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close this bookInternational Reader in the Management of Library, Information and Archive Services (UNESCO, 1987, 684 p.)
close this folder2. Managing information: Introduction
close this folder2.1 Management of an information service
View the documentManagement and policies of an information unit
View the documentOrganizing and operating an information and documentation centre

Organizing and operating an information and documentation centre

Robert Harth

General organizational aspects

As in all tasks involving organization, the purpose of an IaD centre must be the decisive factor in determining the most rational form of organization. The IaD centre is a business concern which provides services. In organizational terms, it regulates and directs relations between the highly varied 'market' of information sources and the equally varied 'market' of Information needs. This applies equally to public and private IaD centres, but we shall concentrate here on the requirements of IaD centres In the private economy.

The 'market' concept Is used in this context to make it easier to draw parallels with other economic activities, for example trade. In commercial concerns, familiarity with the producer market and with consumer needs determine turnover and hence economic success. Optimum organization helps to keep a business's costs as low as possible.

Similarly, in the case of an IaD centre familiarity with information needs and information sources is the most important factor in ensuring an efficient information supply service. Proper organization will also ensure that the costs of this service are kept at an economically rational level.

In practice, many different approaches are now adopted to the organization of IaD centres, depending on the function they perform. Specialized libraries are frequently linked with IaD centres whose services include the provision of information and literature.

However, only IaD centres engaged essentially in providing information are dealt with below.

Activities and functions

Users expect an IaD centre to provide the following services:

A. Information through the supply of original documents, e.g.:

Newspaper circulation

- supply of research papers, reports on meetings, etc.;
- book lending;

B. Information on specific subjects, e.g.:

- bibliographical research;
- data inventories;
- product and producer listings;

C. Current information on the state of the art through Information services, e.g. :

- in-house bibliographical information services;
- profile services;
- abstract sources;
- information on application techniques;
- market data.

The activities of central specialized information establishments as independent service enterprises are on a far larger scale than those of subsidiary establishments.

The range of services required by users has a decisive influence on the various procedures that need to be efficiently combined in the work routine of an IaD centre.

Each IaD centre may be said to perform three broad functions related to the flow of information from the producer (information profile) to the user (profile of interests):

(a) acquisition;
(b) documentation;
(c) information.

An additional field 'word processing and reprography' is usually superimposed on these basic functions.

The information system as a simple feedback control system

Information systems can be represented as a simple feedback control systems (diagram 65) operating between the producer of information and the user. The feedback control system is made up of the following functions: acquisition, documentation, information and management.

The purpose of the system Is to select from a wide-ranging supply of Information the elements that match the user's profile of interests. The information system is controlled by the regulator (management) by means of constant adjustment. Changes In user requirements, for example, lead to corresponding changes in individual functions. Each and every change in and addition to the IaD task necessarily calls for an Investigation of the consequences for the entire system. A really smooth flow of information can only be achieved on the basis of an overall review of the system.

Diagram 65: Information system as a simple feedback control system

Diagram 66: Organization chart of an IaD centre

Organization chart

On the basis of the sequence of steps involved in providing an information service, an IaD centre may be divided up into the following fields:

1. Functions
1.1 source collection (specialized library)
1.2 documentation
1.3 Information

2. Management and related fields
2.1 management
2.2 central services
2.3 co-ordination and systems development

A detailed organization chart is shown in diagram 66. It is applicable to almost every kind of enterprise, with possible variations in the prominence assigned to individual fields.

Provision of services (dissemination of information): The problems

The services provided by IaD centres have hitherto been based essentially on primary publications. They have played a decidedly secondary role In the normal process of disseminating information through the mass media, the specialized press, specialized literature, etc. They concentrate instead on processing and organizing information in the light of users' interests. However, an IaD centre's supply of services Is in competition to some extent with the acquisition of information by users themselves. It is therefore essential, if the supply is to be accepted by the user, to ensure that an IaD centre's information potential is greater than the user's information stock. An efficient system is expected to be able to supply information from virtually all relevant sources, shedding light on the particular problem concerned. Users also expect the supply of information to adapt itself to changes in interests without entailing major expense.

The resulting qualitative expectations of a more or less anonymous 'user market' exert an important influence on the planning and efficiency of an information system.

Planning and organization

Planning is a prerequisite for organization. Analysis of interests, identification of service expectations and selection of the sources to be consulted for that purpose (information profile) provide the basic data needed for the efficient organization of an IaD centre.

