, it operates in an environment of significant change in the mores of information behavior of its users, creating additional pressures on work flow and job descriptions in the library. In the realm of human resource administration, it challenges all who work in it - managers and employees alike.

Macro-level economic analysis discloses fundamental changes in the national work force over the years since World War II and in the values used to make decisions on how the worker is viewed. They emphasize personal rights not formerly deemed relevant to human resource management ("Big Crusade of the 80s," 1980). The commanding economic analysis in the culture of developed nations no longer considers the worker as a commodity but rather as a human being whose total life must be considered (Ginzberg, 1976, pp. 5-7). As is typical of major changes in a culture, however, more innovations in the management of people in the workplace have been proposed than have become standard practice. Nevertheless, trends in social expectations create inexorable pressures for change in human resource management. The human resource approach to economic analysis "stresses the active and responsive role of human beings in decisions that affect them, now or in the future" (Ginzberg, 1976, p. 12).

In this view, the premier considerations for an economy include work that is structured to provide opportunities for people to add to their skills and competencies, equitable rewards for similar work, and working conditions that add to the quality of life (Ginzberg, 1976, pp. 26-27; Kolodny, 1979). Our culture creates expectations that both personal and material needs are important to the quality of life.

The focus of human resource management for nearly half a century has thus been on the recognition of individual rights. While specific employee benefits may wax and wane with economic conditions, the requirements of the individual lie at the foundation of the relationship between the organization and the worker.

One of the key consequences of this cultural change is that women, seeking more satisfying personal fulfillment, have become a larger presence in the work force, and two-income families have become important in order to reap the full, and often obtain even the basic, benefits important to a "quality" life (Astin, 1984). These few and simply stated fundamentals of economic analysis are at the base of a host of issues in human resource management.

The national economy of North America requires that both women and men participate in the work force. It is vital, therefore, to accommodate the human qualities related to the roles which both sexes play in society. Such things, for example, as maternity leaves for females, health- and home-care leaves for males, flexible and adjustable hours of work to help meet family demands, and child care facilities, are strong needs which must be met if the employer wants a stable work force.

Nor is this merely an anomalous situation which will soon dissipate. It is estimated that women will constitute 64 percent of the new entrants into the work force over the next ten years in the United States. It is equally clear that labor market equity between men and women has not been achieved (Adelman, 1991, p. 1). While university classification and pay plans tend to be gender blind within classifications, it is questionable whether they provide proper relationships in pay and benefits across classification lines for similar work. This is a presumption which demands study. It remains true that more men than women achieve higher rankings in library administrative structures (Detlefsen et al., 1991).

Technical Influences

Forces attributable to the information age compel greater, longer lasting, and more basic changes in human resource requirements and management in research libraries than those wrought by perhaps any other element of our culture. The clash of the demands of the milieu of the modern information agency with those of the culture which highlights individual rights of people in the work force creates frictions between management and the worker. These frictions require ingenuity and finesse in handling.

Eleven of the top twenty-two critical technologies in the United States are in the information sector of the economy. These include such things as high performance computing and networking capabilities, data storage, intelligent processing equipment, and systems management technologies (Tolchin, 1991). Without a work force educated and trained to perform in these fields, our economy would be imperiled to the point of disaster. The requirement for higher education and greater technical skills in the information age are absolute and pervasive factors in all kinds of agencies and at all levels of work.

An immediate consequence of the growth of the information sector of the economy is the need for educational programs aimed at creating and sustaining a work force more highly skilled than ever before. This applies to both the professional and the technical segments of the work force (Enzer, 1986). Shortages already exist in the pool of talents in the work force - so much so that the federal government has modified immigration laws to increase the number of skilled people allowed to enter the country (Pear, 1990).

The demand is so great that many of the larger corporations are investing in educational programs designed to upgrade the level of competency of the work force. IBM, for example, has spent over $50 million a year on training centers that have turned out as many as 25,000 graduates a year (Gergen, 1989). The executives of a number of large corporations are on a crusade to improve education, driven by the specter of "a soup-kitchen work force for the post-industrial economy" (Autry, 1991, p. F11). The employers of temporary office help, recognizing the need to fine tune personal skills in automation tasks, have developed tests to help applicants determine the directions they must take to improve their skills (Burnson, 1990).

Obviously, entry level educational programs for librarians and information specialists should be changing. It is difficult, however, to imagine that any single discipline can meet the educational requirements for all jobs in research libraries. At least a limited number of job opportunities exist in these libraries for people educated in information disciplines other than librarianship. Pressures from demand in the marketplace for information professionals create the potential for inequities in salaries and other benefits between librarians and persons with skills in the so-called high technologies. To the extent that research libraries need to recruit these people, they will face problems in dealing with existing staff. Career opportunities in research agencies, such as universities, for people with these skills are perhaps more varied than for librarians, invoking an aura of elitism among them which can be offensive to the library staffs amidst whom they work.

