A CONFERENCE ORGANISED BY UKOLN IN ASSOCIATION WITH
THE BRITISH LIBRARY, CNI, CAUSE AND JISC
9th and 10th February 1996 at the Ramada Hotel, Heathrow, UK
This account was drafted for this report by The Marc Fresko Consultancy. It is based on notes taken during the presentation, slides used, and a paper supplied by the speaker.
In many institutions, librarians and computer professionals, faculty and researchers are developing collaborative relationships. Many of these relationships have evolved in the context of networked information resources and services. The characteristics of true collaborations or partnerships are examined and their elements defined - taking into account the views of expert authors such as Schrage, Kantor and Katzenbach and Smith - and using examples of library/computing partnerships in higher education, in areas such as development of campus information systems, teaching and learning programmes, facilities and services. Factors that promote collaboration, and those that impede it, are explored in the light of the experience of participants in the Coalition for Networked Information’s Working Together programme, which brings together teams of librarians and information technologists.
Many of the collaborative relationships which are now developing in many institutions, between librarians, computing professionals, teaching faculty and researchers, have evolved in the context of networked information resources and services.
This paper describes the characteristics of successful relationships, based on the work of writers in the fields of communications and organisational behaviour. The range of existing collaborations in the networked information environment will be categorised and factors which motivate collaboration, and those that hinder it, will be examined. The implications for library administrators, computer controllers and higher education institutes, both now and in the future, will be considered.
The roles and job functions of librarians and information professionals have been subject to significant change over the last five to ten years - firstly as a result of automation and, latterly, as a consequence of the advent of networks.
In some higher educational establishments this has led to the administrative merging of libraries and computing centres; in others it has resulted in increased collaboration between two administratively separate units and there are yet others where the consequence has been duplication of some functions.
In the development of local library systems, libraries often contracted with computing centres to run library applications on mainframe computers (sometimes physically located in the computing centre), update and amend software and take responsibility for the reliability and integrity of the system. The library was responsible for the system conceptualisation and content. Reciprocal arrangements, wherein computing centres contracted with libraries for informational needs, have not been much in evidence.
As the information environment has become increasingly networked, librarians and information technologists have begun to move from contractual arrangements to new patterns of relationships characterised by a move towards shared responsibility in:
Some researchers describe these new relationships as collaborations or partnerships. In Shared Minds in 1990, Michael Schrage defined collaboration as "the process of shared creation: two or more individuals with complementary skills interacting to create a shared understanding that none had previously possessed or could have come to on their own. Collaboration creates a shared meaning about a process, a product, or an event." Schrage’s concept of collaboration focuses on the characteristics of the process of interaction among the partners, with emphasis on an intangible — shared meaning — and a quality of interaction between the participants that can best be described as mutual respect. His view of collaboration, therefore, encompasses:
Rosabeth Moss Kantor in 1990 described productive partnerships as those which evolve and continue nevertheless to yield benefits, create new value and work through interpersonal connections and internal infrastructures which enhance learning. She identifies eight characteristics of best partnerships:
Kantor’s characteristics are similar to Schrage’s in emphasising the mutual reliance of partners, the need for each to contribute skills and/or knowledge and the development of trust, but she adds a key element in the realisation by participants that they must address a common mission or strategic objective.
Ten years ago, neither the library nor the computing centre would have nominated a Campus-Wide Information System (CWIS) as one of their strategic goals. Now most campuses expect that a CWIS is either available or is being developed by one or more units — and both the library and the computing centre would have a valid claim to its being within their strategic province. By combining resources, pooling professional talents and learning from each other, the two units can implement a collaborative project which will enhance the information environment of the campus and yield shared meaning.
In a true collaboration, each unit considers the endeavour to be mission critical, while in a contractual relationship only one party would have that view, the other having provision of support services as the primary goal. Also, in a collaboration, risks and benefits are shared, whereas in a contractual arrangement, the contracting party reaps most of the benefit if the project is successful and is the major loser if the project fails. Success, as far as the party providing services is concerned may still provide a limited share of some of the benefits, but failure will not prejudice the agreed remuneration.
