Human resources

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Senior librarians often plan staff and services through strategic planning
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Last Update

  • Updated.jpg 2 June 2017


See also Accreditation | Budgeting in research | Managing health libraries | Strategic planning | Subject librarian 2.0

Human resources refers to a division of management within organizations as well as a collective of individuals that comprise a workforce. Various synonyms are used in human resources such as personnel, employees and staff. Other terms used to describe human resources are a company's assets, its "talent", "labour" and even "our people". In libraries, groups of individuals considered part of the organization are often referred to as the "library staff". Human resources in libraries is responsible for the ongoing recruitment, administration, management and training of library staff. The phrase human capital is sometimes used to describe the collective knowledge of this group. Human capital, however, conveys a somewhat narrower view of what library staff can contribute to library organizations.

The goal of library managers is to plan for the provision of information services effectively while enabling library staff to do its work. Library services do not magically happen without a careful, and considered deployment of human resources by a group of skilled and caring managers. The management of competent people within organizations involves attracting skilled personnel and providing ways for them to do their work and assist them in reaching their professional goals. One of the difficulties for libraries in this milieu is striking a balance between disciplined management of teams with strategic mentoring as well as providing individual support for each librarian. Some organizations fall into the trap of balancing budgets and doing what the library board and administration groups want but at the expense of employees and their overall morale about what is happening. Unilateral decision-making is a major problem in libraries and loses sight of what is ultimately important about information services and people. In other words, without proper stewardship of people (human resources), libraries are empty sterile places with no spirit and low morale.

In 2008, the Canadian Library Association held a National Summit on Library Human Resources to focus on key issues that present challenges to the library community in the areas of recruitment and education. The outcome of the summit was to identify the strategies and key actions required over the next 5-6 years to move towards the goal of ensuring an adequate supply of well-educated, well-trained librarians and information professionals. See also The future of human resources in Canadian libraries.

Human resource management

Human resource management is concerned with the people dimension in management, and focuses on the planning, organizing, directing and development of staff. HR managers are given the responsibility to carry out their duties; the authority to organize work and get buy-in from workers, and accountability so that managers can fulfill their obligations as leaders. The practices and policies of human resources managers include conducting job analyses, planning labour needs and recruiting staff, selecting candidates, orienting and training employees, managing salaries, providing incentives and benefits, appraising performance, communicating, training and developing, and building morale. This is true regardless of the type of organization – government, business, education, health, recreation or social action.

Human resources management is important to all managers because no manager wants to recruit poorly or experience high turnover. Further, they don't want their employees to do less than their best. Creating a good workforce includes knowing about occupational safety laws, safe and fair labour practices, and long-term development of employees. In terms of short-term planning, activities include the estimation of how many qualified workers are needed to accomplish the assigned daily work activities, how many staff members will be available, and what, if anything, must be done to ensure that human resource supply equals demand at an appropriate point in the future.

Best practices in human resources management are moving away from manual to knowledge workers, many of whom resist command and control models of management from the previous century. In the 21st century, managers need new current skills in order to select, train and motivate employees and to get them to work more as committed partners.

Future challenges for libraries

  • Given the reduction of in-library traffic and use of print collections, what will our focus be in the future?
  • How will library human resources ("the workforce") be retrained (& retained) for the digital age?
  • What services can we reasonably be expected to provide for our users given the increased demands on our time?
  • What is librarianship's future given the loss of our core functions (which affects all staff) around lending print?
  • Where will digitization take us? How will we address (and ensure) the long-term preservation of digital information?
  • What are our core values in libraries, and how can we uphold and sustain them at this time?
  • How will libraries demonstrate value in the future given the vast and growing amount of information available on the Internet?
  • How will libraries compete for funding given the worldwide recession(s) and austerity measures?
  • What kind of vital role will libraries play in their user communities in the future?

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