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61st IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 20-25, 1995

The challenge of choice: training and organisational development services for libraries in the 'new world'

Brenda McConchie



AIMA Training and Consultancy Services was established in the mid 1980's to provide management training for librarians. Today AIMA has a large client base in Australia and New Zealand and offers trai ning and consultancy services to all areas of the information industry, although it is still predominantly focussed on libraries. AIMA's clientele extends across all types of libraries and people who work in the information industry including professional, para professional and non professional staff. Its challenge is to ensure that librarians stay relevant and that it stays relevant itself.

The challenge

Oppenheim in his article Virtual reality and the virtual library, offers many challenges to our traditional model of libraries as he depicts a scenario which offers almost endless choices to users of libraries:

'You can of course pick the Virtual Librarian of your choice. You can have a male or female, young or old, soft spoken or aggressive conscientious or slap dash.

Such a Virtual Library would offer several advantages over current libraries. For example, all items in the collection would be permanently on display, nothing would be on loan, or away for binding, or stolen or mutilated. Secondly, the materials can be in the shape and form you like. Oversize books get put side by side with smaller books. If you like your books to have leather bindings, then th ey all have leather bindings, and so on. Thirdly, the same item can appear on many places on the shelves. You can have one library with the items in subject order. The same library again but this tim e the material in author order. The same library again, but everything in publisher order. You choose. Finally, the physical characteristics of the library can be to your choice. If you want a bright modern building with windows looking out over countryside, that's what you get. If you want the feeling of a comfortable gentleman's club, with hushed noises and deep armchairs, you get that instead '. (Oppenheim, p226)

Although technology will facilitate the eventual implementation of Oppenheim's scenario the overriding issue raised here is the concept of choice. Choice that clients will make in the future and cert ainly are making now about the type of service they want, who will provide that service, how it will be provided and the price they are prepared to pay.

When I am talking with people who work in libraries I hear conflicting stories. On one hand libraries are having to take cuts in staff and resource budgets and the situation is very depressing. Howev er, on the other hand, I am told that libraries are the way to the future and librarians are in demand and commanding competitive salaries. The two points of view would seem to be so opposite that m aking sense out of them might seem impossible. Once again it comes down to clients exercising their right to choose. If they are not happy with the service then they won't use it. How then does an or ganisation like AIMA operate in such an environment?

The response The variability in services and the amount of change taking place in libraries were key influences on the most recent AIMA strategic plan which has emphasised the identification of the skills people who work in our industry will need if they are to take a leading role in the delivery of information services and create those options to allow for the choice that clients want. The issues we aim to address in our own service delivery include:

Much of what AIMA does is governed by its desire to redefine the focus of librarians. This means that we must provide them with the skills to assure themselves of a leading role in the information bu siness and not just the running of libraries.

AIMA offers a range of services under three broad functional areas:

These services are offered discretely or may be combined depending on the needs of the clients. For instance we can facilitate an organisation's strategic plan and follow that up training in the var ious skills required to successfully implement the plan.

AIMA is looking to model flexibility as an organisation skill which we believe will be the difference between the more successful and less successful libraries of the future. For us this means combin ing services where appropriate, delivering programs differently and offering a mix of services for clients to choose from. Once again it is about facilitating choice.

A number of key areas have emerged for which we are either introducing new services or redesigning existing ones. For example:

  1. Strategic planning has been around as a management tool for many years and is seen as a critical business process. But for some reason it has not been the success many of our libraries hoped it w ould have been.

    Clients are of the view that many set visions and goals that were not achievable, or were too complex or too long term and so the plans foundered. In the climate of uncertainty and change a strategic plan must not only set the direction but have a degree of flexibility that ensures the library can take advantage of opportunities which arise unexpectedly.

    In consultation with clients who have expressed concerns about their lack of progress in this area we have introduced new training programs-Revitalising the Strategic Plan and Unblocking the Strategi c Plan to our calendar. Both programs are designed to cover standard strategic planning processes but include evaluation aspects to ensure past problems are overcome. They have been designed for indi viduals and as inhouse programs.

