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63rd IFLA General Conference - Conference Programme and Proceedings - August 31- September 5, 1997

Between professional field norms and environmental change impetuses:
A comparative study of change processes in public libraries

Ragnar Audunson, dr.polit
Oslo College,
Faculty of Journalism,
Library and Information Science


1. The theme of the paper: Change processes in public libraries

1.1. The imperative of change and the structuring power of the standards of public librarianship

We are living in a period characterized by change. Change or perish - that is literally the gospel of todayís society.

If a local government advertizing for a new public librarian specifies in its advertisement that is is looking for a change oriented person, nobody would probably raise an eyebrow. But I am convinced that it would cause great surprise if faithfulness towards the established norms and standards of public librarianship was among the qualifications listed.

To organizations and professionals, however, the implementing of reforms often stand forth as threatening inconveniences. Frequent reforms seem to take resources away from the "real"tasks of the organization. Instead of concentrating upon producing library services, we are forced to continually scrutinize our organization and our practices to see to it that they are in accordance with the latest fashions in organizational life. New norms and standards are often regarded as threats to pratctices to which we attach meaning. Oganizations and professions, therefore, tend to develop mechanisms to defend themselves against changes and reforms.

Public librarianship can be regarded as an institutionalized system of norms and standards. Throughout this century these norms and standards have structured the development of public libraries. The result has been isomorphy, i.e. public libraries basically have imitated each other, implemented the same standards and norms and become alike. It seems reasonable to hypothesize that todayís change imperative threatens to dissolve public librarianship as a coherent field, thus supplanting isomorphy with diversity. My research question can be summed up as follows:

In order to grasp and estimate the role and structuring power of the established value base of public librarianship, I have compared three metropolitan public libraries facing basically the same change-inducing factors, but doing so in environments differing as for political and administrative turbulence. The libraries I have been comparing are the Deichmanske Public Library of Oslo, The City Library of Gothenburg (or rather the network of independent libraries in the city of Gothenburg) and The Metropolitan Szabó Ervin Public Library of Gothenburg. I have studied planning documents, made in depth interviews with altogether 36 librarians from the three libraries, and distributed identical questionnaires to all qualified librarians in the three library systems.

Public librarianship as an institutionalized field fostering isomorphy

My point of departure is that public libraries in all developed countries up to now has had a common professional and ideological basis. It is more than an accident that e.g. the central actors in the creation of the modern Norwegian and Hungarian public libraries respectively - Haakon Nyhuus and Szabó Ervin - both entered the stage and started their work at almost exactly the same time (around 1900). Their ideas on public librarianship and the reforms they initiated were suprisingly similar. According to my knowledge, Haakon Nyhuus and Szabó Ervin never communicated. How can we explain and understand the fact that two person living approximately 1000 miles away from each other in very different political and cultural contexts and not communicating, developed more or less identical ideas simultanously? The answer is, of course, that they did communicate. They were both members of the developing field of public librarianship, communicating with and receiving their impulses from the same source, i.e. first and foremost Anglo-American public librarianship.

The fundamental idea of the modern public library system which has developed throughout this century, can be summed up in the following sentence: Promoting equal access to knowledge and culture by putting books and other kinds of documents at the free disposal of the public, thereby promoting values like meaning, participation in society, access to education and the cultural heritage regardless of economic means and social status, and, in the end, a widening of democracy. The professional basis of public librarianship is to a large extent normative and value ridden. Equality, pluralism and quality in selection policies and the promotion of democracy as an ultimate goal have all been central dogmas in the professional ideology.

Core elements in what we might term the ideological basis of of public librarianship have been eleborated and diffused on an international basis through IFLA and the library activities and programs of UNESCO, through professional journals and conferences. They have proved adaptable within the the framework of different political contexts. Be it in the social democratic Scandinavia, the United States, Germany, Great Britain etc, we have up to now found libraries and librarians defining their role in basically the same way. (One of the libraries I am going to study, belonged to the former Soviet bloc. It might form an exception, to the extent pluralism in selection policy and democratic values are integral parts of the foundation of librarianship. But the librarians - at least in Hungary - were integrated into the international community of librarians. As the deputy head of the Szabó Ervin put it in an interview I made with him in 1989: "Orally we have paid heed to Soviet ideology. But in our practical work we have looked to England, the United States, Scandinavia for impulses".

Like other state and local government organizations, public libraries are political instruments. They are established and maintained in order to further political goals within the fields of cultural, educational and informational politics. When compared to other public organizations they are, however, characterized by some peculiarities which might be of importance when analyzing them - especially when analyzing change:

  1. They are completely dominated by one professional group - the librarians. Perspectives and other ways of thinking stemming from other professions, are not built into public library organizations.

