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portal: Libraries and the Academy 2.4 (2002) 665-669
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Research: Theory and Applications
Impact of Organizational Learning
M. Sue Baughman and Neal K. Kaske
Libraries must take seriously the responsibility for the learning and education of staff. It is essential to assess the contributions of library staff as individual service providers, of library staff as members of teams, and of the library as an organizational unit. 1 Working in teams, making decisions based on data, solving problems in a shared leadership environment, and shifting accountability to the front lines are a few of the changes libraries are experiencing. Library staff should develop the knowledge and skills to strengthen their ability to meet the needs of the changing organization and to provide quality customer service in ever-changing technological and cultural environments.
All libraries that strive to improve service to customers face the issue of the effectiveness of staff development programs. Library administrators need to understand the issues clearly, develop appropriate strategies to effect change, and to evaluate the effectiveness of these strategies and their impact on library staff's ability to provide quality service. The lack of attention to this issue indicates that library administrators do not fully understand the ramifications of not developing an evaluation process for staff training programs. In the authors' view, this means that training is conducted in a vacuum, or that training is performed for the wrong skill or knowledge base.
This paper seeks to present the argument that staff training is critical to the success of any library organization. And just as important is the evaluation of this training and the influence it has on the organization and the library staff's ability to provide quality customer service.
Definition of the Problem
Many library organizations have ongoing training programs for staff at all levels and conduct evaluations of the individual sessions for content and delivery. However, very few libraries conduct any type of formal evaluation of the impact it has on the organization. Therefore, libraries have no real idea whether their staff training programs are contributing to the improvement of services to their customers. [End Page 665]
Much has been written about the process of organizational change and some literature treats models for organizational learning. While it is not our intent to review this body of literature in this short idea-sharing paper, the authors would like to mention a very recent review article by Ranna Lipshitz, Micha Popper, and Victor J. Friedman, because their model is somewhat realistic and complete.2 Their model of organizational learning notes the following facets: structural, cultural, psychological, policy, and contextual. They state that organizational learning takes place when there are "roles, functions, and procedures that enable organizational members to systematically collect, analyze, store, disseminate, and use information relevant to their own and other member's performance." 3 They say this takes place due to organizational learning mechanisms which they define as activities where "members interact for the purpose of learning" or cognitive processes. 4 "Individual learning produces individual insights and changes in habits, skills and action. Organizational learning produces changes in norms, doctrines, standard operating procedures, structures and cultures." 5 For those wishing to become acquainted with the literature, this article is a good place to start.
The UM Libraries Framework
The University of Maryland Libraries are committed to becoming a team-based learning organization. In response to the changing needs of the University and the changing information needs of faculty, students, and staff, the Libraries renewed and are transforming their commitment to quality service. The Libraries have begun a systemic change process with the emphasis on the development of staff to improve the organization's performance. There are six emerging principles shaping this change process:
- Valuing the importance of learning and education that will lead to improved
service to customers,
- Assessing and improving work processes through process re-engineering,
- Forming self-managing teams,
- Attempting to flatten the hierarchy in order to foster shared decision-making
and accountability among all library staff,
- Developing a shared leadership by strengthening the...