Cover Image
close this bookInternational Reader in the Management of Library, Information and Archive Services (UNESCO, 1987, 684 p.)
close this folder4. Organization and control
close this folder4.1 Organization and communication
View the documentOrganisational structure and communication
View the documentAnnual archives report

Organisational structure and communication

THE TERM 'organisation' relates to a system by which departments and units are controlled and coordinated, resulting in an administrative structure, through which authority is delegated and control is exercised, and the performance of tasks (eg elements of library service). All libraries, in fact, have a formal system of administration, that is a set of rules regulating such matters as the division of labour, responsibility and power between members, the use of defined channels and procedures of communication, the selection, promotion, discharge and payment of staff. Parallel with this runs an informal system of behaviour and organisation, sometimes extending, sometimes modifying, the formal system.

The importance of organisation as a subject for study and control by the administrative librarian can be seen from a statement, issued by the Association of Research Libraries, in which the organisation of the library is seen as the 'librarian's primary management tool for focussing and directing the talents and energies of staff to deliver services to fulfil programme objectives. It is also a means of balancing and coordinating work effort and for channelling internal and external communications and relationships' (ARL 31).

Two basic elements are implicitly contained in definitions of 'organisation' presented in the above paragraphs. One is the basis of organisation, or departmentalisation - the division of work for production or service purposes. The other is the form of organisation which establishes lines of authority for supervision, in other words the structure of control mechanisms. Both elements require attention and analysis before relating them to considerations of communication.

Bases of organisation

Divisionalisation is a means of dividing up a library into small and flexible units so as to facilitate its administration and to accommodate peculiarities relating to stock (eg a large donated collection which has to be maintained as a separate unit). Admittedly, the ideal or logical method of division does not always prevail. Other factors affecting the departmentalisation of a library include size, ability of staff, accident and relation to other neighbouring libraries. The ways in which library stock and services have been divided up are, however, basically six in number:

1 function (acquisitions, lending, etc)
2 activity or process (orders, repairs, etc)
3 form of material (serials, rare books, etc)
4 clientele (adult, children, etc)
5 geography (branches, outlying sections)
6 subject.

It seems apparent that departmentalisation will continue to be the basis of organisation for libraries, although change is likely to alter the relative grouping and importance of the patterns of specialisation. Thus it is possible to envisage the grouping of subject departments with reader service sub-divisions to form a public service department, as is recommended for large public libraries by INTAMEL. The latter body lists library services under three general headings: administrative services, technical services and public services (Intamel 259). Such a listing could, of course, be applied to other types of libraries, such as academic and national libraries, where an important addition to 'public services' would be a research unit or research/information officer.

It is possible to argue the advantages of various bases of organisational division. Thus the arrangement recommended by INTAMEL might be said to provide better coordination of departments, reduce costs and allow the work of the three main divisions to proceed more smoothly than with an alternative form of arrangement. However, all libraries are unique in so far as they provide or develop organisational peculiarities and varying characteristics. Furthermore, various bases of organisation or combinations of divisions are probably most practically applicable to individual libraries, to accommodate local differences relating to stock, required services and available staff. Irrespective of the bases on which libraries are divided and subdivided, effective organisation and service requires not only a grouping that provides for homogeneity of one or more types but also a suitable form of administrative structure and the realistic and flexible utilisation of this structure in all forms of staff relations.

Form of organisation

The organisational division of stock and services, necessary for the manageable workings of a library, creates the problem of coordinating and controlling these activities or divisions so as to establish uniformities in service and the achievement of library goals. Out of the attempt to solve such problems of divisionalisation and integration develop the structure and formal relationships among persons of varying administrative levels. This administrative structure, relating to staff and positions and establishing lines of authority for supervision and control, can vary just as much as the bases of organisation or departmentalisation

In relation to companies it is usual to identify four principal types of administrative structure:

1 Line organisation

This is basically a simple structure, a pyramid of several horizontal levels. Responsibility and control stem directly from general manager to superintendent to foreman to workers. Staff at each level report to supervisors at the next level above and each level of supervisors pass down instructions to the next level below. It is closely linked to the concept of central administration, which emphasises concentration of directive processes in the hands of very few people, and clearly defined patterns of activity. Such a form of organisation may be suitable for an organisation performing basically routine production functions but in an organisation such as a library, employing numerous professional persons, it could stifle initiative and creativity, especially in the face of changes or unique emergency situations, involving as it does limited participation by most employees in the formulation of service goals and coordination of effort.

2 Line and staff organisation

As companies become larger they become more complex and top executives can no longer be responsible for such different functions as research, engineering, planning, distribution and other activities requiring training and experience. Accordingly, executives and supervisors retain authority and control over activities in their particular departments but this line function is aided by staff assistance from engineers, personnel officers and other specialists. This development has been witnessed in libraries. Division or department heads have in the past normally combined line duties with staff duties. The tendency in large libraries is to split off auxiliary staff functions and assign them to staff of a comparable or lesser status responsible directly to the chief librarian (possibly through the deputy). Examples relate to personnel officers; administrative assistants; supervisory office staff in charge of general accounting, supplies, salaries and so on (eg University of Michigan Library); and display or exhibitions assistants (eg Luton Public Library— responsible to the chief assistant). Such persons do not form part of the authority structure in the sense of being responsible for a number of other staff (except where, as in the case of the University of Michigan Library, he heads a department of his own), although of course they are themselves responsible to a person above them. Largely they assist the line executive in the performance of his function, their authority being an extension of their superior's.

3 Functional organisation

This structure is an extension of the line and staff organisation. More attention is given to specialised skills, mainly at the supervisory level. One foreman may serve as the production boss to meet quotas, another as inspector and a third may be responsible for maintenance. In libraries this type of organisation is sometimes known as 'service' organisation and is usually linked to line and staff organisation. Thus in Britain many county libraries have county or area librarians responsible for services such as work with children and young people, music, and so on. A similar type of organisation exists in Camden Public Libraries where services include reference, bibliographical, music and children. The disadvantage of the functional system of organisation is that it mars the clear-cut lines of authority and responsibility of the line organisation, be they rigid or flexible. In the libraries referred to service staff intercede in the traditional pattern of librarian-deputy-branch superintendent/regional librarian-branch librarian, having responsibility for, say, music services in the branches as well as at hq. The advantage of such an organisation, of course, is that gains are made in terms of facilitating more specialised work performance and supervision.