  2. There are long and complicated chains of argument between investing in library programs and the social and political goals and values which these programs are supposed to promote, due to the fact that libraries as a rule are secondary instruments in relation to the social values justifying the investment of limited resources. If society wants to promote literacy among children, the relationship between this goal and investing in schools and education is evident to most people. Schools are the primary producer of literacy. This is not so with public libraries. In this and most other fields, libraries are secondary producers. When political and ideological changes challenge the taken-for-granted value of library services and force librarianship to document its contribution, the profession is placed in a vulnerable position.

In the era of the (social democratic) welfare state, one might say that a harmony existed between the ideas of public librarianship focusing upon e.g. equal access to knowledge and culture regardless of economic and social status, the role of libraries in promoting democracy and free borrowing, and the values dominating which were hegemonic in the political environment surrounding the libraries. Public librarianship represented a solution which was relevant to the dominating political values. Now this era seems to have come to an end. Values focusing upon competition and market solutions have taken over the hegemony. In order to prove relevant to society, public librarianship will probably have to change.

It seems reasonable to expect, however, that changes in order to adapt to to trends dominating the political and administrative environment will be difficult and conflict ridden due to the inherent conflict between the values now coming to the forefront and the established value base of public librarianship.

The change impetuses which public libraries have to adapt to, can be divided into three groups:

  1. Technological changes, i.e. the effects of digitalization.
  2. Political changes, e.g. the tendency towards increased market orientation and privatization.
  3. Changes relating to organizational structures and methods of planning and management, e.g. decentralization, MBO or goal oriented planning, and quality management.

In my research, I have concentrated on the second and third category

2. My theoretical point of departure: Institutional theory

Organizational change can be analyzed and understood from several perspectives:

  1. One perspective frequently use also in library research, views the ability to adapt and change as dependent upon organizational structure. What is for instance the relationship between change ability on the one hand and organizational variables such as hierarchy, complexity and size on the other. (Burns and Stalker, 1961; Aiken, 1971; Boyd, 1979; Howard, 1990).

  2. Organizational change in bureaucratic organizations can be seen as resulting from the self interest of the bureaucrats, e.g. budget maximizing (Niskanen, 1971) or bureau-shaping (Dunleavy, 1991).

  3. Organizational change and developments can be analyzed from the perspective of demographic composition, e.g. sex, age, tenure etc (Pfeffer, 1985).

These three perspectives can be desribed as falling within a rational and instrumental tradition.

When observing organizational pratice, however, one often finds anomalies which cannot be explained by rational theories. One often finds that reforms decided upon are not really implemented. They might for instance be restricted to what Brunsson calls the level of talking, not being allowed to enter and effect the organizationís level of action (Brunson, 1989), or they might be translated and transformed to suit the organizationís traditional practices, so that no real changes take place. And how can we interpret and understand the fact that decision makers often gather information without using it, that they perform expensive cost-benefit analyses which apparantly have no effects on the final outcome or that organizational members fight for the right to participate without using it, to cite some of the examples brought forward by March and Olsen (March and Olsen, 1989, p.48).

Since the end of the seventies, institutional theory has come to the forefront in social science as an alternative to insttrumental rationalism. Institutionalism stresses the weight and meaning of existing structures, rules, norms and roles. Organizational action and change cannot be sufficiently understood as the result of a rational means-end calculus (Meyer and Rowan, 1977; Selznick, 1983; March and Olsen, 1983; March and Olsen, 1989; Brunsson and Olsen, 1990; Olsen, 1991; DiMaggio and Powell, 1991a: DiMaggio and Powell 199b; Olsen, 1992; March and Olsen, 1994). To a large extent we receive norms and prescriptions through membership in institutions. These norms, rules and structures represent a socially constructed reality which we take for granted and which we are acting within. Instead of asking ourselves which actions will maximize goal realization, we often select or reject courses of action based on considerations of appropriateness. Within the field of public librarianship, it might very well be that some actions are regarded to be inapppropriate, no matter their instrumental rationality. A good public librarian simply does not do certain things. The more ambiguous means/end relations are (and in public librarianship such relations are mostly highly ambigous), the more we probably rely on other mechanisms of choice and decision-making. Such alternative mechanisms might be looking to and imitating the most influential and prestigous institutions within the field.

