The complexities of change, leadership and technology in Australian university libraries.

By: Dr Matara Gunapala


Managing change in university libraries has been a critical issue for libraries during recent decades. Revolutionary advancement in information and communication technologies (ICT) has been a disruptive force for all libraries. Technology has significantly impacted on higher education pedagogy and student learning behaviour. In Australia, federal government policy, increasingly tightening funding, deregulation and the introduction of market forces to higher education also compelled universities and their libraries to adapt swiftly or become irrelevant organisations in their universities. Therefore, this research aims to explore the change management practices employed and the future directions of Australian university libraries from the context of change, leadership and technological complexities.

Discussion of the theoretical aspects of change appears in the literature on librarianship but is mostly limited to theoretical models applied in libraries or to practices of managing change in respective libraries. Literature on the connection between change induced by technologies in the context of leadership is sparse. Adapting to change concerning library leadership and management is not a field covered in depth in the academic commentary. The Internet has induced revolutionary change for university libraries from the mid-1990s, but in-depth research on the changes has, to a great extent, failed to materialise.
Empirical research to explore the current change management practices of Australian university libraries and to learn from their experiences is an aim of this research in order to contribute new knowledge in this field of inquiry.

This study investigates the effectiveness of change management practices and the role of leadership in Australian university libraries within an environment of ongoing transition in technology, funding, needs of clients, and university teaching, learning and research. This research uses the inductive qualitative constructivist approach with constructivism as its foundation for knowledge creation.

This study collected information by visiting 18 Australian public university libraries and interviewing chief librarians, or their equivalents. The interviews were characterised by in-depth open-ended questions based on four key themes that emerged from the literature review: change, technology, leadership and human resources development. Document analysis and library reports were used for data triangulation. Data from these three sources were gathered, coded thematically, analysed and synthesised to construct knowledge within this thesis.

This study provides a substantial body of knowledge as an original contribution and extension to existing knowledge in the complex area of managing rapid change. Maintaining a proficient service and addressing 21st century needs of university library stakeholders within an ever changing and technologically turbulent environment are prominent issues within this research.

The research makes three main contributions to knowledge. Firstly, some university libraries with new buildings seem to be very active in swiftly adapting to changing environments by designing purpose-built structures and integrating new technology into the design, as well as expanding to areas that were once considered non-traditional responsibilities of libraries. Secondly, there has been a paradigm shift in university libraries since the 1990s. This has involved collection development, services, policies and practices, the changes from just physical buildings to virtual libraries, required new skills among library staff (including senior managers), and the shift in management and communication with new and old stakeholders. Thirdly, based on this research, a model for effective change management in the context of university libraries has been developed to complement other change management models and strategies.

The findings of this research challenge traditional views of library management, emphasising the necessity for libraries to meet vast changes in stakeholder needs while adding value to university goals. The study echoes the power of market forces and advancing ICT and discusses and analyses the need for new recruitment policies for librarians to attract new knowledge and skills required to meet the needs of key clients in a highly digitised environment. Accordingly, the research also provides some policy recommendations to facilitate the evolution of the futureorientated university library and to maintain its relevance.

The above-mentioned research findings contribute to knowledge, primarily in the Australian university library context. It also adds value to university libraries in countries with similar higher education environmental conditions. This research may have a modest impact on public, schools and private libraries, given the relevance of the use of technology to support learning, teaching and research as an individual or amalgamated pursuit.

Key Words
Change management / 
 Leadership / Australian university libraries / Academic libraries / Changing university libraries / Technology and libraries / Innovation and Technology Management / Organisation of Information and Knowledge Resources / Library and Information Studies not elsewhere classified / Business and Management not elsewhere classified 


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