4 Group or committee organisation

Some large companies, such as DuPont and General Motors, construct a network of committees to work with the line and staff organisation in order to facilitate communication involving decision making. A similar arrangement is evident in the academic administration of universities. Here committees or groups may be permanent and meet regularly or they may be organised to serve a temporary function only. This type of organisation has not generally been adopted by libraries, save in so far as it is possible to designate temporary working groups (eg Luton Public Libraries - service to teenagers) and regular staff meetings as this type of organisation.

As with bases of organisation, the form of organisation most prevalent in libraries is a combination of different elements, largely a combination of line (flexible) and staff plus elements of functional organisation. The latter combined form of organisation and any single form of organisation, such as group or committee, can be applied to any of the bases of organisation or departmentalisation such as function or clientele, or a combined form of such bases. Thus it can be said that Luton Public Library exhibits the following organisational characteristics:

Base of organisation or departmentalisation - function, plus clientele, plus geography, plus subject.

Form of organisation - line and staff, plus group or committee.

Just as there is no right or best base of organisation for all libraries, so is there no right or best form of organisation to march a particular base. One evident tendency in libraries is for larger ones to adopt the more flexible and expansive bases and forms, namely function regrouped into technical services and reader services divisions, or subject, and line and staff combined with functional and group. In this limited sense it is possible to say that a combination appears to be correct, or the most advantageous organisation for large libraries employing numbers of professional staff, but to go further would necessitate introducing rather meaningless generalisations relating to organisation and libraries.

Similarly, it cannot be said that any one organisation (base plus form) is conducive to good stall communication and other elements of administration, although certain qualifications can be introduced to amend this statement. Thus the geographic base of organisation is probably less conducive to good staff communication than other bases. Due to physical separation of library units over a wide area, communication between the individual units will most likely be less than communication between hq departments. This is not to say that library services in such a system will be less efficient than in a library with a functional organisational base, since much depends on the quality and enthusiasm of administrative staff, but certainly communication will be more difficult and hence perhaps less effective.

So far as form of organisation is concerned, it can be said that the line is efficient in terms of communication within certain limits. Such a system traditionally witnesses information going up the hierarchical structure and orders going down it. Rigidly organised, such communications would pass up and down in an efficient manner. However, the rigid line would stifle communication outside the formally accepted or specified limits and this could be disadvantageous to work involving creative thought and effort. Designed to be rational and logical, and to keep the human factor to a minimum, the rigid line organisation is liable to fail when faced with the irrational and emotional aspects of organisational life; designed to deal with the predictable, the routine, the typical, it is weak when confronted by the unforeseeable, the unusual and the illogical.

Many libraries and other professional organisations have a noticeable horizontal structure for communication and all administrative purposes. Hence it might be said that a line and staff form of organisation is more suited to libraries than is a rigid line form and that such a form is more conducive to general staff communication necessary in an organisation such as a library. There are elements of truth, in this. But it would be much harder to differentiate between line and staff, functional and group forms or organisation, or various combinations of them, in terms of communication and administrative effectiveness. Similar considerations apply to judgements between bases of organisation (excluding geography) and to links between individual forms and bases.

Considering libraries in general, a more realistic statement relating to communication and organisational base and form would appear to be as follows:

Communications flourish and work most effectively in libraries with flexible forms of organisation, not handicapped by difficult bases of organisation such as geographic division, where the form of organisational or administrative structure is utilised through conscious effort by good administrative staff dealing with personnel arranged in reasonably sized groupings.

Since libraries are not generally organised for optimal communication but for other purposes or due to other forces, such as the desire to maintain an authority structure and the demands of specialisation. and service, attention must obviously be paid to organisational base and form in any study of communication. The basic elements in the statement presented above will now be examined.

Flexible form of organisation

Some form of compromise is necessary between excessive rigidity, which can stifle creative communication and excessive flexibility, which can result in disorganisation and ineffective administrative efforts. Some authority and control structure is needed in any library or other type of organisation Some system of formal structure is necessary in a library to provide direction of staff work, in the performance of library services, and general control during occasions of dispute or difficulty. Without some authority structure and rules work may be impeded due to lack of understanding relating to individual responsibilities and lack of directional control.

Such an authority structure does not necessarily stifle initiative or creative work. Indeed, some formal structure is necessary to encourage the display of initiative and direct and utilise its occurrence. Furthermore, since libraries employ non-professional as well as professional staff, a certain pyramidal structure is necessary to regulate such staff whose activities are not based on professional consultation but rather the issue and receipt of orders. Thus, lo facilitate the work performance of varying groups in a library, the administrative structure, incorporating levels of authority and communication channels, should be designed so as to seek a balance between a too rigid and a too flexible system.

Flexible systems of communication must, as was indicated by Fayol (Fayol 34-5), be formal in the sense that they are provided for and recognised in statements or understandings of communication policy and practice. Two preconditions or prerequisites for intercommunication are 1 a relationship and 2 mutually understood rules and/or roles for enabling and regulating the transaction (Thayer, 1968 - 95). In a formal communication system such relationships and understood rules and/or roles should be administratively recognised and outlined, preferably in written statements, and not solely established and utilised by individuals according to their abilities and interests. This is not to argue that channels of communication should strictly adhere to lines of authority in a formal and rigid administrative structure but that departures from such adherence should be recognised by administrators and some effort made to define and approve the directions and degrees of departure from the basic lines of authority that are thought to be justified and reasonable. Hence the wider, more flexible, system of communication channels can still be thought of as adhering to lines of authority and responsibility in the administrative structure, even though not all links are shown on the library's basic organisation chart.

The process of communication involves the flow of material, information, perceptions and understanding between various parts and members of an organisation The major channels of formal communication will be determined by the organisational structure of the library. If, however, communication channels depart too far from the organisational channels provided, authority and responsibility in the library may be impaired and certain persons with established positions in the formal structure may find themselves bypassed, thus reducing their information flows and possibly affecting their abilities to perform their jobs adequately. It is true that communication channels are in part deliberately planned, growing through usage, and in part develop in response to the social functions of communication. Formal communication, however, should not depart in undue degree from established channels. Provided that the structure of such channels does indeed develop through usage in a realistic manner for the needs of the library staff, this formal structure should prove adequate and not be subverted by spontaneous arrangements between groups of staff.