Institutionalism, however, is not a unified and coherent perspective. There are important differences between the so-called "new institutionalism" coming to the forefont in the last 15 years, and the traditional institutionalism of for instance Philip Selznick. But what all institutionalists have in common, is the importance of meaning and a scepticism towards instrumental explanations. According to Selznick, to institutionalize "is to infuse with value beyond the technical requirements of the task at hand (Selznick, 1983, p.17). Ways of doing things are becoming values in themselves. Library standards in cataloguing and classification are probably not only expendable instruments in order to make retrieval more effective, but practices to which librarians attach meaning. In contrast to most modern gospels of organizational theory, Selznick stresses the uniqueness of organizations: "It is easy to agree to the abstract proposition that the function of the executive is to find a happy joinder of means and ends. It is harder to take that idea seriously. There is a strong tendency not only in administrative life but in all social action to divorce means and ends by overemphasizing one or the other. The cult of efficiency in administrative theory and practice is a modern way of overstressing means and neglecting ends.....the cult of efficiency tends to stress techniques of organization that are essentially neutral, and therefore available for any goals, rather than methods peculiarly adapted to a distinctive type of organization or stage of development" (Selznick, 1983, p.135).

Conservative as such insitutionalized norms might seem to the reform oriented leader, the experience of meaning and value is necessary in order to make organizational members invest that extra effort which the organization needs in order to survive and achieve success.

Although the institutional approach(es) has developed since the work of Selznick, his contribution is still stimulating. For the purpose of this research, it seems natural to pose the following question on the basis of Selznick:

Do we find such tensions when studying change processes in public libraries?

The traditional institutionalism which I have described shortly above, is to some extent instrumental. It is possible to read and interpret Selznickís contribution as an arsenal of methods, dimensions and variables which the wise leader ought to take into consideration in order to understand his role properly.

Modern institutionalism, however, seems to be less practical and more interpretative (Meyer and Rowan, 1977; March and Olsen, 1983; March and Olsen, 1989; Brunsson, 1989; Brunsson and Olsen, 1990; Olsen, 1991; DiMaggio and Powell, 1991a; DiMaggio and Olsen, 1991b; Olsen, 1992; March and Olsen, 1994). Organizational action is to a large extent symboligc and ceremonial. Through our organisational actions, we pay heed to a set of common norms, standards and vaules. The term "myth" is often used to describe the socially constructed reality constituted by the standards, norms and values we are acting in accordance with (Meyer and Rowan, 1977).

In a social system som actor have a central position, some a more peripheral. So also in the social system of organizations. Organizations in the centre dominate also as for the setting of standards. When means/end relations are ambiguous, organizations tend to imitate standards and norms stemming from those organizations regarded to be most influential and successful. The result is isomorphy, i.e. organizations tend to become alike.

Based on the insitutionalized values of public librarianship one should be able to predict how public librarians will respond to a given change impetus, e.g. increased market orientation. But what if we introduce differing degrees of environmental turbulence? Does that affect the structuring power of field values?

I have tried to illustrate my general point of departure in figure 2.1 below. In this analytical scheme, level of political turbulence is treated as an intermediate variable, which might modify or even dissolve the effects of institutionalized factors stemming from the professional field.

Figure 2.1


The way a given reform is being met and coped with within this general scheme might be perceived as being dependant upon:

The expectations resulting from A and B are summarized in table 2.1 below.

Table 2.1. Expected level of problems connected to implementing a reform as result of its compatibility with the value base of an organization and its source of origin. 

	                   Compatible      Incompatible
Internal initiative	   Unproblematic   Medium 
External initiative	   Medium	   Highly problematic

In the next section I will highlight some of the results.

3. Findings and interpretations

3.1. The change-process in the three libraries

The process of change in our three libraries do have traits that are peculiar to the individual libraries, but there are also similarities which can be compared. We are dealing with identical tendencies in somewhat different shapings.

I believe it is fair to sum up the changes undertaken as follows:

3.2. Do institutionalized professional norms matter?

3.2.1. Organizational change and the call for institutional leadership

The processes of change in the three libraries differ with regard to the level of conflict as well as with regard to the issues which are seen as creating conflicts. Gothenburg is by far the most conflict-ridden library. According to the questionnaire data, 63% of the Gothenburg librarians perceive the level of conflict to be high, compared to 23% in Budapest and 13% in Oslo. The dominant reforms in Gothenburg have first and foremost affected the organizational structure, i.e. the transferring of the responsibility for library services to the local councils and the efforts to reorganize the central library. Of the three cases, Budapest and Gothenburg represent two extremes in the sense that Gothenburg has concentrated on organizational reforma, while Budapest has concentrated on reforms more closely related to the content of services and the professional core of librarianship, e.g. categorization, the introduction of charging, demand as the most important criteria of selection and the large-scale lending of videos.

When comparing the conflict structure in the three libraries, one gains the impression that organizational changes create a higher degree of resistance than changes more initimately attached to professional principles of service production. One thing is the fact that the conflicts are most intense in the library which has concentrated more strongly than the other two on changing the organizational structure. And also in Oslo and Budapest, where organizational reforms have been less fundamental, reforms affecting the organizational structure seem to be major sources of conflict. In Oslo, the stripping of the formal decision-making authority of the so-called senior librarians in the central library to the advantage of the heads of branches, is regarded to be the most conflict-ridden of all the reforms introduced. 33% of the Oslo librarians refer to this reform as a source of conflict, while only 5% refer to decentralization in general or the strategy of increased user/demand orientation as important sources of conflict.

