Ithaka S+R is launching a new research project to examine how organizational structure affects the academic library’s capacity for effective decision-making on major strategic issues. My interest in this topic draws from Ithaka S+R’s experiences helping more than 75 academic libraries survey their own faculty members and students as well as our other library consultations. Through these projects, it is clear that some libraries are better positioned to act on the research they conduct and the evidence they gather than are others. I have come to wonder what role cultural and structural dynamics play in this dynamic.

“Major strategic issues” may seem like a curious category.  It is meant to encompass some of the largest systematic issues facing academic libraries today. Recognizing that these issues vary to some degree from library to library, I expect we will address common issues such as:

  • The provision and preservation of collections in an increasingly digital environment
  • The digital infrastructure and systems that support operations and users, from collections, to access, to discovery
  • The services needed by STEM fields
  • Building and sustaining collaborations and partnerships

Many libraries have an uneven experience in defining their major strategic issues, let alone making effective decisions about how to move forward on them. In this project, we will tackle how organizational structure contributes to, and limits, effective organizational decision-making.

Organizational structure is too often represented by nothing more than the hierarchical “org chart.” Libraries manage across and around these official structures through the use of committees, task forces, working groups, and other vehicles, which are no less important than the hierarchical structure. This project will also give attention to the other forms of influence and social networks, both inside and beyond the library, that touch on its decision-making.

The research for this project will consist of interviews with current and recently retired library directors from academic libraries, which will provide one important perspective on these issues. I expect to complete research in September and to publish findings in the fall.  I welcome advice and pointers on these topics as we conduct this project.