Good administrative staff

The subject of good senior staff, that is staff responsive to the requirements of the library, enthusiastic and cooperative, is more fully dealt with in a later chapter on aids and hindrances to communication. Here attention is drawn to the necessity of administrative staff possessing the ability to provide the library with a sound formal structure and to encourage the utilisation of communication channels by patient attention and example. An attitude of cooperation library staff requires that each person have a sense of responsibility towards his work and that of the library in general. This in turn requires adequate levels of information and advice relating to functions and everyday tasks. To encourage each staff member to experience this feeling of awareness and responsibility obviously requires effort on the part of those whose jobs include the communication of information to groups of staff.

Continuous attention to communication, providing staff with examples of the administrator's interest in communication and related facets of personnel regulation and his own belief in communication, will help convince staff of that person's sincerity and the importance of communication. It can be disastrous to simply pay lip service to communication. Should staff become aware of this, it could have more damaging effects on attitudes and morale than the mere non-existence of communication channels or the non-utilisation of provided channels. Attention to communication can on occasions be reflected in an attitude of concern and demonstrations of opinion that all is not as it should be. This in turn will help focus staff attention on problems and indicate that communication and the library administrative structure to which it is linked is not perfect but a growing system, adaptable to new requirements and changing circumstances.

Other attitudes that are conducive to effective communication include a friendly disposition, an interested attitude displaying knowledge and concern with staff problems, a helpful attitude attempting to deal creatively with slat! requests or difficulties, a questioning attitude that indicates a willingness to learn as well as direct and an approachable attitude making it easy for people to reach and communicate directly with the administrator.

Whether the chief librarian retains specific responsibilities in relation to staff' selection, job descriptions, staff training and so on, or has delegated such areas of' administrative activity to other senior staff, it is certain that his communicative pattern is likely to affect the communication pattern of the whole library, irrespective of' the mere existence of channels of communication. Although he may have delegated prime responsibility for communication study and control to his deputy or personnel officer, it is probably true to say that his effect on the communication pattern will still be greater than that of any other person. This is because he is the head of the library hierarchy whose administrative structure and workings take form and directions from his office. In a large library, that is one with a staff of over one hundred, it is desirable for a senior member of the administrative staff, say, the chief assistant to have clearly identifiable personnel duties and that part of that person's stated responsibilities lie in the field of staff communication. Whether such an arrangement is or is not made, however, the attitudes and efforts of other senior staff, not the least the librarian, condition the effectiveness of communication.

Reasonably sized groupings

The question of personnel arrangement in reasonably sized groupings focuses attention on the number of people or links in a particular hierarchical level (say, the level of departmental heads) and on the numbers of persons in particular departments. The first aspect has already been touched on. Considerations of the span of control relate to the immediate command of an administrator or supervisor (ie the group of staff he makes immediately accountable to him) and the extended command (ie all the employees under his control - in the case of the chief librarian, all staff; in the case of, say, the head of technical services. all staff in the accessions, cataloguing, circulation and photographic departments).

The size of the immediate command is a more important consideration, size of the extended command usually being dependent upon the former. A restricted span of control inevitably produces excessive red tape for each contact between library members must be carried upward until a common superior is found. If the organisation is large this will involve carrying all such matters upward through several levels of officials for decision and then downward again in the form of orders and instructions. The alternative is to increase the number of persons who are under the command of each supervisor, so that the pyramid will come to a peak more rapidly, there being fewer intervening levels. This too can lead to difficulty, however, for if a superior or head of department is required to supervise too many employees his control over them is weakened.

The span of command is a relatively unimportant consideration in small libraries, even those employing up to fifty persons, since the services required (eg reference, children) will usually be instrumental in breaking up the staff into small groups under professional librarians responsible for the various staff groupings. Secondly, the span can vary from organisation to organisation Thus in industry, where comparatively routine tasks are geared to mass production, spans larger than twenty are common and realistic. Libraries, geared to more creative and intellectual work and service, will correspondingly demand small spans. Thirdly, even if it is possible to enunciate ideal spans, the practicality of such sizes would be affected by the individuals in charge; individuals' knowledge and energies vary as well as their set duties and time available. Fourthly, a supervisor will find it more difficult to control a large number of departments or services performing different functions than a corresponding number performing similar functions. Thus a librarian might find it possible to supervise fifteen branch libraries whereas it would prove impossible to. supervise such a number of hq departments with different functions.

Much discussion has surrounded the size of the span of control as related to industry (see McAnally 454-5). In 1943 E W and John McDiarmid reported the span of control in thirty two public libraries. In twenty seven of the thirty two libraries from fifteen to sixty four branches reported directly to the administrator (McDiarmid 105). In 1959 G E Gscheidle surveyed sixteen American public libraries and found most spans over fifteen (Gscheidle 440-1) and identified a trend of decreasing the span of control for top administrators through the creation of major divisions and/or coordinative positions under the direction of top level personnel.

The most prevalent span of control in libraries examined for this study ranges from six to ten. The span of thirteen professional heads reporting to the deputy at University College, Cardiff, Library seems an unusually high number. Luton Public Library has eight professional heads reporting to the deputy through the chief assistant and this number seems more typical. The trend toward decrease in America reported by G E Gscheidle has been mirrored in Britain. An example of this trend is to be seen in Nottingham Public Libraries. As part of a re-organisation programme begun in 1969. eighteen branch libraries have been divided into four groups on a topographical basis, each under the authority of a group librarian.

Optimum sizes of groups, persons working in a particular department under one head, vary according to the considerations given to span of control over supervisors at a particular hierarchical level. C I Barnard stipulated that the effective optimum size of a group should not be over fifteen; for many types of cooperation five or six persons is the practical limit (Barnard 106). In libraries similar figures apply as to the more general question of span of control. The number of persons working in each department of a library is often quite small. In University College, Cardiff, Library, for example, numbers range from one to six only. In Luton Public Library numbers range from one to eighteen. Two additional departments at Luton display higher numbers but are subject to particular considerations. The lending library has a staff of thirty nine, but sixteen of these are nonprofessional staff serving the circulation area and come under the immediate control of a circulation supervisor. The branch libraries department has forty four staff but here the staff is split between branch, mobile and hospital library sections, each with sectional heads.