In Budapest, according to the questionnaire-data, no single issue stands out as being a dominating source of influence. Conflicts are related to the process as a whole. During the period of data collection, however, the central management tried to implement an organizational reform supplanting the 22 district libraries with 8 regions, a reform which would have deprived the majority of the district librarians with their formal status. The reform met strong resistance, and represents one of the few wehere the Budapest management had to give in (although at a later stage it suceeded in implementing the reform by exploiting a political vacuum).

One might gain the impression, therefore, that reforms affecting (local) traditional, hierachical releationships, status and authority create more fierceful resistance than those aiming at changing professional criteria and norrns.

But the picture is more complicated. The in-depth inteviews revealed that resistance towards organizational restructuring has an institutional basis in addition to self interested concerns about status and position. In all three cities, the librarians interviewed expressed the following two concerns when commenting upon the process of reorganization:

  1. When implementing organizational reform, the management pays heed to values other than those of public librarianship. The role of field-external forces, e.g. consultants and non-professional, were questioned and criticized. This was especially prevalent in Gothenburg, where management was criticized for listening too much to nonprofessionals and consultants in the process of reorganization, instead of making the purpose of librarianship its point of departure. Also those librarians in Budapest who criticized the proposal of regionalization maintained that in that specific case concerns of managerial effectivity were allowed to dominate at the cost of professional concerns.

  2. Facing reorganizational reforms, many of the middle managere interviewed expressed worries about their chances of surviving as librarians: We have learned a lot about public administration in general, about economy, budgeting and planning. But we do not have the time we need to keep updated professionally. Are we facing a danger of professional deflation, a danger of turning into economists and managere instead of librarians? Such concerns were prevalent in the interviews in all three cases.

I interpret this as a call for what we might term institutional leadership, i. e. that part of the complex role of leadership focusing upon defending the integrity and unique identity of an institution.

Among the middle managere, however, a marked difference could be observed between the respondents belonging to the central library and those working in the districts. Those working in the districts tended to be more positive towards the organizational changes implemented and the introduction of MBO-oriented ways of planning than those working at the central library. This was also a common finding in the three cities. (Later we shall see that this difference between branches and central libraries was also evident in the questionnaire data). Even in Gothenburg, where resistance against the enforced LC reform has been fierce, there were tendencies towards some of the heads of the LC libraries embarking upon a process of accepting and even appreciating and identifying with (at least elements of) the reform. It is reasonable to interpret this as a result of what Dunleavy (Dunleavy, 1991) terms bureau-shaping. Even though decentralization might collide with established standards , it does offer bureau- shaping opportunities for those to whom authority is transferred.

The different response found among those working centrally and those working locally, therefore, serves to modify the role of institutionalized professional norms.

3.2.2. Paying respect to two gods simultaneously

Neither the in-depth interviews nor the questionnaire revealed strong resistance towards the reforms affecting planning, procedures and criteria of decision-making. Increased demand orientation at the cost of professional standards and MBO- oriented planning seem to be generally accepted. There are, however, two exceptions to this:
  1. In Gothenburg I observed a certain agressiveness when asking librarians about their attitude towards MBO/goal-oriented planning.

    This was reflected in the interviews as well as the questionnaire, and was particularly strong in the central library. I interpret this, however, not as directed against goal-oriented planning per se, but as a reflection of the fact that according to the perception of many respondents at the central library change and reorganization is not based upon professional but on managerial considerations.

  2. In Budapest, the strategy of categorization obviously has created conflicts and resistance. Now, however, the reform seems to be accepted. Only 9 per cent of the librarians refer to this reform as a source of conflict.

It is particularly interesting to analyze the attitude towards charging. As noted above, Budapest has introduced charging on a large scale as far as AV media are concerned. One LC library in Gothenburg has a fee-based video service, and the city library introduced a similar service shortly after I concluded my research. Charging is, so far, not a current issue in Oslo.

Services for free have no doubt been a mainstay in the ideology of public librarianship. And the implementation of fees is without doubt met with resistance. As one of the middle managere in Budapest put it

Nevertheless, fees seem to be about to be accepted. In all three cities a minority rejects any form of charging whatsoever and a minority accepts a general practice of charging, while the majority accepts charging on specific services or services for specific groups of users. (74% in Oslo, 69% in Budapest and 64% in Gothenburg state that they are willing to accept fees on specific services or for specific groups of users. Budapest has the highest percentage of those willing to go one step further and accept a general practice of charging - 14%).

