From Bibliographic Instruction
to Instructional Management:
A Process-Oriented Approach for
Reengineering Library Instruction Programs

Jonathan W. Estrin
Department of Library and Information Science
University of Pittsburgh

© 1998 Jonathan W. Estrin, Department of Library and Information Science, University of Pittsburgh
Katharine Sharp Review ISSN 1083-5261, No. 6, Winter 1998 []

    Library instruction is an important function of academic library services. However, there is an increasing need to discover new strategies for reaching out to the academic community to promote, develop, and implement quality instructional programs. To do so, instruction must be seen as an important organizational need and it must be provided the necessary resources to pursue proactive outreach to academic departments. Curricular integration is currently seen as the most efficient and effective method of enhancing the performance of library instruction, but library organizations must also integrate their outreach and instructional activities into internal operating processes in order to achieve critical success.

    This article introduces the concept of instructional management as an organizational framework for carrying out the library's educational mission. By introducing management concepts to traditional library instruction practices, librarians can realign staff competencies throughout the organization to improve the overall quality of their teaching program and to better diagnose and service their user community. Goals, objectives, and implementation guidelines for instructional management are discussed.


  1. Library instruction{1} is a vital function of academic library services. However, its virtually universal status as a library function has restricted the impact of library instruction activities on the academic community. As college and university libraries on the cusp of the twenty-first century realize that their organizational structures are more closely aligned to corporate bodies than to the academic departments they support, it becomes clear that organizational redesign can provide library staff with the opportunity to reexamine library strategies. By assessing anew the challenges facing library services, it may be possible to develop process-oriented approaches to instructional activities that will better serve both internal and external demands. Throughout this article this process will be referred to as instructional management.

  2. Instructional management utilizes a wide variety of management, instruction, and information theories and principles to organize and control an instructional program. Progressive management practices, emerging technologies, diverse learning styles, and new pedagogical influences in educational discourse will change the way libraries conduct business. Instructional management coordinates, educates, and leads academic librarians into this new era by providing libraries with the means to create unique products for educating its users. This article will describe and promote the benefits of instructional management, a process-oriented approach to library instruction for the innovative library of the future. Three major issues will be discussed in the following sections:


  3. Library instruction in academic libraries is a daily component of doing business in the university community. However, it is rapidly becoming an even more integral aspect of library services. The notions of information, information technologies, and the dissemination of knowledge have become intrinsically linked. While commercial information providers often claim that new technologies facilitating universal access to information present new opportunities for the consumer in today's information marketplace, librarians have always been acutely aware of the problems of information overload and the need to evaluate information according to a client's specific needs. The mediation between information and user by the professional librarian takes many forms, of which access to digital information is only a small part. Library instruction is an area of service that has the potential, if managed properly, to play an important strategic role in academic library organizations.

    Library Instruction Defined

  4. Sager (1995) defines library instruction (LI) as,
    activities such as providing library tours; delivering classroom lectures, presentations, or demonstrations on information gathering skills and resources; developing and teaching credit and non-credit library courses; co-teaching or providing course integrated library instruction; developing print, media, and multimedia library instructional material; and even creating and implementing library signage systems. (p. 51)

    A more general definition is offered by Roberts and Blandy (1989), whereby library instruction "refers to the use of buildings, locations, facilities, and materials in teaching users how to employ libraries to handle their information needs." While these scholars promote the integration of library instruction into the college and university environment, they provide neither a discussion of the integration of instructional activities as a core library service nor an examination of the basis by which various library departments participate in the planning and managing of the instruction program.

  5. LI is typically perceived as a simplistic teaching/learning relationship between the instructor librarian and the library user. Quality is often based on self-reported assessments of specific instructional events. Lacking in much of the literature is a description of an organizational design that provides a strategic framework for instructional activities and assessment.

    Developments in Library Instruction

  6. Library instruction has a rich history. Practices over the last century have evolved with changes in educational methods and library environments. With increasingly diverse and nontraditional student populations seeking opportunities in higher education, library instruction in today's academic environment remains an invaluable service. According to the Association of College and Research Libraries' Bibliographic Instruction Task Force (1987):
    The role of bibliographic instruction is not only to provide students with the specific skills needed to complete assignments, but to prepare individuals to make effective life-long use of information, information sources, and information systems.

