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FISTER, Barbara and Kathie MARTIN. "Embracing the Challenge of Change through Collegial Decision-Making"
Article published on 10 September 2006
last modification on 26 April 2015

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Twenty years ago Harlan Cleveland declared that
the emergence of a global information society had
brought on “the twilight of hierarchy.” In a world in
which knowledge was changing the way we work and
in which information is inherently uncontainable and
prone to diffusion, hierarchy—which relies on control,
secrecy, limited access to resources, and the confines
of location—is no longer effective, or even an option.
The implications for work relationships in this new,
information-rich environment are profound: “Collegial
not command structures become the more natural basis
for organization. [1]

"Bourse du Travail", Toulouse
The "Bourses du travail" were houses of Labor Exchange self-managed by the workers in the first years of the 20th century in France

How ironic that libraries, organizations that are all
about sharing information democratically for the public
good, still tend to draw their organization charts along
the lines of early twentieth century industrial models,
with knowledgeable decision-makers and supervisors
concentrated at the top, those who carry out the work
at the bottom. The conditions Cleveland describes
have rendered these organizational structures obsolete
in daily practice—but not when it comes to the distribution
of rewards. There is a troubling disjunction
between how libraries work and how library work is
institutionally represented and rewarded.

Rationalist models of administration, developed
in the early twentieth century, were grounded in the
belief that information could improve industrial processes,
and that the administrator’s job was to conduct
informed analysis to control and improve the production
of goods. [2] These models presumed information was
in scarce supply, available only to administrators, who
were uniquely qualified to gather, interpret, and deploy
it. Those old assumptions still influence organization
charts, but the ground under them has crumbled.

Notes :

[1Harlan Cleveland, “The Twilight of Hierarchy: Speculations on the Global Information Society,” Public Administration Review 45, no. 1 (January/February 1985):
188.

[2Robert B. Denhardt, “Organization Theory,” in The
International Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration
(Boulder, Colorado: Westview, 1998): 1554–70.


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