Category Archives: silos

Department Silos II or Why You Need a New Workspace

I wrote about department silos a while ago.  I have long felt that departmental silos dampen the innovation of libraries.  In my new role I find myself examining space a LOT.  A recent HBR post has confirmed my feelings.  They state

Collaboration is the way we work now. In a 2008 BusinessWeek study of white-collar professionals, 82% reported they needed to partner with others throughout the day to get their work done. That means people don’t just work together in meeting and conference rooms anymore. Collaboration now occurs all the time at personal desks and in hallways, or virtually via internet or smart phones, and it’s often spontaneous and informal, rather than planned in advance.

Unfortunately our legacy work environments — dominated by offices or cubes — rarely match this new reality. To effectively do so, they need to adequately accommodate three types of work: “I work,” which requires expertise, concentration and focus; “You & I work,” which involves relatively simple collaboration among two people; and “We work,” which embodies the highest level of content and context complexity, from multi-disciplinary expertise to multi-location and multi-technology platforms.

The post also provides two pieces of workplace research from Steelcase and the Gensler Design Group.  The research shows vast improvements in workplace productivity if collaborative spaces are provided for staff.  Libraries have a long history of separating tasks into departments and keeping those departments apart from each other (often through wide spatial separation).  I believe this leads to a decrease in library innovation and productivity.  I have seen library’s create powerful spaces for patrons, but I have yet to see a library create appropriate spaces for 21st century librarians.

As the Gensler report states, workplaces in the 1980s were designed around processes (many libraries are still like this); the 1990s were designed around processes + technology (spaces focused more on the technology tools) but today’s space requires processes + technology + people.  We need to move our workplace spaces to today’s requirements.  Does your metadata specialist need to be physically removed from your children’s librarian?  Does this type of space layout lead to echo chambers in your own organization?  Are you willing to try something different just to see what possibilities exist?

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Departmental Silos

For some decades libraries have operated under two general departments (or silos): technical services and public services.  This legacy organization structure may now be hindering libraries.  The division between working with the public and working behind the scenes is not as clear cut as it once was.

For example, our methods through the 1980’s and even still evident today, was system-focused, but we continue to strive for user-focused models.  If the cataloging department is cataloging items with no input from the users, how do they expect to serve their needs?  Moreover, the technology-side of technical services often deals with the public through training sessions, either one-on-one or classroom based, and with staff.

These silos served their purpose in our past, but perhaps this is not the best way to move forward.  Perhaps our “technical services” department needs to work directly with the public to see how they actually search for materials.  Perhaps the mystery of “technical services” procedures should be transparent to “public service” workers.

These silos often create a sense of competition between departments.  They also lead to turf-wars and battles they do not improve services or programs for the public.  I tell the students in my technical services class that if they think they won’t have to deal with people that they are in the wrong profession.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that we need to classify departments to make it easier to manage, but this model simply does not work anymore.  We all deal with the public in some regard, and if we don’t we should be fired.

Eight Dormant Silos

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