But when the librarians (reluctantly) are accepting some forms of charging, they try to give their acceptance an institutional basis, i.e. reconciliating their attitude with the established norms of librarianship on this issue. That was evident in the in-depth interviews in both Gothenburg and Budapest. Fees on what some of them term "garnish" are accepted as a meas to avoid charging for the core services. We might call this a strategy of paying heed to two gods simultanously.

3.2.2. The importance of talking

Nils Brunsson has been preoccupied with the dimension of talking vs. the dimension of acting in organizational life. (Brunsson 1989). Brunsson seems to distinguish between talking and acting. But probably the way of talking has consequences for the possibility of implementing changes in the sphere of acting. It is interesting, therefore, to compare the dominating way of talking used by the three managements when trying to implement similar reforms.

  1. The director of the Oslo library is preoccupied with changing the fundamental role of librarians and librarianship. Librarians should, for example, give up their traditional monopoly over the selection process and be open to values and knowledge emanating from other groups. Discussing and reflecting on the role of a profession easily turns into a discussion of fundamental principles. The director is, then, preoccupied with institutionalized professional norms in the sense that she wants to discuss and, if necessary, change them. Such discussions tend to take time. When reaching and implementing decisions seems to be a slower process in Oslo than in the other two cities, it is tempting to interpret this as a result of the way of talking which dominates: linking practical reforms to fundamental questions of principle. Moving from talking to acting becomes problematic.

  2. The director in Gothenburg is preoccupied with the necessity of "constructing the road while walking" as she terms it, and with adapting to a mandate defined externally. Change hurts. One cannot have discussions resulting in processes which are too long and painful. And more important: the management has a political mandate given to it by the city council and the library committee. The task of the management is to implement a politically defined mandate. It is not, first and foremost, acting on behalf of the profession. Among the librarians in Gothenburg there was an institutionally- based way of talking - a professional dialogue taking the purpose of librarianship as the point of departure. The intensity of conclicts found, might be interpreted as resulting from the collision between two ways of talking.

  3. The management of Budapest relates reforms which in their main content are very similar to (and in some respects more radical than) those introduced in Gothenburg and Oslo, to developments within the professional field. When decentralizing or when declaring that the ultimate value of a document is defined by its use and demand, the management maintains that they are in line with "the most advanced trends in Scandinavian and Western-European librarianship". Instead of referring to field-external forces, e.g. political developments, reforms are justified by references to professional developments. Reforms which in Gothenburg easily might be regarded as field external threats and in Oslo as time-consuming professional debates and struggles over matters of principle, are, thus, presented as adaptions to developments within the institutionalized field of public librarianship.

It is tempting to intepret differences between the three libraries with regard to the speed of the reform process as well as the level of conflict against the backgound of the observed differences in talking. Librarians as well as other groups tend to unite to resist external threats. If a reformer is able to present his policies as having first and foremost a professional legitimacy, the chances of having the reform accepted are probably better than if they are perceived as field-external.

The difference observed here can probably be explained as resulting from political differences. The public library of Budapest has, paradoxically enough, had a greater leeway for independent manoeuvering than its Scandinavian counterparts. The Budapest network has operated under severe constraints as far as financial resources are concerned, but it seems as if it has had, at least for a decade or so, a position of relative political independence. This seems to have been a trait characterizing the past political regime of Hungary during its last years. (Klausen 1993). All reform initiatives of importance have originated from within. This makes Budapest a particularly interesting case: The majority of environmental changes to which the library has had to adapt are similar to the environmental changes in Scandinavia as far as the main direction of development is concerned. The Szabo Ervin public library, therefore, offers a case of the potential of institutional leadership vis-á-vis the changes of today's society.

3.2.3. Are attitudes towards changes related to integration in the institutionalized professional field?

In this last section I will concentrate on some findings from the questionnaire data related to some background variables.

I have chosen four background-variables:

1. Professional activity
This variable is constructed as an additive index, based on the number of professional journals which are read regularly, the level of activity in professional organizations, and participation in further education programs. I take the variable of professional activity as an indicator of embeddedness in the professional field. The higher the level of professional activity, the more a person is exposed to impulses from the professional field. I expect those most strongly integrated in the professional field to be the most ardent defenders of professional norms, values and traditions.

2. Branch (or local council) libraries vs. central library.
Central libraries are substantially larger than branches or local council libraries, which is a more correct term in the case of Gothenburg. The simple fact that a higher number of professionals are gathered in the central libraries than in the branches, makes it reasonable to expect that established norms and traditions will have a more favourable soil to grow in. As it was formulated by one of the respondents from the central library of Gothenburg in one of the in-depth interviews: "It (tradition - my remark) sits in the walls". While the most eager readers of professional journals, participants in further education and activists in professional organizations are exposed to field standards, those working in the central libraries are exposed to local standards and traditions. Those staff members working in the branches/LC libraries, are more exposed to immediate contact with externals (users, local councils, local administration, local organizations etc) and are to a lesser extent protected by a numerically strong professional milieu.