    Many of our libraries have been focussing on technology in their strategic planning and some now understand that it is a means rather than an end. Libraries are shifting the emphasis of their plannin g from technology to service delivery using technology as the tool. This means that the information needs of the clients are now a high priority.

  2. Strategic business partnerships. Libraries have been working in cooperation with each other for a long time but now they are needing to utilise the expertise of different organisations and AIMA i s no different. We have begun to work with other consulting companies, such as accountancy and computing firms to offer services which provide a balanced set of skills and more depth to our consultan cy and training services. This arrangement ensures that libraries and librarians are kept in the forefront of the information management consulting business. Our co-consultants are selected for each project on the basis of the skills they have to offer and the experience they will get from being part of such an activity. This experience is then presumably useful to their own organisation.

    AIMA is also working in a much closer relationship with other professional associations such as the Australian Library and Information Association to bring to libraries common goals and objectives. F or example ALIA may identify an issue which is important to its membership and AIMA will support this with relevant training programs.

    In today's world it is difficult to operate by yourself and AIMA has always seen itself as a partner in the development of library staff and now it sees itself as a partner in the wider information c onsulting business.

  3. Total Quality Management (TQM). Many of our clients are asking for assistance with their TQM needs and as the requests are varied we have decided to offer an approach which combines consultancy, facilitation and training. We have developed a package which allows libraries to choose from a number of programs and activities geared to their stage of implementation, or otherwise, of TQM. Topics include: Introduction to TQM, Customer Service, Tools for TQM and Teams. Consultancy services are included as part of this package or are available separately if needed.

    AIMA has identified a need for library staff to be successful trainers, particularly those who work in areas where they are imparting knowledge and skills to each other or to clients. Our Train the T rainer course has had a dominant emphasis on inhouse training program development and this is being redeveloped to cover training for clients in areas such as electronic information services, Interne t training, which is a major activity for many of our libraries at the moment.

  4. Electronic Document Management is a completely new area to AIMA and is seen as a strategic business direction for both consultancy and training. Already several consultancies have been commission ed because of the skills AIMA can bring together to ensure a well balanced approach to this vital area of information management.

    Records Managers and Information Technologists are also experts in this area and have skills which complement those of librarians. In Australia we are seeing a surge of interest by private enterprise in librarians and it is because they have skills which can add value to the management of information and the retrieval of information from external sources particularly electronic information (Inte rnet).

    This service involves initial consulting work, organisational and system development followed by training. In one large government agency a strategic planning and marketing exercise was undertaken wi th the library, where consideration of how they might deliver more of their services electronically was expanded to cover the whole of the agency's corporate information area.

  5. Leadership skills are vital to librarians and in these times of creating the advantage for ourselves, knowing how and when to exercise leadership is particularly important. In recognising the out standing work done by Dennis Day with the Snowbird Leadership Institute and through AIMA's Chairman, Warren Horton, we are introducing a similar program to people who work in libraries in Australia a nd New Zealand. The Aurora Leadership Institute will be run in November and has attracted significant interest among potential participants and mentors.

    While Leadership as a topic has been included in other AIMA programs from a three day Leadership Skills Institute which was aimed at senior to middle managers and in modules of our management skills programs, the Aurora Leadership Institute is the first time it has been treated in such a high profile and targeted way.

  6. AIMA has been offering Management Skills programs since it began and in recent times our trainers and co-trainers have observed that the understanding by participants of some of these skills has increased to such an extent that the basic program is being rewritten to include much of the material from the advanced program and that new material such as political skills, managing change and ris k taking, some of which were separate workshops, are now being included as modules in the Advanced Program.


In meeting the challenge AIMA must ensure it is working closely with the staff of libraries to ensure they are able to take advantage of their library knowledge and enhance it with skills in leadersh ip, business relationships and technology with the overriding principles of service delivery to the clients and flexibility. Libraries have a significant history and infrastructure to take up the role of leading player in the information business it is up to organisations like ours to ensure that they have the skills to do it well.


Oppenheim, Charles. Virtual reality and the virtual library. In Information services and use. vol13, 1993. pp215-227.