Re-inventing our Public Libraries

The main public libraries in Mauritius have been in existence for more than half a century now. All of them are housed in relatively new, purpose-built buildings, are managed by professional librarians and are quite well off in terms of budget. They are now in the process of adopting a new library management system that will enable them to eventually offer an Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC) to their users, in addition to library networking.

But in the vast majority of cases, only the traditional types of library and information services such as circulation, reference, Internet, reprography and children’s services are offered to patrons.

In this era characterised by economic downturn, budgetary cuts, downsizing, declining library membership, shortage of staff and fierce competition from other information providers, perhaps the biggest challenge is to re-invent the public library in terms of collections and product offerings so that it is always perceived as being useful, dynamic and attractive in the eyes of its clientele, parent institution as well as other stakeholders. Today’s library managers have the huge responsibility to be proactive, to think big, to be daring and to show much inventiveness. Learning from best practices is a golden rule in business management. This equally applies to the library world.

In this context, the case of the Denver Public Library in Colorado, U.S.A is worth mentioning. Monnie Nilsson reports in the July issue of The Denver Post that public libraries in this region are increasingly thinking outside the book, intelligently shifting from paper to pixels and adopting consumer-based models in library management. These libraries, which comprise no less than 250 outlets are making the flow of information between users and staff a two-way traffic and more interactive. Among their interesting and innovative services, one can mention the following:

1.Digital Download – by means of Internet access and a library card, the public library offers patrons the possibility to download a book and read it from their desktops, download and listen to an audio book with an MP3, download selected music files or view a movie, for instance.

2. Business Help Desk – anyone interested to start a new business, expand an existing one, or simply do business-related research can tap the resources of its public library which offers online access to many business databases in addition to BizBoost – a business research solutions support desk. Reference experts can help answer business questions or show how to utilize their powerful business databases, such as ReferenceUSA. BusinessDecision is another high-quality database package that performs sophisticated analyses such as identifying household buying patterns, selecting a merchandising mix, analysing competitors, and targeting direct-mail campaigns. These databases and others can be accessed remotely from any desktop computer.

3. Explore interests or Learning something new – the local library also offers classes on how to organize live concert performances, drama,, handicrafts, knitting, yoga, do-it yourself skills and so on to anyone interested in learning something new. Moreover, organizing literary activities, competitions, exhibitions, workshops, talks on topics of current interests on a regular basis are indirect means of attracting patrons to public libraries.

4. Bookstore-like Model or Layout – a public library that is built around the bookstore type of design or layout, located in or near shopping centres with multiple copies of best sellers prominently displayed in visually appealing stacks, with coffee shops around, and incorporating some lifestyle habits in order to eliminate the austere, intellectual and rather monotonous atmosphere of traditional libraries and make them more user-friendly and attractive.

5. Job Bank – in this era of economic recession, the public library can play the wonderful role of a community technology centre by providing a ‘job kiosk’ (job postings and links to job sites ) via the library’s website, helping jobless people build or update their job resume , conducting job-search strategies classes, arranging for practice interviews, allowing job seekers to watch videos of successful job interviews, organising career guidance sessions , offering free practice testing for entrance examinations or to obtain an industry license via the Learning Express Library database.
In short, public libraries in Mauritius must necessarily keep pace with changes around them, think outside the box and constantly reinvent themselves to satisfy their communities’ expressed and unexpressed needs and strive to remain useful.

Ibrahim Ramjaun
Reference

Nilsson, Monnie (2009). From Digital Media to Job Tips, Libraries Expand Offerings

In The Denver Post, 7 July.

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New Breed of Squatters in LIS

In the local context, the term “squatter” is well known and is used to describe people who settle or occupy property, buildings or unoccupied space illegally. In the field of ICT’s “Cybersquatting” is used frequently. This  term has been coined to designate ‘domain squatting’. Cybersquatters register and/or use domain names with bad faith to eventually sell them to companies willing to ‘buy’ the domain name(s) at much higher prices. Taking a broad view, one may say that to squat something is to appropriate things that do not by right belong to you. Can we apply the term ‘squatting‘ in the local library and information sector? Recent events indicate that there exists some form of squatting in LIS. A new breed of squatters has born and it seems that they are determined to occupy positions for a life time. In the past, we have seen people considering top library positions as sinecures or semi-sinecures. We thought such beliefs and practices have disappeared but we were wrong. Staying in your post beyond compulsory retiring age may be considered as a form of squatting. Such unethical practices are detrimental to the profession and impact negatively on it in the long run. How can such practices affect the profession? In my view, there are two negative messages which are sent to society and the public in general. The first one is that there is a shortage of skills and competencies in the sector; there exist no new blood in the profession and that the younger generation is not capable of taking up the challenges of our new and highly technological world of LIS. The second message is that the same people are creating /forging a bad name / image for the profession in the minds of people who may preceive top positions in LIS as sinecures.  If squatting LIS top positions is true, the question that lurks is: how do we market the library and information profession to earn the respect it deserves? Is it possible to do it in the company of those same people who are digging the grave of the profession? Those who are part of the problem (or the problem itself), can they be part of the solution? ….. Points to ponder.

