The ‘Coordinator Syndrome’ and e-resources management

Once again I find myself nodding along with excellent and thoughtful points made by Meredith Farkas, this time from her latest blog post, “Reflections on library assessment and the Library Assessment Conference.”

The part that particularly resonates with me is Meredith’s mention of the ‘Coordinator Syndrome’ and how problematic it is to hold a coordinator role in libraries. I know because I’ve had that role many times, although the word was only part of my official title many years ago when I worked at The University of Chicago Library.

Meredith’s perspective was about positions that coordinate assessment activities, but I couldn’t help thinking how relevant this was to my experience in e-resources management. She writes:

“I think administrators have good intentions when they create coordinator positions that are set up to fail. They recognize that x is important and they don’t currently have anyone with expertise in x in the Library. So they hire someone to be in charge of x, but they give this person no support, only a mandate to make sure a culture of x is infused into every part of the institution. As if one person (and a new person at that) could achieve this. This could be instruction, assessment, scholarly communications, or a whole host of other things. The simple fact is that no one person can create a culture of anything.”

Wow. So true.

I’ve repeatedly spoken about the odd fact that e-resources management, even in large, well-funded academic or research libraries, is frequently done on a shoestring, with one or just a few people involved. Odd because, the vast majority of library materials budgets are spent on e-resources, sometimes as much as 90%. Perhaps more importantly, it’s odd because this is the stuff users seem to want and use the most! This assertion can be readily backed up by collection use statistics and surveys.

Too often as a result of making this point, the reaction I get is defensive, and is articulated something along the lines of, “Well, you really should not be so narrowly focused on your own area; other things we do are important, too.” Hello? Yes, I get that, completely. But people, we have immense challenges here trying to get this e-resource stuff under control. How can we justify the amount of money we spend on it if we aren’t managing it effectively? How can we manage it effectively if only one or two people are assigned to the task? And it takes a LOT of management and attention.

Yes, e-resources management is “my thing” but I think it is anything but narrow-mindedness that drives me to make this point. Rather, it’s about stepping back and looking at the bigger picture and seeing that staffing, resourcing, and mindsets need to drastically change. Why are we so wedded to processes and staffing that are so dominantly focused on our offline collections? This is not to say that offline collections are unimportant. Not at all. But there is a great imbalance here that needs to be righted.

For too long, the mindset in many libraries has been, if it’s “e” or “online,” let’s throw it at x person and let her/him deal with it. This is very pervasive. It’s also the short road to irrelevance for libraries, in my view.

Everyone needs to be interested in, and onboard with, e-resources in libraries. Not everyone can or should be involved in every aspect of e-resources management, but there should be a much more widely shared mindset about their importance, as well as involvement in the workflow. Our online presence should be as carefully, if not more carefully, paid attention to as our physical environment.

The question is, why does the ‘Coordinator Syndrome’ persist, particularly with regard to e-resources? I’m not sure of all the reasons, but one reason I’m certain of is widespread discomfort with and lack of understanding about fundamental e-resources issues. This is especially true of administrators but it also applies to many other library staff. As I’ve noted elsewhere, libraries are inherently conservative things. No matter how many times we trumpet our adaptability, we don’t like change; we really don’t. We are often threatened by it.

I am so tired of trying to explain fundamentals about e-resources to others and getting a glazed look, or an annoyed and defensive response. Of course, I constantly need to work on my communication skills. But I truly believe that many of my library colleagues just don’t want to know and don’t care. As Meredith notes, “One person can’t do the heavy lifting on their own.”

The problem is that the heavy lifting is not just the work itself, it’s also the advocacy and the effort it takes to be a voice to others about the work we do.

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