The figures quoted in relation to span of control and groupings of staff in individual departments indicate that communications in libraries are not inhibited by large departments or unworkable extensions of command as is sometimes the case in industry. On the contrary, staff groupings appear to be geared to effective communication and this condition of effective communication may result if administrators direct their attention to forms of organisation, the communication channels which are closely linked to such forms and the actual performance of communication within the library.


The remaining sections of this chapter will be devoted to further description and analysis of the actual directions in which formal communication flows. If a library's distribution of staff authority and responsibility is not to be subverted, formal communication, relating to library work and less frequently library policy, should follow channels established in practice as being reasonable and consistent with library activities and authority distribution. The actual amount of communication flowing through such channels will depend on a number of factors.

Most communication, save an indeterminate amount of mass communication, is exchanged between persons grouped in relatively stable units. Applying this statement to staff communication, it can be said that much communication. motivated by work requirements, will take place within a department in which a person works, since the other people in the department are within easy physical access and purpose-related work activities. A qualifying factor, of course, is that we tend to communicate with people who are most likely to help us to satisfy our needs and that we may turn more readily to a friend or superior who displays a 'helpful attitude' than to someone who may be better qualified to help but who is personally less attractive and less cooperative.

Communication between departments will tend to be affected by similar considerations of physical distance, related activities and personal attitudes. Large departments, such as a cataloguing department, will tend to be self-sufficient so far as work is concerned and hence its staff will engage in less interdepartmental communication than members of smaller departments or sections. The flow and volume of communication implied in such a statement will, however, be modified by other factors such as geographic separation and personal feelings.

Direction: Down

The term 'down' should really be taken to imply downward and outward' because in most libraries there is a dimension of geographic separation between hq and branches or outlying departments, just as there is a hierarchical distance below staff at various administrative levels. The concept of orders passing down and -information passing up the administrative structure, which is linked to rigid line systems, can be discounted in libraries. Administrative structures in libraries are usually more flexible, much more contact between staff and departments being in the form of professional consultation rather than the direct issuing of orders or transmission of information.

Communication directly stemming from the librarian deserves emphasis because of its volume and because he is top of the chain of communication links, setting the pattern for what occurs below him. Yet if they are to be of value to the library staff, in the sense of providing useful information and direction for the pursuit of library activities, the librarian's communications will obviously be related to upward communication. He must receive adequate information and impressions himself about physical resources and his staff's capabilities and progress. He may tend to communicate more with his deputy and senior administrative staff than the rest of the library staff, especially so far as oral communication is concerned. Nevertheless, he should attempt to keep in personal contact. say, through staff meetings, with all sections of his staff. In this manner he will, it is true, be communicating with groups rather than randomly chosen individuals but by employing such methods he is still coming into contact with individual members of his staff. A senior member of staff in one British university library remarked to the author that ‘the librarian himself deals only with his deputy and sub-librarians, unless forced to come into contact with lesser mortals'. In a large system much responsibility for communication will be delegated to the deputy and senior staff but in such a case as that quoted, the librarian is obviously ignoring his own communication responsibilities.

Much responsibility for communication will be delegated to senior staff or heads of departments. They will, or should, be passing on to their own staff information and ideas passed to them by the librarian or other members of staff superior in rank to themselves In this way they will be facilitating the downward flow of communication throughout the system, supplementing direct contacts that the librarian has with groups of staff or individuals at various levels. Sometimes the head of a department may merely be required to distribute duplicated memoranda or copies of a staff news sheet to his staff. On other occasions he will be reporting to them more directly, not only on matters of which he has been asked to inform his staff but also on library and departmental affairs which he thinks would interest his staff or be of particular use to them in their work. In Leeds City Libraries, for example, formal matters such as closing for public holidays and changes in internal routines and regulations are communicated to all staff by means of duplicated memoranda. So far as other matters are concerned, heads of departments and branch librarians are expected to keep their staff informed of interesting developments on a day-to-day basis. Such communication helps to inculcate a sense of participation in library service into all staff.

Downward communication can be scheduled regularly (eg staff meetings) or arise according to daily needs. The most usual types of contents are instructions to perform particular tasks and information (eg concerning staff changes). The sharing of opinions and ideas usually occurs within departments, between the librarian and senior staff or at staff meetings, rather than throughout the library structure as a whole starting from the librarian and reaching down to the junior staff. Finally, formal communication (eg the issuing of orders) is normally done through departmental heads, thus adhering to the authority structure of the library, or to groups of staff following consultation with the department or group head.

Direction: Horizontal

The literature on organisations has traditionally reflected a preoccupation with vertical relations, problems of leadership, authority and control, and a relative neglect of horizontal or lateral relations. In libraries, however, horizontal relations are important since the form of administrative structure in professional organisations is far from being a rigid line hierarchy. In an organisation whose routine work on production functions is suited to a line structure, horizontal communication could be disadvantageous to the system. Routine situations for which there are standard work instructions and well-specified decision points could be disrupted by irrelevant stimuli, such as bits of information transmitted horizontally. Wilfred Brown argues that communication and decision making should be made at the 'cross over' point between two units - the point at which one man has authority over both units - rather than below it. Otherwise people without sufficient grasp of the total situation and awareness of all the implications will be making decisions or will communicate incomplete and possibly misleading information (W B P Brown).

Such a system, however, would involve delay and a heavy load on vertical communication lines. In addition, it could stifle initiative and shared authority at lower levels. In situations where it is difficult to devise standardised instructions and decisions must be made by people close to the operation, regardless of their rank, horizontal communication is essential. Such situations occur in libraries in, for example, the answering of reference enquiries where certain procedures of method may be laid down but where initiative in, say, contacting other library departments or individuals for assistance, is to be encouraged.

The basic advantage of horizontal communication in a library situation is that it aids coordination of decision making and work among individuals and departments, horizontal communication taking place within a department or organisational unit and between these departments or units. Sometimes coordination in these areas is accomplished or enforced by a common superior (eg a reader services librarian coordinating and controlling lending, reference and interlibrary loan departments) but often a library will rely upon the members of the related units to assume at least some responsibility for this coordination. Such a situation could arise where an administrative librarian or coordinator was alloted too many departments to supervise, ie his span of control was too large. Such is the case in University College, Cardiff, Library where much decision making is made by departmental heads and then reported to the deputy.