The establishment and organization of this kind of operational field may be divided into the following three stages:

(a) planning;
(b) systems development;
(c) testing of the system and attainment of 'maturity'.


In the planning stage, guidelines are drawn up for the actual design of the system. An attempt is made to illustrate the interdependence of system components and user-dependent factors in the form of a matrix.

User-dependent factors

System components




level of information


type of service desired



user frequency


exercise consists in identifying the specialized field for which documentation is required. It is important to know (field - user relationship) whether the subject to be dealt with is narrow (plastics in motor vehicles) or wide ranging (car manufacturing). This will have an influence (field - source relationship) an the selection of sources to be consulted (important: existing stock and growth rate).

The next set of questions concerns the level of information for which services are to be provided. If it is exclusively for research and development purposes, this will affect the structure of the publications to be covered by the documentation (patents, research reports, scientific journals, legislation, etc.), the factual content and the detail of cataloguing. If the service is to cover a more general field of information, this will have a qualitative effect (structure of sources) and an effect on data selection (factual content, cataloguing).

In this connection, it is also useful to know the number of persons to be informed:

A further aspect to be taken into account in designing a system is, broadly speaking, the type of services desired. This influences the type of storage facilities to be provided and has implications for the factual content and detail of cataloguing.

A final question concerns expected frequency of user recourse to the services. This may have implications for storage design and search strategies.

The planning stage concludes with a rough preliminary estimate of staff needs for setting up an IaD centre in the following two stages: development and testing. A rough estimate of financial needs is also made at this stage.

Systems development

The system must in any case be designed in such a way as to be expandable in any desired direction. It must be possible, therefore, to make the transition from manual documentation to mechanical procedures with the minimum disruption. The sequence is more or less as follows: selection of the optimum organizational procedure (classification, thesaurus, etc.):

- preliminary design of the storgage system;
- design of a data-gathering sheet for recording data and reports;
- drawing-up of guidelines for formal data collection and cataloguing;
- decisions regarding the installation of technical equipment;
- revision of staff needs.

Testing of system

During the test period, the system must be tested to ensure that it is providing users with a largely satisfactory service and developed until it reaches 'maturity'. The steps in the process may be as follows:

- documentation - formal compiling and cataloguing;
- building up a storage system;
- use of forms to direct and control the work process;
- training of documentation staff;
- training of users;
- research work;
- supply of periodically produced information services;
- analysis of relevance;
- improvements to the system;
- establishment of cost indicators for evaluation of the system.

A mature information system?

The steps in setting up an information system set out chronologically above are very difficult to carry out in practice in the same sequence. There is heavy overlapping of the individual phases during the development process. User needs should be the overriding consideration in all cases during the development and testing stages.

As user needs always evolve in the light of progress, information systems are also subject to structural fluctuations. A system's 'maturity' is therefore limited in time.

Internal documentation work or reliance on outside services

As information and documentation are highly labour-intensive activities, it is advisable in designing the system to consider what kind of outside services might be used by the new information system. This calls for market analysis to determine whether IaD work is already being wholly or partially executed elsewhere. It should prove less costly to purchase required services from outside suppliers and concentrate on internal aspects of the documentation project (e.g. Independent research, etc.). Indeed the expected increase in specialized information centres, providing services ranging from print services to magnetic tape services and linking up terminals to the ADP store, will make it possible to reduce the scale of independent documentation work.

General observations on the low-cost organization of IaD centres

The following 'maxims' are key considerations to be borne In mind in organizing an IaD centre. They are Intended as a 'summary' of the preceding sections.

1. Necessary personal services are to be organized in terms of the expertise required.

2. Considerable division of labour, with the possible use of temporary staff or outside services where they prove cheaper.

3. Control of steps in the work process through form-filling.

4. Development of storage and information supply, making substantial use of external services.

5. Full use of all opportunities for co-operative agreements with other IaD centres operating in the same field.

6. Constant reappraisal of the work process with a view to simplification.

7. Development of indicators through cost-benefit analysis with a view to controlling costs and evaluating performance.

Staff costs are the main component In the overall cost of running an IaD centre, accounting for about 75 to 80 per cent of the total in the case of small- and medium-scale enterprises. In the interests of low-cost organization, therefore, all measures required to fulfil users' requests must be critically investigated from the standpoint of their impact on staff costs.