  7. Servicing the immediate and future needs of the user community should be the impetus for the formation and development of a library instruction program and the importance of an organizational commitment to LI cannot be overstated. To assist organizations in determining quality standards for library instruction, the ACRL/BIS Task Force on Model Statement of Objectives (1987) outlined several objectives which, while intending to serve as objectives for student learning, can also be used to benchmark the performance of library instructors. The general objectives are:

    1. User understands how information is defined by experts and recognizes how that knowledge can help determine the direction of his/her search for specific information.
    2. User understands the importance of the organizational content, bibliographical structure, function, and use of information sources.
    3. User can identify useful information from information sources or information systems.
    4. User understands the way collections of information are physically organized and accessed.

  8. These objectives, if perceived not only as student guidelines but also as user-centered performance objectives for instructors, supply the broad-based premise required for building staff training and awareness and for stimulating organizational learning through cross-departmental cooperation. The ACRL/BIS guidelines emphasize the organization, access and use of library resources. Each of these aspects has its roots in a particular domain of library work.

  9. While public service librarians have traditionally provided instruction to external customers, technical services librarians and bibliographers have often been left out of teaching and support roles even though they can play an important role in providing front-line staff with vital information to best serve the instructional requirements of end-users. In addition, librarians who typically have had less daily interaction with the public have important skill sets that, when supplemented with training in public service and instructional methods, can be extremely valuable in the classroom environment. The advantage of this transfer of skills throughout an organization is rarely mentioned in the LI literature, though one researcher does discuss how information skills can be implemented successfully in the college environment. Markless and Streatfield (1992) present the following requirements:

    Markless and Streatfield conclude, "developing students' skills is not an easy option. It takes time and can require lecturers and librarians to take on unfamiliar roles and learn new skills themselves" (p. 88). Knowledge, skills, strategic planning, training and development, and cross-functional cooperation are all part of the successful instruction program.

  10. Innovation has been at the forefront of library instruction, primarily in the area of instructional delivery through experimentation with diverse teaching methods. A second major stride in library services has been the move away from course-oriented and toward curriculum-integrated instruction. Reichel (1993) states that "to be effective in bringing information literacy teaching into the curriculum, the library must become more closely integrated into the academic curriculum" (p. 27). In a process-oriented approach to instruction, it is imperative that librarians work toward this goal. Curriculum-integration allows strategic positioning, networking, and a reduction in uncertainty by creating solid relationships between librarians and departmental faculty and curriculum committees.

  11. Because LI involves the manufacture of an instructional product, any changes to that product increase the use of resources and preparation time. Course-oriented instruction uses a large amount of resources at the most cost with the least benefit. Future uncertainty is virtually assured due to the reactive and inconsistent nature of this type of partnership. On the other hand, a curriculum-integrated approach provides the ability to monitor the instructional process, create a more stable product, assess quality and performance, anticipate future changes, and engage in continuous improvement initiatives.

    Opportunities in Library Instruction

  12. A lack of clear and objective assessment instruments not only affects the organization's ability to evaluate LI; it also prohibits fair and equitable performance appraisal. Accountability for a program lies with those who plan and develop it. To this end, personnel must be provided with opportunities to improve instructional quality. Some of these opportunities include the following, noted by Gibson (1992):

    In this short list, Gibson defines well the political, educational, and assessment needs required for library instruction to establish itself as a viable part of the university's academic culture. While these improvements may seem to some like common sense and to others like an impossible task given limited resources, they will become necessary factors in the changing landscape of libraries' organizational structures. As libraries evolve, their commitment to instruction cannot be symbolic nor exist as a detached function of one department or specialized group. Instead, the commitment must be reflected in the redesign of the instructional process and its integration into the organizational structure, vision, and culture.


  13. Tomorrow's successful organizations are restructuring today. Many organizations involved in structural transformations are doing so through process reengineering. Hammer and Champy (1993) define reengineering as the "fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of business processes to achieve dramatic improvements in critical, contemporary measures of performance, such as cost, quality, service, and speed" (p. 32). The current priority for organizations today is to make a transition from a product-centered structure to an information-centered structure. This is true for libraries as well, though it may be more accurate to define the transition from a function-centered to an information service-centered structure. Table 1 illustrates key factors of such a transition.