3. Tenure.
This is a demographic variable in line with Pfeffer. It is reasonable to expect that those with a high score on the variable of tenure will be more conservative and have less propensity to change than newcomers. The three libraries are all charaterized by a high average score on the variable of tenure. The average librarian in Oslo has been employed for 13.4 years and is 44.9 years old. In Gothenburg and Budapest the corresponding figures are 16.4/47.8 and 15.2/42.4 years respectively.

The variables of professional activity , tenure and work place (central library vs. branch/LC library) have effects on all the dimensions of change. For tenure and work-place the effects go in the expected direction. In all three cities the juniors and those working in the branches are more positive than the seniors and those working in the central library towards decentralization, new medias, goal-oriented planning/MBO, demand orientation. These findings are stable in all three libraries. There are, however, two exceptions - one which is general and one which is specific to Budapest. Those working in the branch/LC libraries are more negative than those working in the central libraries to the introduction of charging, and in Budapest there is a slightly more positive attitude towards categorization in the central library than in the districts.

The attitude of those working in the branches seems to be characterized by a brand of liberal philanthropy: the users should have what they want -therefore a positive attitude to a kind of demand and market orientation -and they should have it free of charge.

We shall now go somewhat deeper into the variable of demand-orientation, i.e. the attitude towards increased demand/market orientation. The kind of change towards which the librarians in the three cities were asked to specify their attitude was formulated in the questionnaire this:

"The increased importance of user evaluations and demand as opposed to the librarians' professional norms of quality when selecting material".

The in-depth interviews and the written plans revealed that the common slogan of demand and user orientation is defined somewhat differently in the three cities. That must be saken into account when reading the Tables.

The attitude in Oslo, Gothenburg and Budapest according to professional activity, place of work and teniority are given in Tables 3.2. to 3.4.

Table 3.2. Attitude towards demand orientation 
           and professional activity. Proportion 
           positive or very positive 

City	           Oslo              Gothenburg              Budapest	
Prof.activity	   High     Low	     High     Low	     High      Low
% positive	   56       39	     59	     28	             78        56

Table 3.3. Attitude towards demand orientation 
           and work place. Proportion positive 
           or very positve

City             Oslo                  Gothenburg        Budapest	
Place of work    Branch  Central     Branch   Central    Branch  Central
% positive       56      40          59        28        67      54    

Table 3.4. Attitude towards demand orientation 
            and tenure. Proportion positive or very positive

City           Oslo              Gothenburg          Budapest	
Tenure         Short   Long      Short     Long      Short    Long
% positive     54      54        55        42        62       61

We see that both professional activity and work-place have marked effects. The effects seem to be identical in Oslo and Gothenburg, while professional activity seems to be somewhat more important in Budapest than work-place. The effect of tenure, however, is negligible on this specific variable, with a possible exception in Gothenburg.

To the extent that increased demand orientation means a departure from established professional norms, therefore, it does not seem as if those most strongly affiliated to the professional field stand up in defense for established standards. On the contrary, they seem to be what Roger terms "early adopters, open to new tendencies. (Rogers,1983).

But what if we take work-place and professional activity combined? Which of the variables is the stronger?

The results are given in table 3.5 to 3.7.

Table 3.5. Attitude towards demand orientation vs. work 
           place and professional activity. Proportion 
           positive or very positive. Gothenburg

Branch/local                          Branch/local
council library                       council library	
 Activists	   Non activists      Activists    Non activists
    71                 30              38                19

Table 3.6. Attitude towards demand orientation vs. work 
           place and professional acitivity. Proportion positive 
           or vey positive. Oslo

Branch/local                          Branch/local
council library                       council library	
 Activists	   Non activists      Activists    Non activists
     63	                48               46              31

Table 3.7. Attitude towards demand orientation vs work place
           and professional activity. Proportion positive or very positive.  

District library                      District library	
 Activists	   Non activists      Activists    Non activists
    86                  60                46             62              

The general picture in our three libraries is almost identical. The most keen adherents of a demand oriented policy are the activists in the branches/LC libraries, those resisting such a policy most strongly are the non-activists in the central library. We get an impression of the prediction of either the branch/central library-variable or the degree of activism if we look at the sum of differences between those who differ on one variable and have a similar value on the other, etg. the sum of differences between those who differ on the variable of activism and are working either in a district/LC library or a central library. The N in the different categories varies. That have to be corrected for. I have used a weigthing procedure based on the relative proportion of the number in a given category to the total N.