Among other things, employers find it imperative to build commitments to education and training into the chores of the normal workplace. Information handling technologies are changing so rapidly that opportunities for upgrading skills and knowledge must be provided for even the already technically capable staff members. Specialties in information work are so complex that it is questionable whether there can be anything like a "generic" librarian. It has become quite normal to find research libraries offering their employees short courses in the use of microcomputers and relevant software, for the improvement of skills in general, and to improve their performance on the job. Even without formal on-the-job education and training programs, one of the hallmarks of a "professional" is the ability to continue to learn through self education. Whether time can be provided for self education or is to be required for advancement on the job are issues for deliberation.

One of the.key problems in human resource management in the research environment is the ever-broadening gap in educational, experiential, and training requirements between those who are needed in library administration and those in high level technical performance. The complexities in the operation of the modern information agencies are such that exceptional but different skills are required for top-level administration and for systems design and operation. This has long been true to some extent, but the sophistication of the modern information environment makes this a much more important factor than ever before. This creates additional stress on the continuing education required for professional growth and on the administration of classification and pay plans for research library staff members.

The spectacular innovations in information technology foster change in library operations, organization, and management. They bring new problems and pressures on human resource management. And, in some cases, they offer solutions, albeit of ten resisted for their defiance of tradition. Health problems, which are speculated to be related to computer work, are constantly being examined but with confusing conclusions ("Preventive Medicine," 1990; Schnorr, 1991; Walters, 1991). Potential is created with the use of computing and telecommunications technologies for work to be performed off-site. Telecommuting, as it is often called, has made very limited inroads in society, but the prospect is always present (Cross & Raizman, 1986). Little study has been undertaken to determine what kinds of library work, and how much, can be done off-site. If nothing else, online capabilities on campus networks offer opportunities to change the working conditions and workplaces of many employees on campus. One of the key questions in both the commercial and the university setting is how to deal with the traditional thought that supervision of staff members can only be performed in-house.

The number of issues of human resource management raised by the information age seems endless. Home computers, FAX machines, paging devices, and cellular telephones have extended the office and the working hours of many people. Executives, particularly, now work as much as 20 percent longer than they did a decade ago (Kilborn, 1990). The examination of transactions in computerized work allows systems designers more easily to spot flaws in the design of processing techniques, but it also raises the specter of supervisors monitoring individual performance to the point of invasion of privacy (Kilborn, 1991).

Administrators expect that automation in libraries should lead to the need for a smaller staff. Productivity is increased through use of computers, but, in the academic environment, workload measures are anathema - so one cannot use the argument made in commerce that the cost of computer/communications technology is worth the investment. Rather than reduce staff size because of automation, libraries have offered more services and reduced the time to perform many tasks which formerly were backlogged. Computer processing allows for varied distribution of library tasks, dispersing many to branches - eliminating others. Work which was hitherto jealously guarded as the province of only professional librarians has shifted to paraprofessionals in many parts of the field.

Top-level research campus administrators are faced with the complexities of the blurring of the boundaries among information functions when making decisions on campus organization and the selection of department heads. The research library is only one of a number of units on the university campus whose primary goal is the management of information processes. Varied patterns of organization for administration of the information functions of the campus have emerged, giving primacy in some cases to the technology of information management and in others to the missions to be performed (Woodsworth, 1991). Neff (1985) makes a strong argument for the merging of library and computing systems. West and Katz (1990) present a logical matrix for the allocation of responsibilities for some of the work in a large and complex university system. Quite obviously, the patterns reflect local influences and the agenda of chief campus administrators.

The mixing of information professionals on a campus can have a profound impact on the structure of classification and pay plans involving librarians, systems designers, technical experts, and other related professionals. The pressure of new developments in technology and the resulting changes in job content and the need to consider the social setting of the worker have led to the establishment of new concepts in the design of workplaces and jobs (Kolodny, 1990). There is little evidence that new technology has led to any orderly job design concepts in libraries, however.

The changes in organizational structures and job content in hitherto tradition bound agencies are not the only stress producing events on the university campus. The use of new equipment must be learned. New technologies suggest new ways of working. People from different disciplines, not just librarianship, can perform vital tasks in libraries. All of these things challenge "rights" - to jobs, to styles of work, to control of changes, to salaries and wages, and to the places and conditions of work. Anxiety and signs of panic and stress among the staff of the research library are to be expected. A failure to heed them in the management of human resources can be catastrophic. In the words of Tom Peters (1990): "The work force is indisputably our principal asset" (p. 127). As will be evident in the articles which follow in this issue of Library Trends, research libraries are well aware of these and other elements of human resource administration.


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Title Annotation:Managing Human Resources in Research Libraries
Author:Shank, Russell
Publication:Library Trends
Date:Sep 22, 1992
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