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Assigned Leaders in Unionized Environments: Coping with the Economic Recession and Its Aftermath in Academic Libraries. Adriene Lim, Ph.D. Dean of Libraries, Oakland University June 30, 2013 LRRT Research Forum, ALA Annual 2013. Problem Statement.

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Problem statement

Assigned Leaders in Unionized Environments:Coping with the Economic Recession and Its Aftermath in Academic Libraries

Adriene Lim, Ph.D.Dean of Libraries, Oakland University June 30, 2013LRRT Research Forum, ALA Annual 2013

Problem statement
Problem Statement

  • Economic recession and aftermath having a major impact on many academic institutions, even as libraries faced accelerating changes in technology and scholarly communication, and heightened external competition.

  • Unclear if and how unionization has helped or hindered library administrators as they try to transform libraries.

  • Gaps in the literature about changes occurring in unionized libraries and in assigned leaders’ abilities to transform their organizations.

  • Purpose of study was to provide insights about changes occurring in unionized libraries; and to explore if (and how) assigned leaders try to ensure that strategic changes still occur.

Primary research objectives
Primary Research Objectives

  • Institutional and Library Context

    • To identify changes occurring in unionized academic libraries as a result of the economic crisis

    • To identify perceptions that university administrators have about these changes and effects of unionization on their attempts to address the crisis

  • Union Context

    • To identify benefits and constraints that administrators encounter as a result of working within unionized contexts during economic recessions

  • Leadership Context

    • To identify assigned leaders’ strategies for handling changes in unionized, financially stressed environments


  • Multi-case study of four, large, public academic libraries with the same Carnegie classification rank and similar economic indicators.

  • Online survey conducted to determine libraries’ unionization status and other characteristics.

  • Cases selected through purposive/criteria sampling. Eight libraries in subject population, but only four agreed to participate.

  • Data gathered through qualitative, semi-structured interviews with 21 university and library administrators (provosts, vice provosts, library directors, associate / assistant directors), three focus group interviews with unionized librarians and staff, and content analysis of various documents.

Findings changes occurring
Findings: Changes Occurring

  • Chronic/extreme fiscal stress, pessimistic budget outlook

  • Retrenchment and cutback management; severity depended upon stimulus finding, size of institution, region

  • Loss of acquisitions buying power and librarian/staff positions

  • Broad adjustments to organizational structures, functions, and to individual positions

  • No substantial focus on external fundraising or entrepreneurship

  • No perceived change in libraries’ performance levels (but this was not based on real data in most cases)

  • No perceived differences in interactions between library administrators and unionized librarians/staff members

  • Threat or actuality of organizational decline apparent

Findings upper admin views
Findings: Upper-Admin Views

  • Aware of staffing and budgeting challenges, but none seemed optimistic re: increasing libraries’ allocations

  • Aware of heavier workload on remaining employees, challenges in keeping morale/commitment levels high

  • Agreed that libraries’ performance levels remained high (but again seemingly not based on data)

  • Believed unions brought negative and positive effects

  • Lamented less managerial flexibility, more bureaucracy

  • Perceived negative effects were amplified in times of economic crisis

  • Said that shared governance was both improved and damaged - adversarial relations at two sites and not others

Findings union benefits constraints
Findings: Union Benefits/Constraints

  • Agreements largely negotiated, administrated by others

  • Administrative decision-making about budgets perceived to be mostly intact

  • Delays in planning/implementing of changes

  • Less flexibility in regard to HR issues, more bureaucracy

  • Did not think fiscal adversity would damage relationships with unionized personnel or affect libraries’ performance

  • Unions not contesting technological changes

  • Use of shared, participatory leadership approaches

  • Organizational values shifted - tended more toward internal focus, stability, and control, than toward adaptability and flexibility

Problem statement

Human Relations Model

Open Systems Model



Flexibility; readiness


Growth; resource



Cohesion; morale


Human resource


Output Quality

Internal (People)

External (Organization)


Information management;



Stability; control


Planning; goal setting


Productivity; efficiency

Internal Process Model

Rational Goal Model


Competing Values Framework

Findings change strategies used
Findings: Change Strategies Used

  • Strategic visioning/planning used; some leaders adjusting vision and plans due to economic troubles

  • Communication and transparency emphasized

  • Innovative thinking and resourcefulness seen as key to thriving in lean times – restructuring, redesigning work and implementing new services

  • Leaders used shared, participatory, and team leadership approaches at each site to different degrees

  • Institutional accountability/assessment weakly presented at two sites, a bit stronger at other two sites

  • Protecting existing positions was a high priority at all sites

Findings other themes
Findings: Other Themes

  • Content of collective bargaining agreements did not seem to predict shared governance levels, assertion of management rights, etc.

  • Organizational cultures, relationships, and identities were affected by unionization.

  • Argument made that unionized environments needed even more effective managerial leadership functions than non-unionized.

  • Assigned leaders focused more on people and personal values at two of the sites, whereas stronger stewardship and strategic thinking were evident at the other two sites.

  • Attributes of honesty, fairness, courage, and credibility were named by unionized employees as crucial for good leadership.

Implications of the study
Implications of the Study

  • Seemingly inconsistent responses? Explanations proposed:

    • Unionization as controversial, sensitive topic

    • Perceived levels of control and instrumentality

    • Unionized environments as inherited legacies

    • Lack of research on unionization in libraries

  • Need for comparative, longitudinal, & single-case studies

  • Need to study leadership attributes and strategies

  • Need to study effectiveness of leadership strategies

  • More study on intersection of leadership, unionization, and economic stress

  • Education of academic library leaders

  • Examination of position classifications

More implications
More Implications

  • Organizational cultures, identities, values, and effectiveness

  • Organizational decline and cutback management tactics

  • External fundraising and entrepreneurship

  • Politically intelligent leadership, application of model

  • Administrative strength, accountability, & evaluation/assessment

  • Union-management cooperation – best practices?

  • Organizational dysfunctions and employee morale

  • Resiliency in leadership, application of model

  • More research needed using theories/models in literatures of organizational sciences, management, & public administration

Thank you
Thank you!

Adriene Lim, Ph.D.

e-mail address: