More people today agree that a horizontal structure in libraries (or any organization) is more effective than a vertical structure. A horizontal structure, which is also known as departmentalization, promotes team work and team decision making. Functional departmentalization means that each department has its own tasks, different from those of other departments. In cross-training, employees learn to work on tasks outside their specialization and department.
My discussion today is about the extent of cross-departmental use of employees in libraries. I want to state here that cross-training is important because of the occasional need for employees to fill in for different departments that may be short staffed. The question is, should the cross-departmental use of employees be a regular scheduling policy, even when it is not necessary? I believe that the latter policy in question should be avoided for a couple of reasons that I will analyze next.
People in a specific department have certain expertise that allows them to perform their duties efficiently. This expertise is a result of years of experience and/or studies. The filler’s expertise is different and, in the long run, it may result in less effectiveness and errors. In addition, this tactic of constantly scheduling employees to work in all possible positions creates an employment issue, which libraries currently are facing. People in our field with library degrees cannot find jobs because paraprofessionals have taken their place in the libraries. Here comes another question regarding the first reason I mentioned above. Do we want people educated in the field or paraprofessionals without the necessary knowledge to do the job? If we want the latter, then we don’t need the degree. I understand the budgeting difficulties that libraries face today but we need to draw the line somewhere.
Another reason, not completely unrelated to the previous one, is the fact that people in the department have similar knowledge, based on similar studies, which they can communicate without the need of long explanations that would waste time and would affect productivity. It is the same idea like “being on the same page”. We can add to this reason another concept necessary for effectiveness and productivity, the chemistry. This is what a department is about, chemistry. Chemistry is a result of common knowledge, common studies, and familiarity. There are, of course, personality issues that affect chemistry, but this is a different topic. The bottom line here is that he library departments should not be treated like the groups that are used for projects that require people with different expertise.
Departmentalization is very important for reasons that I mentioned earlier. Cross-departmental use of employees on a regular basis defeats the purpose of a unified department, which should use people with similar expertise in order to allow high levels of communication, thus high levels of functionality and effectiveness. Cross-departmental use of employees should be limited only to those occasions when fillers are required.