April 2019 NMRT Online Discussion

April 2019 NMRT Online Discussion: Navigating Bureaucracies In Your Institutions

The topic for our April discussion centered on navigating bureaucracies in our institutions. At some point in our personal and professional lives, we have all encountered some type of bureaucratic process. Whether it is the Department of Motor Vehicles or dealing with a school administration. Bureaucracies help to develop and enforce rules and guidelines. They allow us to perform our jobs effectively and to function as a society. Unfortunately, the bureaucratic process tends to have a negative connotation because of its perceived rigidity and ineffectiveness to get things done quickly. Fortunately, not all bureaucracies are bad and the process can be effective. During our discussion, members shared their experiences with the bureaucratic process at their institutions.


The majority of the members spoke positive about the amount of flexibility and autonomy they have within their institutions to make decisions. This was true for members working in both public and academic libraries. Members believe that having flexibility makes their job easier as they are able to adapt to each individual situation rather than prescribe one single solution to all situations. Having this autonomy to makes changes while still working within the framework of the institution allows for the best outcome in service to the patron while removing barriers to access. Some of the flexibility discussed by members was due to new changes in management at their institutions; others were due to the fact that some of the members worked in small rural libraries or branch libraries. In fact, it seems that the majority of the members who discussed having autonomy worked in branch libraries outside of the main library administration.


In order to successfully navigate through the bureaucracy, members discussed the need to have clarity on their role within the institution. Knowing the chain of command makes it easy to direct questions to the proper staff member. You would not expect to have a library technician know the fine details of the library budget or have the Library Director be responsible for processing daily fines. Look at your own institution. Would you know where to direct a question? If the answer is no, then it is time to have a discussion within your institution and develop a clear chain of command. Additionally, having a clear understanding of Human Resources policies and guidelines is very important. This will allow you to hire new staff, properly coach and counsel existing staff, and ensure that no policies are being violated.


Not having a clear chain of command or having clear policies and procedures are large obstacles to successfully navigating the bureaucracy at your institution. How can you be trusted to effectively fulfill your duties if you do not know what to do? Furthermore, inconsistency and vagueness is frustrating for both the library staff and to our patrons. During our discussion, many members found that most of the rigidity and bureaucratic obstacles came from the larger bureaucratic institution responsible for the library. Specifically, most members pointed to local governments in charge of public library funding.

Ultimately, this discussion only scratched the surface. Going forward, it is very important that we learn how to navigate the bureaucracies in our institutions in order to maximize our effectiveness.  

Submitted by Alfonso Huerta

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