When performing such a procedure, we find that in Oslo and Budapest both activism and work-place have independent effects, and the effects are almost identical: In Budapest the effects are .12 for work-place and .17 for activism, in Oslo .15 for work-place and .14 for activism. In Gothenburg both effects are stronger than in the two other cities, and like in Budapest -the effect of activism is stronger than that of work place: .30 vs. .24.

We also observe that in all three cities the effect of activism is dependent upon place of work: Activists working in the branches are the most reform oriented group, and non-activists in the branches trend to be almost as reform oriented than the activists in the central library.

We are tempted to conclude, then, that field-affiliation has an effect, but an opposite one from what one should expect if field-affiliation means identification with professional norms. Those most active in the professional field are more willing to depart from established professional standards than their more passive colleagues.


Figure2.1. Not Available, please contact Author.

"I have tried to illustrate my general point of departure in figure 2.1 below. In this analytical scheme, level of political turbulence is treated as an intermediate variable, which might modify or even dissolve the effects of institutionalized factors stemming from the professional field.

The way a given reform is being met and coped with within this general scheme might be perceived as being dependant upon:

A. Its degree

In this final part of the paper we shall sum up and discuss the results in relation to the problem-statement: Are the outcomes of efforts to implement reforms dependent upon:

4.1. Adaptation to field-external, environmental developments decide

One of the fundamental questions I asked when embarking upon this project, was the following:

Public libraries have developed within a normative framework which has been relatively unified also internationally, and which to a large seems to have structured change also on an international basis. Do these insitutionalized professional norms still have a structuring force, and can we, thus, predict response to environmental change-inducing factors on the basis of their compatibility/incompatibility with established field norms and their being generated externally or internally?

As so often, the conclusions we are forced to draw, are ambigous.

Both in the field of organizational structure and planning and decision-making criterias, our libraries are facing challenges which are very similar and which are stemming from broad environmental tendencies. Response and adaptation, however, varies. In Gothenburg one goes much further than in the two other libraries in departing from established organizational norms, while the Budapest public library are implementing more radical changes than Oslo and Gothenburg when it comes to adapting to the environmental tendencies of charging and market-orientation. Oslo seems to have been primarily pre-occupied with introducing MBO-oriented methods of planning. To some extent, we get the impression that field-norms are losing their structuring force. In the Swedish situation, the management adapted directly to field-external decisions made at the political level when implementing decentralization in 1990. The management is also criticized by its staff for paying more attention to field-external ideas when it comes to reforms where the initiative lies with the management. We have seen that management stresses that its mandate is of a political and not of a professional nature.

When the Budapest public library goes further than its Scandinavian counterparts in adapting to market-orientation, it seems reasonable to interpret this as resulting from the massive influx of market-oriented thinking following the change of political system. Supplanting planning with market is a general trend, but this trend probably carries with it greater weight in a situation characterized by change of system compared to situations where developments are of a more incremental nature.

What we observe in all three cities, seems to underline the role of environmental political norms and standards as opposed to professional norms. The direction of the changes is structured by adaptation to field-external standards and norms more than by adaptation to professional ideas. Although the broad trends of decentralization, market-orientation and MBO-oriented planning are to be found in all three polities, they are mixed in different blends, and turbulence differs. In Gothenburg the decentralizing LC-reform dominates, a reform which the Oslo-library so far has been protected from; Awareness in Oslo seems to focus more upon less radical reforms such as adaptation to MBO-oriented planning, moulding the concept of user-orientedness in ways which are compatible with established field-norms, and defining fees as irrelevant. The Budapest situation, in turn, is characterized by the recent change from socialist economy to market economy and by economic decline, and the library adapts accordingly.

We are tempted to conclude, then, that:

4.2. But institutional norms count

But institutionalized professional norms are not without importance.

Changes which at the surface seem to be running contrary to established norms and standards, then, are justified as necessary means to protect those very standards and make them survive.

The strategy of honouring two sets of norms simultanously can be interpreted as similar to a strategy often referred to in theory of science: A scientific theory can be seen as consisting of a core and a protective belt. When a theory is attacked and anomalies are pointed at, scientists invest a lot of energy in protecting the core and restrict changes and adaptations to the protective belt. (Ball, 1987). Such a process is progressive and fruitful as long as changes in the protective belt are content-increasing. If such changes are only of a semantical nature, the process is no longer progressive and the theory in question is endangered.

Scientists pursuing such a strategy are not to be blamed for conservatism. Good theories are hard to come up with, and deserve to be given a fair chance.