P. Hauroo

In search of Job Satisfaction

For many employees, job satisfaction or “a pleasurable or positive emotional state resulting from the appraisal of one’s job or job experience” (Locke, E.A, 1976) remains a distant dream, or an elusive goal pursued enthusiastically and relentlessly at the beginning of one’s career, but gradually abandonned when faced with the harsh realities of the work environment.

When an employee joins an organisation, the latter “seeks to make an agent of the individual for the achievement of organisational objectives” while the individual for his part, “seeks to make an agency of the organisation for the achievement of his personal objectives” (Flippo, E.B 1976). Therefore, in recruiting any staff, management should bear this in mind and attempt to devise appropriate ways and means of reconciling these two sets of goals, i.e bring about a fusion process by means of effective job orientation, staff development programmes, annual employee job satisfaction survey, fostering a proper organisational climate and organisational culture in which the individual staff member will feel at ease and more importantly, be motivated to give his best performance at work.

Regrettably, in this tough business environment characterised by global competition, downsizing and re-engineering, very often people are sacrificed at the alter of profitability despite the fact that human resource is the single most important asset in the organisation. It is still perceived as a cost to be reduced, rather than an investment to be made to work for the benefit of the organisation. Even a cursory look at the annual reports of reputable institutions reveals that the wage bill represents a significant percentage of their recurrent expenditures. However, it is becoming more and more obvious that the only true, lasting competitive advantage comes through human resources and how they are managed because at the end of the day, it is employees who will translate policies into action and implement desired change. Therefore, some questions which naturally come to mind include: How far is management concerned about employee job satisfaction ? Do they give concrete evidence of their commitment to enhance job satisfaction ?, Are they bothered about productivity only and overlook the means to achieve this ? Probably, these questions will remain unanswered in many organisations.

Dimensions of Job Satisfaction

Job satisfaction is a less visible emotional response to a job situation. It is determined by how well outcomes or rewards meet or exceed individual employee expectations. It represents several related attitudes and has at least five distinct dimensions, namely:

1. The work itself –the nature of the tasks to be accomplished daily is a main source of satisfaction, i.e whether they are boring, interesting, challenging provide opportunities for learning and offers status and some degree of autonomy. Job design plays a crucial role in this context.

2. Pay – salaries and wages are an important factor in job satisfaction as they help meet basic and upper level needs of staff. The latter often have a tendency to see pay as a reflection of how management views their contribution to the organization and to compare their remuneration and the degree to which this is viewed as equitable vis-à-vis that of their co-workers.

 3. Promotion prospects – how far chances of climbing the professional ladder in the organization exist and under what conditions also has a direct impact on the level of job satisfaction. Whenever opportunities for advancement seem bleak, extra effort at work will not yield any personal benefit.

4. Nature and type of supervision – an employee-centered supervisory style displaying personal interest in the subordinate’s performance and welfare, providing regular feedback and trying to solve his problems at work, encouraging participation in decision-making and problem-solving are likely to lead to higher job satisfaction.

5. Colleagues – being surrounded by friendly and supportive team members help contribute to improve the work environment and make the job more enjoyable. On the contrary, if colleagues are difficult to get along with, it might have a negative impact on job satisfaction. (Luthans, F, 1998).

In Mauritius, any reform in the Civil Service is bound to fail if it overlooks vital issues such as employee job satisfaction. The Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) seems to be best placed to take the lead in researching factors which promote and those which inhibit job satisfaction and come forward with an action plan for implementation in both public and private organisations, in addition to its endeavour in favour of the introduction of the 24/7 concept.

References

1. Flippo, E.B (1976). Personnel Management. 4th ed. Auckland: McGraw-Hill.

2. Locke, E.A (1976). The Nature and cause of job satisfaction. In Handbook of Industrial and Organisational Psychology. edited by M.D.Dunnett. Chicago: Rand McNally.

 3. Luthans,F (1998). Organizational Behavior. 8th ed. Boston,MA: McGraw-Hill.

Ibrahim Ramjaun