Change and leadership

The reform of the Universities Act in Finland has had an immense impact on leadership in libraries. Library directors are required to have a new type of leadership competence, which emphasizes financial management and change management. The focus of the library director’s work is shifting from knowledge-based leadership to professional leadership.

In the last decades, libraries have been used to operating in a continuously changing environment and as the target of many types of demands for change. One of the most significant factors changing the operational environment is, of course, the development of information technology and its impact on not only research and learning, but also on the work carried out in libraries.

In addition, other societal changes, which are reflected in reforms to legislation, strongly influence the operational prerequisites of and leadership in libraries.

A new Universities Act became effective January 1, 2010. Significant reforms included a reduction in the number of universities, changes in their judicial status from government institutions to independent legal entities, as well as changes in financing and management protocol. It was one of the greatest reforms in the history of the university institution, the aim of which was to increase the independence of universities. The purpose was also to reinforce leadership in universities.

Knowledge-based to professional

The development in universities triggered by the changes in the legal and financial status has modified the work of library directors and created new demands on competence. Knowledge-based leadership, which is based on competence in the management of the library profession, is no longer sufficient.

Nowadays, the operational environment calls for skills that are characteristic of professional leaders. The independent status of universities and the need for economic stability have led to a more extensive evaluation of operations based on financial premises than previously. For this reason, understanding the significance of economic factors has become more important in library leadership than before.

By generalizing a bit we could say that a library is no longer a self-evident part of a university; rather, like other infrastructures, it is regarded as an investment, the achieved benefit of which the university compares to the exerted contribution.

Indeed, a library director must possess the ability to follow and analyze the economy of the organization he or she manages and demonstrate that the processes and services are economically sound and efficient. He or she should also be prepared to critically examine the cost structure as well as to cost-effectively develop the organization and operational protocols.

The competences mentioned above are, however, only part of a leader’s professional skill. When changes extend to the organizational structure, processes and job duties, the leaders in the library must have the ability to carry out reforms as successfully as possible for all of those involved.

Organizational reforms usually progress gradually and have an extensive impact –  meaningful change takes years. This type of change, which seems to be constant, is demanding for both the staff and the supervisors and requires the library leaders to invest into the management of the various parts of the change. Change management is perhaps the most indispensable skill needed in the university library at the moment.

Change management

During the last four years, many projects involving change have been initiated at the Turku University Library. When the Turku School of Economics and the University of Turku merged in 2010, two separate libraries also merged. This meant not only the unification of administration and IT systems, but also the fusing of two separate organizational cultures.

In conjunction with this, the entire library organization was thoroughly reformed. Seven separate faculty libraries were combined into three disciplinary libraries, and the centralization of the internal operations serving the entire library, such as the financial and IT system services, began.

The development work has continued in a project, initiated by the University President, involving administrative struc tures and processes within the entire uni versity. The aim of the project is to streamline administrative and support services and reduce costs. Within the framework of these aims, it has been the library’s job to form a vision of the Turku University Library in the year 2016, i.e. to delineate the ideal operational protocol for the part of library premises, types of services, need for competence, staff structure and smooth operational processes.

The vision has been prepared in a committee comprising the university community and representatives from the library. The basis of the committee’s work is the need for services: the committee carefully considered why the university needs a library and what types of services patrons want. The vision includes expectations and goals that, when initiated, will deeply impact the structure and operations of the library.

The most essential goal in development is to invest in specialist services, many of which are new services supporting research. To achieve the set goals, the library must reinforce its core expertise and mo - dify its staff structure to respond to the needs for expertise. The on-going organizational reform will result in the distribution of discipline-specific specialist services such as aquisition and metadata services, will be concentrated in the Main Library, which will turn into an internal service center.

Leadership is tested

There are many expectations associated with the upcoming changes. The university’s administration expects economic efficiency, effectiveness and a decrease in costs, patrons expect relevant information and smooth-running services, and the staff expects job security and meaning in what they do. It is typical in circumstances of change that top management has to work at the core of many, sometimes contradicting, expectations.

Leadership expert Professor John P. Kotter, of Harvard Business School, says, “Transforming an organization is the ultimate test of leadership.” For a leader, change gives the opportunity to develop, sometimes painstakingly, genuine leadership – to be a pioneer, motivator and seeker of opportunity even when the organization is forced to adapt its operations to dwindling resources.

Library Director Turku University Library