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Collaborative Effort Drives Tech Services Reorg

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A staff member works in the lower level of HCL Technical Services. The area was renovated as part of the recent reorganization of the unit.

 

June 21, 2010 - More than a year in the planning, the recent restructuring of Harvard College Library Technical Services (HCLTS) promises to streamline workflows throughout the unit, reducing the handling of library materials, speeding the transition from acquisition to shelf, and increasing original cataloging output.

As part of the reorganization, HCLTS in May transitioned from a language-based division structure to one based on function, a change designed to make the unit more flexible and responsive to the changing needs of the University and the Library. The new structure divides the unit into three sections – a Monographic section, an Electronic Resources, Serials and Government Documents section and an Administrative and Technology Support team.

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The reorganization was prompted, HCL Technical Services Director Michelle Durocher said, by changes that required the unit’s various language divisions to work in an integrated way. With each division employing different policies and procedures, however, such collaborative work was all but impossible. The reorganized department will share a common set of procedures, allowing increased efficiency and flexibility across the entire unit.

“It was not serving us to have so many independent, parallel entities that were not working collaboratively,” Durocher said. “Our new structure has many of the same functional elements that our old structure did – we still have the same work to do, and we are responsible for the same outcomes, but we’re now doing that work in a more coordinated fashion.”

But before the reorganization could go forward, Durocher emphasized, staff throughout HCLTS spent more than a year studying and planning for the restructuring work.

The process that led to last month’s reorganization began with a fall 2008 strategic planning retreat, where HCLTS managers articulated a handful of obstacles facing the department, and began sketching out a series of goals the unit should try to meet. Armed with those goals and a set of guiding principles, managers in March 2009 launched the reorganization process with an all-staff meeting.

“At that meeting, we shared our goals for a new organization,” Durocher said. “We made it clear, however, that we didn’t have a specific structure in mind – we simply laid out what the goals and principles. We said, ‘Let’s work together to develop a structure that will meet those goals.’”

Over the next several months, staff from throughout the unit created and served on a handful of discovery groups, which gathered data about the work of the unit. Armed with that data, a dozen working groups were formed to study all aspects of Technical Services’ work, and to make recommendations on how the unit’s structure could be reorganized. Managers reviewed the working groups’ recommendations in August and September 2009, Durocher said.

“As we evaluated the working groups’ recommendations, we released reports describing why we did or didn’t adopt each recommendation,” Durocher said. “We wanted to make sure all Technical Services staff understood the basis we were using to develop this new structure. When we were done, we looked at the recommendations and said, ‘What do these proposals tell us about how we need to work together?’ The function-based structure wasn’t specifically articulated, but instead grew out of the recommendations, which described our need to work together in a more collaborative way.”

Despite the extensive planning effort that led up to the reorganization, for many staff members, Durocher said, the change was fraught with apprehension, as they changed jobs, supervisors, and desks.

“For some staff, the feeling was, and still is, ‘Yikes, how is this going to shake out?’” she said. “We have tried to allay those fears by being as open as possible throughout the process, and by including staff at all levels. This reorganization was not driven solely by administrators, but has included managers as well as exempt and non-exempt staff members – we want to make sure everyone’s voice has been heard.”

Among HCL TS staff, that openness didn’t go unnoticed.

“I think there is always a little anxiety about change, no matter how you cut it,” said Technical Services Library Assistant Pamela Rowe. “But from the beginning the message was, ‘We want your input, and we want you to be involved.’ I participated in one of the groups, and learned a great deal in the process – it was important that I had at least some feel for what was going on. I believe it helped for staff to receive communication at regular intervals.”

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The Binding and Shelf Preparation unit occupies space that was once filled with materials waiting to be cataloged.

“I am very excited about the reorganization; there was a lot of inclusion in the planning process, which was crucial, pooling our knowledge in a way we’ve never been able to before.” said Jane Eichkern, one of three managers for Metadata & Cataloging.

“Change, at first, is chaotic, and people feel good and bad by turns,” Eichkern continued. “Over time, I think, that anxiety will fade; but, this change is so broad and sweeping that it will take a while for everything to fall into place. Fortunately, there was a promise from the beginning to remain experimental after the reorganization, to be able to change things as we go forward, to recognize what is going right, what might go better and respond to the reality engendered by this change. Meanwhile, the process itself has been exciting and invigorating”.

For Technology Strategist and Reporting Librarian Danielle Adams, the reorganization offered the chance to take a fresh look at the work of Technical Services.

“It was exciting to take a new look at how we did our work here, and to see if we could bring a different focus to that,” she said. “In particular, I was eager to see if there was a way we could make technology more of an integrated part of the unit, to have it become part of the culture here.”

The result was the creation of the four-person Administrative and Technology Support team. The team works collectively to support a variety of technology initiatives, from the development of macros to developing and supporting the unit’s Web site, work that had previously been handled on an ad-hoc basis. Team members also serve as liaisons to OIS and HCL ITS on development of new products and software/hardware needs.

“We did many of those things before the reorganization, but we all reported to different people, and our collaboration was not formalized,” Adams said. “The reorganization creates an administrative structure that allows us to coordinate our efforts.”

“When the process started, there were a lot of opportunities for staff to take part,” Technical Services Librarian Minna Popkin said. “Not everyone took those opportunities, but I found that was a very useful process, particularly the working groups. The process gave us the impetus to revisit many aspects of our work, many of which needed to be re-evaluated, regardless of the reorganization.”

“I think the encouraging thing is that people have been heard, and I hope that’s a note that keeps sounding as this process goes forward,” said Administrative Coordinator Murray Barsky.

Going forward, Durocher believes the key to keeping staff invested in the reorganization will be to follow through on the promises made throughout the planning process. Among the most important of those promises, she said, is the commitment to providing training to staff as they take on new jobs and responsibilities.

Administrators are already making good on their training commitment. After working with experienced catalogers to standardize the curriculum, Eichkern led a copy-cataloging training for approximately 40 staff, including eight who had no experience in the job, who will receive ongoing support as part of the training effort. In the coming months, staff will also receive additional cataloging training for advanced topics and many will receive acquisitions training.

“We want employees to understand that everyone has a place,” Durocher said. “We will make sure they are thoroughly trained and they feel comfortable and can master their new areas of responsibility before we begin to measure performance on those things.”

Technical Services staff should be commended, Durocher said, for maintaining extremely heavy workloads throughout the process.

“The thing I’m really proud of is that we did all this while keeping our work going,” she said. “This was a very challenging year, and we’re ending the fiscal year now having no ordering backlog, very smaller backlog in receiving than we’ve ever had, and no cataloging backlog. That alone is an enormous achievement, but to have reorganized the department as well is an enormous accomplishment. Clearly we’re not done yet, but where we are is very impressive. The patience, good will and engagement of the staff has made this possible.  That constructive attitude will also be critical in the coming year as we work to fully realize the vision that we outlined at the start of the reorganization.”