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Volume 12 No. 6 • September 1998
On the Path Toward a Proactive Library
by Allyson N. Nolan

Going beyond the minimum level and visualizing the steps from idea to actualization is one of the capabilities of the entrepreneur. Vision and action have to be combined in order to make things happen.

— Donald E. Riggs, 1989

The U.S. Army Soldier Systems Command (SSCOM) Technical Library's mission is to support all research, development, and engineering activities by employing all information resources available. The overall mission of the command is to research, develop, and engineer state-of-the-art items used by soldiers during war and peacetime. This includes items such as tents, backpacks, clothing engineered for all environments, mobile units for facilities and food service, and Meals Ready to Eat (MRE). Researchers investigate the possible biological, psychological, and medical situations that soldiers might encounter during their assignments.

To successfully support SSCOM's missions, the Technical Library's collection must reflect its varying needs. In order to amply cover the expanse of our topics, the library would have to subscribe to journals costing more than $500,000 per year. Updating the reference and monograph collection would be an additional $250,000. Unfortunately, this is not possible and will not even be considered as an option.

Many libraries, whether special, corporate, private, or public, are facing a similar scenario: "Do more with less and less and less." I decided to take this situation and change it to the library's benefit. I feel that if we information professionals do not make the first move to change our own situations, they will be changed for us by people who have no idea how libraries are managed. So before someone who does not even care about our work is asked to cut funds for us, we'd better become entrepreneurs and do it ourselves. Let's face it: By the time we educate the finance and management people so they understand the methodology and theory of why libraries function the way they do, we may be closed.

Envisioning transition is difficult. Just as a work of art is seldom completed in an afternoon, neither is a library reinvented in a day.

Starting Down the Path

This article will provide you with specific steps toward innovation. The best part about it is that it fits the librarian lifestyle: You'll be able to read a section, then put the article down to do something else, then pick it up again later.

These ideas are very general, so most individual libraries will be able to apply them to their own situations. Not all parts will work for all libraries, but it's a start. The aim of this article is to guide you through the process that we used here at SSCOM's Technical Library to take control and to change the library's future to reflect a proactive environment for the staff and customers.

There are a few terms that you should keep in mind while reading this. I like to call them "50-cent words"—Reengineering, Reinvention, Innovation, and Entrepreneurial. All four of these terms are associated with change. They may not always indicate a totally new change; sometimes they may just mean looking into an old bag to find a new trick.

These ideas will involve using some money, so be prepared to make a presentation on the benefits of an investment, because you will need to get some backing from users and management.

Step 1: Benchmarking Your Library for Services and Functions

When reengineering current end-user services, begin with benchmarking. Evaluate the services that are now available to the users and answer these questions:

Step 2: Developing a Team of Professionals and Customers

At SSCOM, we developed a team to redefine the library's role as positive and proactive. One thing we did was to list services and note how much time we spent on each task. It was important to brainstorm to focus on what services are essential and which of the top essential services needed the most attention. Some of the topics we addressed were:

Step 3: Changing the Environment

Your physical environment should entice users; this offers an extra marketing advantage. Make sure your library is an inviting place.

Step 4: Implementing a Plan for an Integrated Library System

If you don't already have an electronic system that allows information to be delivered to the users' desktops, you should think about getting one. It's not a simple task, but it will add value to your services!

Step 5: Marketing to Outsiders

Here is one example of how we changed our thinking: Instead of concentrating on what we did not have, we looked at what we did have that others would pay money to get. A library is traditionally high maintenance. As a support function, it is seen as a possible target for cutting costs. A library is also essential, particularly if research is involved in the organization's mission. Many small companies cannot afford libraries and find that their researchers are traveling around attempting to find satisfactory research libraries in which to do their work. We developed a marketing plan between the L-PAT and the library staff to try to sell some services to outsiders to subsidize our costs and to become increasingly self-sufficient.

You Must Take Many Steps Before You Reach the End of the Path

There are many milestones that you'll need to reach before these plans can fully come together:

Being an innovator is not limited to managers, team leaders, and supervisors. A risk-taker is any individual who takes a current situation that is producing marginal results and envisions a better alternative. For example, I didn't wait until I became the director here before I started enacting change. During the time I spent as a reference librarian, I instituted the use of OCLC's FirstSearch as an end-user-searching tool. It was a system that enabled the users to search at their desktops, and it was new for U.S. Army Soldier Systems Command, Natick Research, Development and Engineering Center, and equally new to OCLC. As FirstSearch grew, so did Technical Library's usage figures, end-user services, and general library use. The only thing that decreased was the amount spent on other search engines that were used for more sophisticated searches. In its beginnings, FirstSearch was continually improving, which enabled our library to offer more services, such as searching economically, ordering full-text articles, verifying interlibrary loan requests, and using FirstSearch ILL Link. The ILL Link saved verification time, eliminated paperwork for customers, and gave the library staff time to process additional requests.