In their widely read 1993 book, Wisdom of Teams, Katzenbach and Smith focused on the dynamics of team performance - defining a team as "a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach, for which they hold themselves mutually accountable." They also suggest that while teams can and should take direction from upper management levels, they must shape their own purpose and they stipulated five factors typical of teams:
A particularly useful aspect of the work of Katzenbach and Smith was in their delineation of the differences between teams and working groups. In the latter, a common area of work is identified and group members are assigned work based on their specific areas of expertise and their performance is judged individually. There is no attempt to develop mutual accountability or shared meaning. By contrast, the team approach encompasses both individual and mutual accountability and shared meaning is fundamental to it. The different quality of interaction results in an end-product for a team-based project which is more than the sum of the individual team member contributions.
CNI sponsored a workshop/retreat to assist new and existing teams in learning better ways of working together. One of the techniques to help them develop shared meaning was an exercise in force field analysis, from which the teams identified several factors which tended to motivate collaboration between librarians and information technologists:
It is perhaps much harder for people to discuss problems. Nevertheless factors which hinder collaboration have been identified as:
Administrative structure and personality differences can exacerbate any one or all of these factors. Collaboration initially on a smaller scale may help counter problems, especially in the case of the last two.
Only a few years ago, the provision of information services to the campus community had a very different meaning for both libraries and computing centres. Advances in the networked information environment in, for example, library catalogues on the Internet and universal access to information via gopher and the World Wide Web, have brought library and computing centre services closer together. The traditional division of complementary skills into "content" for librarians and "conduit" for computing professionals, which has served as a good starting point for collaborations, has become increasingly blurred.
Collaborations on service projects with a concrete outcome, such as the provision of reference facilities, or the establishment of a help desk, or the development of an Internet training programme, offer opportunities for staff from library and the computing centre to begin to discuss common mission, can provide mechanisms for sharing skills and will encourage the concept of shared meaning.
The development of a campus information environment, including information policies, creation and distribution of electronic journals and the development of Web sites and pages, provides a fertile ground for the exchange of ideas on the mission of the library and of the computing centre, promotes convergence of the principles and practical experience of professionals in both disciplines and encourages the adoption of the concept of shared meaning.
Top administrators of libraries and computing centres have a critical role to play in the successful implementation of collaborative projects between their respective units. Firstly, they must share their vision of a project and the way in which it addresses the mission of their unit, with all staff involved; secondly, they must demonstrate a demeanour which discourages power struggles between the units; finally, they must make evident a mutual respect and help to create a climate in which others in their units can develop shared understandings.
Apart from the methods described above, there are many creative and forward-looking ways to foster partnerships between librarians and information technologists. Most important, however, is to begin with an open mind and an attitude that each group has much to gain from the other.
Successful partnerships between libraries and other professionals, such as the teaching faculty, publishers, media designers and instructional specialists, are also becoming increasingly common in the environment of the World Wide Web. There is a strategic advantage for libraries and librarians in securing collaborative relationships both within the academic arena and out of it. No one individual or profession has all of the skills now needed to create an information infrastructure for a community of users.
In conclusion, the establishment of a collaborative relationship should provide a stake in it which relates to the mission of all partners. A shared understanding of the way in which a project contributes to each partner’s mission will have a beneficial effect on all team members and the individuals concerned must also pay as much attention to the relationship among the partners as to the outcome of the project. A fundamental appreciation of the complementary skills of each team member - and of the viewpoints associated with them - is crucial and must be accompanied by open and easy communication, opportunities for mutual teaching and learning and the building of mutual trust and respect. Shared meaning should be an explicit goal of the project.
Finally, partners need to focus on the ultimate benefit of collaborative relationships - improved products and services for the community of users in an increasingly complex and sophisticated information environment.
Further information is available from: firstname.lastname@example.org
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British Library R&D Report 6250
© The British Library Board 1996
© Joint Information Systems Committee of the Higher Education Funding Bodies 1996
The opinions expressed in this report are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of the sponsoring organisations.
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This report of the conference was prepared by The Marc Fresko Consultancy Telephone +44 181 645 0080 E-mail email@example.com
Converted to HTML by Isobel Stark of UKOLN, July 1996