Recently, we spoke with Hannah Russell, Library Manager of National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research and asked her to share her thoughts on the transformation that took place in her organization.
(Wiley colleagues and Hannah at the ALIA Information Online 2017 conference)
Q. Can you tell us a bit about your background?
A. I’ve been with NIWA for eleven years now. I started at NIWA as Document Supply & Reference Librarian back in 2006, and have had numerous titles over the years. In 2015 I was thrilled to be appointed Library Manager. Previous to NIWA I worked in a law library and a university library.
Q. Please tell us about your organization.
A. The NIWA library, short for National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, is a major New Zealand research collection, specializing in fisheries, marine, freshwater and atmospheric sciences. The library is fundamental to support the successful operation of our scientific research institute, to deliver technical services and advice, which is our mandate. We have a fairly large collection, both in print and electronic. But in some ways we are a small operation, with only three library staff. We are primarily here to support NIWA staff in their work (currently around 650 FTE), although we do get enquiries from the public and help where we can. The mission of the NIWA library is to support NIWA’s scientific and business strategic directions through the provision of access to appropriate scholarly research literature, and the responsible management, arrangement and storage of its research resources. We value collaboration with other libraries, and have a strong network with the other Crown Research Institute libraries.
Q. The NIWA library went through a drastic change in 2011 to consolidate three libraries into one centralized library service. What were the drivers of this huge transformation?
A. The whole of NIWA went through an organizational fit for purpose review in 2011. The review aimed for efficiency-focused changes throughout the organization to allow continual improvement of our already highly productive institute. The substantial transformation to electronic and online had reduced the need for face-to-face and on-site library services, and the advances in searching capability meant that researchers were well equipped to carry out what were previously specialist librarian activities. The concentration in one central core led to the expected synergies and increase in operational efficiency.
Q: What was the biggest obstacle, and how did the library cope with it?
A. There was definitely some resistance from staff to the changes, particularly at sites that had previously had a librarian. This resistance wasn’t aimed at the library staff, who received particularly strong support during the restructure, and we were able to move forward as we needed to. There have been no issues with the delivery of library services since the review and research staff understood the rationale behind the proposal, which was communicated to them by management during the process.
Q: What was the impact of the change, and how did you measure the outcome of it? Is the library still operating in the same model that it set out to since then?
A. We did have to do some things differently, and do fewer of some things. These days we do less direct research for staff, and focus more on training staff on the use of our subscribed databases and bibliographic management software. We also do less direct alerting for staff, but instead help them get their own alerts set up. Centralizing the physical collections in Wellington has been a long, slow process, and is still not quite complete. We have made some small tweaks along the way, but the library is still operating the same model, and providing NIWA researchers and corporate staff with the professional, highly responsive delivery a world class research institute needs.
How do you handle the challenge of limited resources as a library team? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Image Credit: Sadira Campbell