Administrative developments in libraries that have encouraged or necessitated an emphasis on horizontal, as opposed to vertical, communication include the development of subject departments, leading to a greater horizontal array of departments than a base developed around the technical services/reader services concept, and the appointment of staff (ie in the 'line and staff' sense) functionally employed. The person functionally employed (eg a display assistant or stock editor) could be responsible to a lending librarian or to the chief himself; there is in theory no clear or obvious line position for him. The appointment of such persons tends to extend the administrative framework horizontally and the type of work performed by such persons obviously involves contacts with numerous departments and individual members of staff. A person functionally employed may be designated administrative responsibilities and his primary function may even be that of communication itself. This type of position has not, however, been common in libraries as it has in industry, where the manager might be assisted by an information assistant, whose tasks are to gather data, issue reports, prepare directives, advise persons and similar communicative functions.

Apart from facilitating the coordination of work and decision making processes, the provision and utilisation of horizontal communication channels in a library has other positive and advantageous effects. It can help to overcome departmental differences or jealousies. This would be particularly advantageous where two or more departments perform related or similar overlapping functions, as for instance at Columbia University, Illinois University and a number of other United States university libraries, where units of the acquisitions department share in the cataloguing function, completely processing added volumes of continuations and serials and doing some simple cataloguing of non-serial works.

Initial disinterested or hostile attitudes between departments could, it is true, tend to perpetuate themselves because they lead to a breakdown of communication. On the other hand, frequent and extensive interaction, flexible interdepartmental contacts and organisational procedures tend to result in favourable attitudes in the working relationship. A work situation which requires extensive horizontal contacts, and an organisational structure that facilitates this, will tend indirectly to create positive attitudes of helpful cooperation. This can be of immediate benefit to individual departments cooperating with each other or to more extensive library cooperation, as may be involved in book selection procedures among all or many departmental heads.

Organisational structure is important. So far as horizontal contacts are concerned the structure should, where possible, incorporate clear-cut definitions of departmental responsibility so as to avoid unnecessary and time-consuming consultations and possibly the development of hostilities. Secondly, the channels of horizontal communication should be established and linked to the administrative structure between all departments. It may be as necessary to link departments with independent functions (eg lending library and reference library) as it is to link those with closely related or overlapping functions. The importance of these considerations was indicated by Joan Woodward who found that in industry, relationships between departments could be complicated by lack of any clear-cut definition of responsibilities, and independence of functions meant that end results did not depend on the establishment of a close relationship between the people responsible for particular departments: this situation tended to encourage sectional interests and exaggerate departmental loyalties (Woodward 137).

The facilities of horizontal communication channels will, of course, be used by individuals other than heads of departments. For example, an assistant in a branch library, required by his branch librarian to prepare a list of reference works suitable for addition to the branch's stock, could well consult the library's reference librarian, children's librarian or other staff in those departments without having to exercise such contacts through the branch librarian. Furthermore, many horizontal contacts will be between colleagues in the same or different departments. Such contacts will be occasioned by work requirements and colleague consultation, as opposed to consultation of more senior supervisors, and may be motivated by personal friendship or the desire to settle a problem, seemingly by oneself or on one's own initiative, without referring the difficulty upwards. These contacts will facilitate the completion of work and indirectly aid the individual's identification with general interdepartmental and library goals.

The content of horizontal communication includes a greater proportion of information, advice and ideas than does vertical communication, which is more preoccupied with instructions and decisions. Information might relate to details of a trainee leaving one department to go to another. Advice and ideas could relate to knowledge and impressions gained by one member of staff at an external course and passed on to some of his colleagues. Horizontal communication contains a good proportion of attitudes; in the case of this category it is obvious that the boundary line between formal communication and informal discussion is considerably blurred. In so far as horizontal communication contains orders these are usually phrased in terms of requests, such as a request to provide materials for a library display or to deal with a reader's enquiry.

It would seem to be a logical observation that the consultative nature of much horizontal communication takes place orally rather than in written form. This is so, but the volume of written horizontal communication certainly increases with the size and geographic dispersal of the library. Written communications in a horizontal direction are normally of a routine, somewhat non-urgent nature, such as the circulation of request or reservation lists or requirements. In large systems telex communications provide an important supplementary form of written communication between library units. These may relate to stock and reservations (eg Buckinghamshire County Library) or reference enquiries and information.

The timing and frequency of horizontal communications depends on the requirements of circumstances and individual personality. They may be occasioned by definite administrative arrangements, planned to facilitate departmental and individual cooperation and information awareness, or may simply arise through work situations. An example of communication provided by administrative arrangements may be seen in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin. Here a third copy of outgoing correspondence (ie non-routine, excluding for example overdue notices or query letters relating to book orders) on pink paper is filed and made available for consultation by all senior staff. These copies are referred to by the staff as ‘the pinks'. They obviously provide a useful source of information on the decisions and activities of the chief librarian (thus forming part of downward communication), fellow departmental heads and other senior staff. A similar arrangement is in evidence at Bradford University Library where third copies of non-routine and non-confidential outgoing letters and memos are circulated to all senior staff.

More widespread examples of 'occasioned' communication relate to meetings of, say, departmental heads or senior staff in one department. Such meetings may be convened to arrive at decisions or formulate work programmes (eg forthcoming library displays and exhibitions) and consequently help to establish a sense of teamwork and diminish any status and personal differences among various jobs and their incumbent persons. Sometimes the meetings are convened simply to allow members to express opinions, not necessarily to arrive at any decision. Such meetings should have advantageous results relating to staff relationships and morale.

One noticeable element in horizontal contacts as outlined above is the preponderance of contact between senior, as opposed to junior, staff. This is because attention has been largely focused on interdepartmental communication as an aid to cooperation and coordination. Junior staff tend to perform work in one department, under the direction of one or more senior staff also in that department, and thus have less need to consult junior staff in other departments on formal library matters. This fact in no way diminishes the importance of horizontal communication. It is senior staff who set administrative patterns, encourage work performance and help establish staff morale. Hence their cooperation in the interests of library service, on a wider scale than that of the individual department, is valuable and should be encouraged.

