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Overcoming the Vestiges of Bureaucratic Culture: Long and Short-Term Solutions Report

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Updated: Mar 9th, 2022

Executive Summary

The key problem, faced by this organization is inability to overcome the vestiges of bureaucratic culture. We have identified the following problems:

  1. lack of employee initiative and motivation;
  2. poor customer service;
  3. slow decision-making;
  4. failure to establish performance appraisal system.

While discussing the problems of this organization, we have referred to several research articles and case studies which examine similar problems. These sources have enabled us to propose long and short-term recommendations that can improve the functioning of this organization.

Short-term recommendations

  1. To carry out reader survey in order to better identify those areas that require improvement. The customers must be asked to evaluate various aspects of library’s work such as 1) library collection; 2) time management; 3) the use of technology; 4) helpfulness of employees; 5) the use of space.
  2. To interview the employees of this public library and ask each of them to suggest methods of improving the work of this organization.
  3. To install display units so that the readers could see the new books and periodicals.
  4. To install self-check-out units so that readers could take books on their own.

Long-term recommendations

  1. To develop new methods of performance appraisal. In particular, they need to focus on the individual contribution of each employee and his/her professional skills and competences.
  2. To simplify the workplace hierarchy and eliminate the barriers between the top administrators and frontline personnel.
  3. To provide regular training to the employees so that they could be aware of the best practices, adopted in modern public libraries.

These recommendations can help the administration of this public library to attract and retain readers.

Discussion of the problems faced by the organization

This report is aimed at analyzing the problems of the public library in which my client works. Judging from the interview with her, I may argue that this organization has to cope with such difficulties as slow decision-making, lack of employee motivation, and poor customer service. Yet, they seem to originate from organizational structure and culture of this institution.

In particular, we need to speak about bureaucratic form of management which significantly slows down the functioning of this public library. It should be noted that these problems are typical of many public libraries that cannot adjust themselves to the market economy (Kinnell & MacDougall, 1992, p 22).

At first, we need to explain how bureaucracy manifests itself in this organization. There are many definitions and interpretations of this concept; however, it has some inherent characteristics which are as follows:

  1. inability of the frontline personnel to take part in problem-solving and decision-making;
  2. the red tape and extensive paperwork;
  3. complex workplace hierarchy;
  4. the necessity to follow a great number of superfluous procedures;
  5. underdeveloped compensational policies
  6. strict subordination (Park, 2005; Mullins & Linehan, 2006 ).

In other words, there are too many professional barriers which do not contribute to effective performance. Similar situation can be observed in this public library.

When we are speaking about the bureaucracy in this public library, we should not overlook shortcoming as very strict division of work responsibilities. This means that an employee will be willing to do only those things which are directly related to his/her immediate duties.

For instance, people, who are working in the science Library section, will help their colleagues from the acquisition department only if they receive explicit command from their manager. Of course, one should not suppose that such situation occur very often, but they significantly hinder problem-solving.

This is one of the cases, when organizational culture contradicts the strategic objectives of the public i. e. to serve the needs of community. Moreover, this organizational culture does not promote professional values such as willingness to help one’s colleague, the desire to improve one’s skills and enlarge one’s knowledge.

In his study, Usherwood (2007, p 667) argues that such attitude toward one’s duties is the underlying cause of poor customer service. Still, we have to stress an idea that these problems are imbedded in bureaucracy and its complex workplace hierarchy.

Apart from that, one should not overlook that this library has not established any standard of service quality. To put it in a different way, they do not know how their performance should be evaluated and which criteria should be taken into consideration.

Scholars believe that this kind of difficulty is common among public libraries and add that many administrators are often reluctant to change the state of affairs (Proctor & Simmons, 2000, p 28; Nitecki, 1996). To some extent, it can be explained by the fact that administrators view public libraries only as non-profit organizations, which does not have to compete in the market. However, such perception has long become out-of-date.

First, of all, those public libraries which do not attract a sufficient number of readers may sooner or later be closed by the local government. Secondly, in the modern world, in which Internet technologies have provided a great number of opportunities to the people, any library has to prove its value; these organizations must be able to explain the benefits of using them. Unfortunately, in many cases this goal is not achieved.