When public libraries and librarians are striving to cope with the issue of charging and demand-orientation in the ways we have observed, what they are doing is apparantly to find ways and means of adapting without discharging the theoretical core, i.e. the value-base, of public librarianship. The general attitude towards charging in all three libraries and the justifications given for charging on a limited scale in Gothenburg and Budapest, can be interpreted within such a framework. When the city librarian of Gothenburg tries to integrate the statement of goals and objectives adopted in 1990 into the planning-format defined externally, it is another example of the same strategy.

The perhaps best example of the kind of adaptation described above, is the system of categorization implemented as a city-comprising strategy in Budapest and on a smaller scale in some very few units in Oslo and Gothenburg: The traditional ways of organizing documents in libraries are extremely rule-oriented. As such, they correspond very well to the bureaucratic thinking dominating public administration throughout the greater part of this century. During the seventies, bureaucratic models of planning and decision-making became the victims of severe criticism in most Western countries. Goals, not rules, should decide the allocation of resources. The criticism has resulted in efforts to reorganize as well as the introduction of new models of planning.

When the idea of categorization came to the forefront toward the end of the seventies, it was not accidental. It can be regarded as an adaptation to the MBO- or goal-oriented ways of thinking which were coming to the forefront in public administration in general. Categorization, implying a departure from rules which are valid across concrete situations, can be regarded as a change in the protective belt of public librarianship in order to prove relevant when facing new environmental trends and challenges.

Adapting in order to prove relevant to changing circumstances while at the same time protecting and conserving the core of one's institution, i.e. defending its integrity and uniqueness, is in many ways what institutional leadership according to Selznick is all about. In our research we have observed:

4.3. Organizational change fosters stronger conflicts than reforms of planning, and resistance is not primarily rooted in field-values

In all three libraries we have seen that organizational reforms are the most conflict-ridden. Organizational changes create more intense conflicts than changes related to planning and decision-making criteria. It seems reasonable to regard the embarking upon planning-procedures linked to increased market-orientation as being a more profound departure from the established value-base than organizational reforms. In itself, this is a finding running somewhat contrary to the role of field-values as a source of resistance, and it runs contrary to the expectations formulated at the outset of this project.

And although the in-depth-inteviews revealed concerns about the possibility of surviving as a professional group, the conflicts related to organizational changes do not seem primarily to be rooted in such concerns. We did not find any correlation between field-affiliation and attitude towards organizational reforms in any of our three case-libraries. But we did find correlations between organizational position and attitude.

4.4.Field-affiliation fosters readiness to depart from field values

Reforms affecting criteria for planning and decision-making do not, contrary to organizational change, seem to be important sources of conflict. These reforms did, however, divide the professional staff along the dimension of field-affiliation. Lines of division were, however, contrary to our expectations.

Professional activity can be regarded as a measure of integration into the professional field as an institution. It is the professional journals, organizations, conferences etc. which constitute the field as an arena of activity between the individual library-organizations. High score on field-activity indicates a high exposure to field-values. The activists are the most keen readers of professional journals, those attending professional meetings and occupying positions in professional organizations most frequently etc. We did, therefore, hypothesize that those most strongly affiliated to the field also will be the most loyal defenders of field-values.

If our observation is a reliable one, it might be a finding of great importance and consequence. We ended paragraph 4.2. with a question: Which out of two observed tendencies will come to dominate - the one emphasizing the importance of defending the field, or the one stressing the prevalence of an externally defined mandate? The field-activists seem more willing than their passive colleagues to depart from established standards and import externally defined ideas and standards. My theory of the activists' performing the role of loyal defenders of the field, has to be replaced, it seems, with a theory emphasizing their role as gatekeepers and early adopters. (Rogers 1983). Taking it for granted that the activists will be more influential than the non-activists, it seems reasonable to hypothesize that their willingness to accept field-external standards and norms will foster a process of isomorphic change where the fundamental models of imitation are externally imported.

As a result of organizational reforms and planning-reforms, leaders, those working in branches and field-activists will be given new responsibilities, more discretion and room for manouvering. Such effects might reasonably be linked to their professional self-interest. (As we have seen, the district-librarians of Budapest opposed regionalization, which would diminish the status and position of many a district-librarian, and heads of departments in Oslo opposed reforms which would affect their status and power negatively). Institutional explanations, then, might fruitfully be supplemented with explanations basing themselves on self-interest. Within the framework of this project, however, we do not have data making it possible to draw any conlusions as for the role of self interest beyond the realm of speculation. Although the potential coupling between private interests and policy choices are more obvious in administrative or insitutional policy making (which our reforms to a large extent are dealing with) as compared with "substantive policy-making" (Egeberg 1995), we have not studied the motivational force lying behind the responses we have observed and analyzed. We have observed relationships between organizational position and attitude towards reform, but we are not in a position to draw any conclusions as for the motivational force behind those relationships.

Such questions are possible topics for future research.


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