Direction: Up

The flow of upward communication depends, as does the flow of downward and horizontal communication, upon the existence of opportunities for this kind of communication and encouragement to the staff to use such opportunities or channels that exist. The provision of opportunities and the encouragement of their use can be a time-consuming and difficult business for an administrative librarian. The librarian who finds that his 'open door policy’ leads to frequent interruption of his own activities by extrovert members of staff may conclude that such encouragement to his staff is unnecessary and set a pattern of library management in which considerations of administrative convenience dictate a reliance on centrally formulated policies and directives. Consultations with subordinates by the librarians in administrative positions may be viewed as irrelevant and perhaps even disruptive: hence emphasis is placed on the formulation and issue of orders.

Such an attitude is misguided, however, since it ignores the vital link between downward and upward communication. The formulation and issue of orders needs to be linked to considerations of the receipt and implementation of such orders. These considerations involve discussion and consultation with staff to iron out difficulties and offer explanations and the feedback of information relating to the success of actions taken in response to the directives. Furthermore, the formulation of orders itself, if these orders are to be framed realistically as fitting the library's resources and staff capabilities, should depend upon an adequate flow of upward information and impressions. Information from longserving subordinates as to local conditions and past experience can be invaluable; opinions from new staff can be refreshing and of equal worth. Thus the process of upward and downward communication is a continuous and linked process. Information flowing upward facilitates the formulation of orders; their issue downwards is in turn followed by upward data relating to the implementation of these orders; this data is taken into account in formulating further additional or supplementary orders.

The opportunities for upward communication are conditioned by organisational features and structures. John Brewer has remarked that the upward flow of communication is greater in units in which superiors 'and subordinates' work roles are differentiated professionally rather than bureaucratically (Brewer 481). Such a statement has obvious relevance to libraries, comprising as they do professionally dominated organisations in which many work relationships are of a consultative, as opposed to a directive. nature. Brewer goes on to say that 'The need for upward communication appears to be high only where there is a high differentiation of superior and subordinate roles which removes the superior from first hand contact with operating problems and close contact with his subordinates' (Ibid 483). Such a view, however, evidences a somewhat narrow conception of 'upward communication' and appears to contradict his first statement. Upward communication should not be thought of solely in terms of information in the form of, say, written reports or oral interview statements, passing up a rigid hierarchical chain of authority levels. Equally important is less formal consultation between persons separated by one hierarchical level of status and between a departmental head and his staff. Both types of contact result in a volume of upward communication probably exceeding that of communication passing up formally from a low level to the top of the administrative hierarchy, since people feel more comfortable communicating with their equals or persons not too far removed from their own status level. This gives an indication of the fact that upward communication is conditioned by organisational structure as well as organisational features such as professional dominance.

Upward departmental communication is encouraged by sensible limitations in the size of departments relative to the work to be performed. A public lending librarian, for example, in charge of a reader services and circulation staff of more than twenty five persons may find his personal contacts with staff, especially with those working different shifts, rather infrequent. Furthermore, the value of staff consultation and upward communication tends to be lost unless the lending librarian delegates sectional authority as well as work responsibility to, say, a readers' adviser, interlibrary loans assistant and circulation supervisor.

Looking beyond individual departments, similar considerations apply to the administrative structure as a whole. Reasonable spans of control and adequate coordination of departmental activities aid the flow of upward communication by increasing time available for direct contact and consultations between relevant staff. The exploitation of such, organisational features which facilitate upward communication will increase progressively once staff realise that their ideas and information are valued by their seniors. This in turn contributes to professional morale and to the function of communication in facilitating the provision of library services in the light of library goals.

A chief librarian or other senior member of staff could, of course, feel overburdened with routine communications. Such a situation was revealed by Millicent Abell in a study of a medium-sized American public library (Abell 95). It may well be necessary for the librarian to set limits to his contacts with staff. Thus he may stipulate he is available for consultation by staff on any matter during certain times. In general, however, the overburdening of a librarian by upward communications (as opposed to his overburdening with work) is probably due to an unclear definition of his specific responsibilities and inadequate delegation of responsibility to his subordinate senior staff. Unless he makes it clear, for example, that personnel problems and records and matters relating to public relations are to be referred to his deputy, he will himself receive many communications relating to these matters. Such definition and delegation of responsibility have additional advantages which a general ' open door ' and ' open in-tray ' lacks. It encourages staff to direct their communications to the proper persons, through the proper channels and not by-pass their immediate supervisors. The latter situation is undesirable since it reduces the status of senior staff and makes their task of commanding the respect of their staff difficult.

Most libraries encourage staff to report or discuss problems with their immediate supervisor, while allowing the right of direct access to the librarian especially on personal matters. A Notes for staff booklet produced by Reading University Library seeks to make staff aware of lines of authority and communication:

- Channels of communication.

It is important that the staff should be aware of the interrelationship of the work of different departments of the library. The established lateral channels of communication between departments of the library and with other departments of the university should be used for the conduct of library business. The approval of the departmental head who may be concerned should be sought before varying these arrangements. Within the library the normal channel of communication is through the department head, but direct access to the deputy librarian or the librarian is available by arrangement with the librarian's secretary to all members of the library staff who wish to discuss career and other personal matters' (item 15).

Staff at New York Public library are invited to discuss a considerable range of matters with their immediate supervisor, since often these are the most obvious and relevant persons, and such procedure does not weaken the authority of the supervisor as does bypassing them for higher officials. Such matters or problems, outlined in the Handbook for new staff members, include specific work problems, preparation for promotion, request for transfer, suggestions for developing public services or improving methods and techniques and so on (New York Public Library 17-18).

More flexible arrangements may exist in smaller systems with a heavy concentration of senior professional staff and hence fewer levels of authority to by-pass. Such a situation applies at Exeter University Library:

'While we respect the chain and order of authority, and certainly that of the librarian and deputy librarian, this is not hard and fast and in certain circumstances about certain matters we feel free to enjoy a more fluid approach. Any member of staff can come to see the librarian or deputy when either is free to discuss any matter. This principle we value though the individual may then be referred to the departmental head' (Exeter University Library).