This is why it is vital to develop strategies which may help the administrators of this library to overcome these difficulties. At the moment, the most immediate objective is to establish criteria of assessing the quality of library service.

The readers should be asked to evaluate this library according such parameters as

  1. the richness of its collection;
  2. the speed of operations, in other words, how much time the reader has to wait until he/she receives the necessary book or periodical;
  3. the politeness and helpfulness and employees;
  4. the extent to which modern technologies are used;
  5. the use of space in the library.

Overall, the assessment that is based on the customer’s point of view will enable them to determine a great number of organizational flaws. Such approach has long been adopted by profit organizations, and public libraries can also find it very useful (Park, 2005, p 168).

The second step is to ask employees for their recommendations. For instance, each of them can be asked to draw up a list of those things which he/she likes and/or dislikes in this organization. Again, such strategy has proved quite successful in private companies, and in this context it can also yield results. These measures are of the highest priority now.

Another short-term recommendation that we can suggest is to display new books and periodicals that the library has recently procured. My client, who works as an acquisition librarian, pointed out many readers preferred to use the services of a different public library because they did not actually see new books, some of which were not displayed at all.

To some extent, this lack of display units gave rise to the belief that the collection of this library was not kept up-to-date. Similar techniques have already been applied by other libraries, and they enabled them to better attract new readers (Park, 2005, p 168).

In addition we need to discuss the time management in this organization. Scholars believe that a great number of procedures, established in public libraries are very time-consuming and superfluous (Gothberg 1991; Nitecki 1996). Both customers and the library staff have to spend a substantial amount of time on check-out procedures.

It should be noted that in the majority of cases, a reader, who visits library on a regular basis, knows in which section the book can be found. This person does not require the assistance of the librarian; yet, he/she does require permission to take the book. This procedure is one of the reasons why many people are dissatisfied with the quality of services in public libraries.

Scholars recommend several solutions of this problem; one of them is to install self-check-out units and self-serve holds so that readers could take books without having to ask permission of the librarian (Park, 2005, p 168).

Moreover, it is argued at approximately 80 percent of the library materials can be placed on self-check-out units (Park, 2005, p 168). These are the short-term recommendation that we can propose. This public library has to implement more dramatic changes in its organizational structure and culture.

The most crucial step is to establish different performance appraisal and compensation systems. As it has been noted before many of the employees of this organization have no incentive to work productively because their individual effort often goes unnoticed by the management. In part, the assessment can rely on the feedback, provided by the readers.

They can assess the work of a librarian in terms of his/her politeness, helpfulness, erudition, and time-efficiency. The key difficulty is how to evaluate the performance of each individual employee, rather than the entire organization. For this purpose, each of the managers should be able to point out those skills which are indispensible for the librarians.

It is possible to single out the following ones:

  1. knowledge of the library collection and ability to find the necessary information;
  2. technical competence;
  3. willingness to help one’s colleagues;
  4. teachings skills or ability to explain the readers how they can find a book or a periodical publication.

In this way, they will be able to see the individual contribution of each employee.

The final recommendation that we can make is to simplify the workplace hierarchy in this public library. Some positions in this organization can be eliminated, since they are not crucial for the work of this organization.

This strategy will allow this public library to reduce labor costs and improve the interactions between managers and their subordinates. Certainly, this step will involve the dismissal of some employees, but this change is essential for the very survival of this public library.


Gothberg, H. (1991). Time management in public libraries: A study of public libraries. Public Libraries, 30(6), 350–377.

Kinnell, M., & MacDougall, J. (1992). Marketing public library services – Opportunities for change. Library Management, 13(4), 22–32.

Nitecki, D. (1996). Changing the concept and measure of service quality in academic libraries. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 181–190.

Mullins, J., & Linehan, M. (2006). Are public libraries led or managed? Library Review, 55(3), 237–248.

Park, C. (2005). Harris County Public Library: Creating a design paradigm for twenty-first century libraries. The Bottom Line, 18(4), 167–174.

Proctor, R., & Simmons, S. (2000). Public library closures: The management of hard decisions. Library Management, 25–30.

Usherwood, R. C. (2007). Professional values in a bureaucratic structure. Library Review, 666–673.

Ward, R. (2007). The outsourcing of public library management: An analysis of the application of new public management theories from the principal-agent perspective. Administration & Society, 38(6), 627–635.

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