The lesson here is this: As soon as people say, "It can't be done," they have already put themselves in the back of the pack. In order to be part of the team, contributing ideas and driving your own career, you need to be in the front of the pack. In the back, you're depriving yourself the panoramic view of what is available and the possible bumps, turns, and milestones ahead. If you are leading and take a wrong fork, don't worry—the library team (if they are doing their job) will not let you go too far before putting you back on the right path. The team is the check-and-balance part of the system in any sound decision-making process.

To further assist you on your path to innovation, I've divided the bibliography into sections that work along with the steps, so that if you want more information and/or other ideas, you can do more research on your own. There are many references that can fall under these steps—this is just a sampling. If you find another super reference, please send me e-mail.

One of the keys to changing a library is to start the process. There are many reasons to resist implementing change in libraries—not the least of which are the difficulty and pain.

— Donald E. Riggs, 1997

Allyson N. Nolan is director of library services for U.S. Army Soldier Systems Command at the Natick Research, Development and Engineering Center in Natick, Massachusetts, and has been there in various positions for 12 years. Nolan has a degree from Simmons College, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, and she is currently working on a Doctorate in Science in Managing Engineering and Technology at Southern California University. Her e-mail address is


Step 1: Benchmarking

Matarazzo, James M; and Miriam A. Drake, eds. Information for Management: A Handbook. Washington, DC: Special Libraries Association, 1994.

Muir, Holly J., Collecting & Analyzing Benchmarking Data: A Librarians Guide. Universal City, TX: Library Benchmarking International, 1994.

Muir, Holly J., Conducting a Preliminary Benchmarking Analysis: A Librarians Guide. Universal City, TX: Library Benchmarking International, 1993.

Muir, Holly J., Developing Benchmarking Metrics: A Librarians Guide. Universal City, TX: Library Benchmarking International, 1993.

Muir, Holly J., Presenting Benchmarking Results: A Librarians Guide. Universal City, TX: Library Benchmarking International, 1994.

St. Clair, Guy. Entrepreneurial Librarian: The Key to Effective Information Services Management. London: Bower-Saur, 1996.

Step 2: Developing a Team

Jain, R. K.; and H. C. Triandis, Management of Research and Development Organizations. Managing the Unmanageable, 2d ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1997.

Kouzes, James M; and Barry Z. Posner. The Leadership Challenge: How to Get Extraordinary Things Done in Organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1987.

McIntosh-Fletcher, Donna. Teaming by Design: Real Teams for Real People. Chicago: Irwin Professional Publishing, 1995.

Wall, Bob; Robert S. Solum; and Mark R. Sobol. The Visionary Leader: From Mission Statement To a Thriving Organization, Here's Your Blue Print for Building an Inspired Cohesive, Customer-Oriented Team. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1992.

Step 3: Changing the Environment

Curzon, Susan C., A How-To-Do-It Manual for Planning, Implementing and Evaluating Change in Libraries: Managing Change. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc. 1989.

Walters, Suzanne, A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians: Customer Service. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc. 1993.

Walters, Suzanne, A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians: Marketing. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc. 1994.

Step 4: Implementing an IOLS Plan

Breeding, Marshall, Integrated Library Systems for PCs and PC Networks: Descriptive and Analytical Reviews of the Current Products. Medford, NJ: Information Today, lnc. 1996.

Cabeceiras, James, The Multimedia Library Materials Selection and Use. 3rd ed. Academic Press, New York. 1991.

Maguire, Carmel; Edward J. Kazlauska; and Anthony D. Weir. Information Services for Innovative Organizations. Academic Press, New York. 1994.

Step 5: Marketing to Outsiders

Walters, Suzanne, A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians: Marketing. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc. 1994.

Additional Reading

Besant, Larry X. "Transformational Librarians and Entrepreneurial Librarians: Are They Different?" Special Libraries 84 (Fall 1993): 218-19.

Ojala, Marydee. "Core Competencies for Special Library Managers of the Future." Special Libraries 84 (Fall 1993): 230-34.

Riggs, Donald E. "What's in Store for Academic Libraries? Leadership and Management Issues." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 23 (Jan 1997) p. 3-8.

Riggs, Donald E. "Making Creative, Innovative, and Entrepreneurial Things Happen in the Special Library." Journal of Library Administration, 10 (2/3), 1989.

Information Today, Inc. MLS: Marketing Library Services.

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