Even when staff are not required to first discuss a matter with a departmental head they usually will do so through considerations of relevance and convenience. Should a member of staff require direct access to the chief or deputy it is often advisable for him to make an appointment to do so through the librarian's secretary (eg Flintshire County Library). Many chief librarians and deputies prefer to arrange set times for staff consultations. This particularly applies to meetings with departmental or service heads. Archibald McLeish at the Library of Congress used to see divisional heads daily. The librarian of Bolton Public Library has an appointment to see each departmental head on the morning of each day. In the West Riding of Yorkshire the deputy librarian has fixed times for all fourteen principal officers. Such meetings present opportunities for both formal reporting and the raising of problems or more general departmental matters. Staff or group meetings are, of course, another instance of such fixed timing of meetings. New York Public Library has two staff committees, one for the circulation department and one for the reference department. These committees are composed of representatives from all grades or classes of service. Their main function is seen as acting as clearing houses for departmental suggestions and, jointly, for ideas relating to the library as a whole. Such arrangements have the advantage of scheduling the availability of the librarian or deputy at certain fixed times. Should such persons merely pursue a general 'open door' policy their actual availability could be considerably less. As one county librarian realistically remarked to the author 'Like every other chief I like to think that I pursue an ' open door ' policy. In practice my door is seldom opened '.

One advantage of scheduled arrangements is that they provide opportunities for upward communication within established channels of communication, linked to channels of authority and responsibility. Methods of upward communication, such as attitude surveys and suggestion boxes, admittedly more widely used in industry than in libraries, may be viewed as detours of normal communication channels in the sense that they by-pass established lines of authority. Surveys of staff attitudes or opinions may be worthwhile if the librarian is seeking data on a particular matter and is concerned with improving a particular aspect of staff policy or library service, or instituting a new programme relating to such a factor. Such a survey, in the form of a staff questionnaire, could form part of a communication programme (see a later chapter on A communication programme). In 1966 Luton Public Library undertook, again by means of a questionnaire, a training needs survey, which resulted in improvements to the staff training programme and certain forms of communications such as the staff news sheet. Just before he took office in 1967 the librarian of Liverpool University Library, D H Varley, invited all senior members of the library staff to set down, in confidence, their ideas on how they would improve the existing organisation Many useful suggestions were made and practical results included the inauguration of staff meetings and establishment of working parties, plus the institution of a staff news letter.

Used at all regularly, however, methods of promoting upward communication such as attitude surveys are in themselves indications of the inadequacies of the more normal channels of communication and their use should not be encouraged. Attitudes of staff may change over periods of time, thus presenting widely contrasting data, and frequent investigations of their attitudes may be disadvantageous rather than conducive to morale and work flows. They may be means of uncovering specific sources of irritation among staff, especially if replies to surveys are anonymous, but should not supersede everyday discussion with immediate supervisors or group meetings at which grievances may be aired. Irritations may be symptoms of a problem not the real cause, hence expression of grievances in written form with no provision for adequate discussion with members of staff concerned may lead to misinterpretation. Attitude surveys may be undertaken by interview and discussion, as alternative or supplementary means to written statements, but here again they are best related to specific problems or schedules so as to fit into established communication procedures.

Information relevant to areas of responsibility of other senior staff may be of interest to a librarian, as indeed will general information on the library culled from such sources as staff news sheets and library committee minutes. However, the data that he actually requests or requires from specific individuals, as opposed to that which interest him from various sources, should be related to matters on which he can make decisions. W J Reddin presents four criteria for assessing the usefulness and therefore the effectiveness of the data a manager receives

1 relevance - on matters on which he can make a decision

2 timeliness - regular data should come at the right frequency, eg weekly or monthly

3 accuracy - to be useful, data need not be one hundred percent accurate but it should be accurate enough so that correct decisions are more likely to be made

4 presentation - managers should decide not only what data they want, but also how these data should be presented (Reddin 137-8).

While such considerations are most easily applied to regular written data (eg monthly departmental reports), the senior librarian should attempt to specify his requirements based on some such list of criteria. Such a specification will facilitate not only the accuracy and clear presentation of regular data but also the relevance of the irregular type of information passed to a supervisor by his subordinates. Awareness by subordinate staff of the supervisor's requirements in this manner will encourage them to pay attention to the relevance and clarity of presentation of their communications upwards. It will help overcome one main blockage of upward communication, which is that subordinates fail to transmit' information simply because they cannot visualise accurately what information their supervisors need and require. Some upward communication will, of course, be irrelevant under any imposed conditions. Such communication may be of value, not necessarily to the receiver as a basis for his decision making. but to the sender, as a form of cartharsis or escape - release from tension and emotion. Guidelines should, however. be established for the more normal everyday types of communication.

Reddin's first criteria, relevance, can be amplified under a consideration of the content of upward communication. If a department or a library is to function adequately certain types of data should be passing upwards to departmental heads and administrative staff. These types relate to:

1 matters in which the supervisor may be held accountable by those senior to himself. This really includes all basic accountability for performance of one's assigned job but may be more clearly indicated by highlighting an example, such as a junior's friction with a member of the public who may later approach the librarian directly with a complaint

2 matters of disagreement between staff in one department or between members of staff in different departments

3 matters needing a supervisor's approval - such as the performance of a task in a different manner from the established one. Also recommendations for changes in, or variations from, established policies and practices in general

4 progress reports on work undertaken.

Such reporting may be used to measure individual efficiency and performance but in general exists primarily to help a librarian control immediate matters and improve the quality of his planning.

Most routine reporting is accomplished in written form. Most libraries require periodic written reports from departmental or sectional heads and branch librarians, if only to aid the librarian in the compilation of his annual report; plus reports on any irregular occurrences such as accidents and thefts. Bootle Public Library requires the submission of reports on accidents, damage, theft, vandalism, break-ins, public complaints and problems. In addition, each branch has an annual diary in which events are entered daily, this diary being inspected and signed by the director and deputy on the occasions of their visits. Sheffield's City Librarian requires the following written reports:

- quarterly statistical reports from heads of departments
- annual narrative reports from heads of departments
- annual report on extension activities
- annual report on the use of periodicals
- quarterly report on children's libraries
- annual report on staff from heads of departments
- reports on staff when being transferred or resigning
- reports on special occurrences (eg theft, accidents, complaints etc)
- reports on developments recommended by staff, local and general.

Much of the communication relating to the categories of content listed under 1 to 4 above, however, is performed orally, this method being more conducive to day-to-day reporting, casual remarks and discussion. Millicent Abell in her survey of a medium-sized American public library reported that over 93 percent of the librarian's contacts with his staff were in face-to-face conversations. This may be a rather high figure to apply to all libraries and to all supervisory staff but certainly it may be said that at least 70 percent of a supervisor's contact with staff, and thus of upward communication, will be by word of mouth. It is important to emphasise that such figures relate to upward communication within one department or from departmental heads to the librarian and should not be taken to imply a large volume of upward communication. Most libraries witness few unsolicited comments of a formal nature passing in an upward direction between departments, save in response to requests or at arranged meetings. Most upward communication takes place on a day-to-day basis within individual departments or branches; its volume will vary and it will tend to merge with informal communication.

Whatever channels of upward communication are provided in a library and whatever encouragement is given to staff to use them, there will still remain a number of hindrances or deterrents to the flow of such communication. The individual may feel that, although information and opinions are welcome, no practical results ensue. Hence it is important that senior librarians accord due appreciation to information and opinions received and, where possible, display a use of information and implementation of ideas or, alternatively, an indication to the relevant member of staff as to why his suggestions are impracticable or his opinions unsound.

Information and opinions should always be received objectively with an attentive attitude and appropriate action taken on what is received. Pursuit of such policies should help to lessen a dilemma attached to the superior person in a work situation. On the one hand his decisionmaking responsibilities require that he be adequately and correctly informed by his subordinates. On the other hand his responsibility for evaluating the performance of subordinates creates the condition whereby he will most likely get less than adequate and correct information from his subordinates. Under such conditions the subordinate tends to tell his superior what the latter is interested in, does not disclose what he does not want to hear and covers up problems and mistakes which may reflect adversely on the subordinate. Such a situation is not conducive to good work relationships and work performance and may also create a distortion in the downward flow of communication, since in his efforts to maintain the status differences the superior is less than candid in his relationships with subordinates.

The individual may be personally deterred from communicating upward through fear of displaying ignorance or unsound views or through fear that if he displays enthusiasm his work load might be increased. Both these difficulties may in part be overcome by helpful attitudes and sound organisation Administrative staff and departmental heads may seek to eliminate the first apprehension through adequate consultation and discussion with their staff. The second factor will probably remain in any library whatever the pattern of management set by the librarian. In part this is desirable since it may deter needless or unwarranted criticism and may help to quieten the more vocal members of staff. So far as the majority of staff are concerned, however, it is probably true to say that often a person's enthusiasm will be related to a desire to take on new responsibilities or workloads, hence these fears will not apply. Such communication upward may in fact be a substitute for a person's lack of advancement from a low status position to one of greater responsibility and authority.

This is not to deny that such fears do act as a deterrent to other members of staff. A survey of university libraries in the north east United States of America by K H Plate revealed that 80 percent of the middle managers (ie departmental and sectional heads) felt that they could only 'sometimes' or 'rarely' be frank with their supervisors in matters of library management. This attitude was explained in one of two ways: 1 certain 'problems' were not considered worthy of taking up the time and attention of superiors and 2 frankness was not always desirable when dealing with superiors in an organisational context. The middle managers were aware that organisational rewards accrue to those supervisors who 'don't make moves' (Plate 37). However, if such fears do act as a deterrent the position may be eased or overcome in part by adequate definition of job responsibilities and lines of authority. In such a situation a member of stall will know that his suggestions relating to matters outside his own present areas of work and responsibility will be channeled in the direction and to persons suitable and amenable to additional work. As a result. his motivations to participate in library work and decision making may well be enhanced and his personal professional growth and development aided.

In a sense, of course, rules, definitions of responsibility and tasks may discourage new suggestions or patterns of behaviour, not only because of the possibility of getting into trouble, but because they discourage the search for better ways of performing the same tasks and allocating responsibility. An ambiguously defined job may actually encourage people to look for new methods and clearer lines of responsibility; yet such a situation can also lead to uncertainty and unproductive effort. Rules are necessary and desirable provided that they are not inflexible and applied too rigidly. Such a consideration emphasises the main theme of this chapter, namely the close links between: 1 communication, staff capabilities and attitudes, and management style and 2 communication and organisational structure and administrative arrangements.


Abell, M. D. "Aspects of upward communications in a public library", in M.L. Bundy & R. Aronsen, eds, Social and political aspects of librarianship: student contributions to library science. Albany: State University of New York at Albany, School of Librarianship, 1965, pp. 91-99.

[ARL] Problems in university library management. Washington, D.C.: Association of Research Libraries, 1970.

Barnard, C. The functions of the executive. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1938.

Brewer, J. "Flow of communications, expert qualifications and organizinational authority structures". American sociological review, vol. 36 (3), June 1971, pp. 475-484.

Brown, W.P.B. Explorations in management. London: Heinemann, 1960.

Exeter University Library. Private communication from C.F. Scott, Deputy Librarian, Feb. 1972.

Fayol, H. General and industrial management, trans. by C. Storrs. London: Pitman, 1946.

Gscheidle, G.E. "Departments in public libraries". Library trends, vol. 42 (1), Jan. 1959, pp. 437-447.

[INTAMEL]. "INTAMEL: review of the three-year research and exchange programme approved at the 4th annual meeting in Baltimore in 1971". International library review, vol. 4 (2), April 1972, pp. 251-262.

McAnally, A.M. "Departments in university libraries". Library trends, vol. 7 (3), Jan. 1959, pp. 448-464.

McDiarmid, E.W. and McDiarmid, J. The administration of the American public library. Chicago: American Library Association, 1943.

New York Public Library. A handbook for new staff members. 1954.

Plate, K.H. Management personnel in libraries: a theoretical model for analysis. Rockaway, N.J.: American Faculty Press, 1970.

Reading University Library. Notes for the staff. July 1970.

Reddin, W.J. Effective MBO. London: Management Publications, 1971.

Thayer, L.O. Communication and communication systems in organization, management and interpersonal relations. Homewood, I11.: Irwin, 1968.

Woodward, J. Industrial organization: theory and practice. London: Oxford University Press, 1965.