    AspectIndustrial SocietyInformation Society
    Orientationinward looking: corporate functions and productsoutward looking: process output and customer
    Focusstrategystrategy and operative flows
    Rangecompanynetwork of companies
    Organizational Structurestrongly hierarchicalflat, network of teams
    Company Sizelarge, monolithicsmall, modular
    Performance Indicatorsexternal controlindividual control
    Process Flowssequentialmore parallelistic
    Type of Informationstandardized/codedstandardized and non-coded
    Make or Buyin-house developmentspackage software/applications
    Innovation Impetusinformation technologybusiness
    Organizational Methodintuitiveengineering-based
    Integrationfunctional specializationoptimization of interfunctional flows

    Table 1. Change of paradigm in today's organizations. (Osterle, 1995, p. 11)

  14. The key role of instructional management in academic libraries capitalizes on a transition to a process-oriented, outward looking service approach. The acquisition of information and the cooperation of human resources from across functions are necessary to create an environment conducive to quality instruction. This requirement is more fully explained in the following section.

    Information in Organizations

  15. Information is the business of libraries. However, past strategic practices have resulted in the tendency to facilitate the acquisition and dissemination of information to external users while creating highly rigid information boundaries between internal library functions. While this may seem to reflect a user-centered approach, it actually represents a product-centered approach in which the level of efficiency in processing library materials within the organization actually dictates how well the customer is ultimately serviced. Functional boundaries, such as technical services, public services, and collection management, under-utilize the assets of professional and paraprofessional staff and reduce opportunities for the organization to maximize performance and productivity. Much of this deficiency can be attributed to the difficulties in disseminating information to all relevant areas of the organization. As functional structures mature, reporting relationships become increasingly inflexible. Management and subordinate roles become fixed. The result is an upward communication of issues requiring a decision. This vertical line of communication develops regardless of the issue's strategic importance or the competency of the staff to negotiate a solution. Senge (1990) explains this phenomena:
    Functional divisions grow into fiefdoms, and what was once a convenient division of labor mutates into the 'stovepipes' that all but cut off contact between functions. The result: analysis of the most important problems in a company, the complex issues that cross functional lines, becomes a perilous or nonexistent exercise. (p. 24)

  16. The indirect nature of the information flow through organizations must be realigned for a number of reasons. Lawler (1996) claims that for maximum productivity, businesses must accept new "logic principles" (p. 22). Of these principles, two are of particular importance: 1) lateral processes are the key to organizational effectiveness; and 2) organizations should be designed around products and customers. Lawler also notes, "lateral coordination around key processes and customers is possible only if individuals at the same level in the organization can work cooperatively and exchange performance information" (p. 220).

  17. Lateral processes streamline information flow across functions, allowing information to take its place as a strategic resource by maximizing the efficient transfer of knowledge needed for local problem solving{2}. By bringing down the barriers to information acquisition and transfer, libraries can achieve greater levels of innovation, more rapid decision-making capabilities at those levels where the decisions are most relevant, and a higher quality product for the customer. Choo (1996) outlines three significant areas where information can play a strategic role in the growth and development of an organization:

  18. It is clear that internal use of information is a necessary feature in the new library organization. Structures and processes must be implemented that extend traditional boundaries and insure the most efficient and productive use of information resources. Studies have shown that recipients of the Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award, an award given to quality-conscience companies, are more "data-rich" than their competitors (Davenport & Beers, 1995).

  19. Library instruction in the libraries of the future must develop through the judicious and systematic use of internal information and human resources. Instructional management is a model that views these elements as key strategic factors and views LI as a customer-driven process fully integrated into the library organization.


    Instructional Management: More than Just BI

  20. Instructional management (IM) is designed to optimize operational effectiveness and provide the library with a strategically positioned, quality service. IM allows for the competitive use of human and information resources by aligning processes in the organization to better facilitate the preparation and distribution of instructional services within the library and throughout the academic community. The key to the process is its focus: the customer as the motivator for and beneficiary of the products and services offered by the library. To this end, IM goes beyond the production and delivery of library instruction materials. IM utilizes new and existing systems, methods and practices to manage, plan, promote, and teach library instruction as a component of departmental curriculum throughout the university. Instruction, collection development, and acquisitions are just some of the many library activities that work together in a new alliance to create a context for students to learn.

  21. Instructional management is contingent on the organization's ability to gather and use information from a number of local and outside sources. Therefore, the library must be structured to permit information transfer on both a constant and contingent basis. Figure 1 illustrates the general process by which information is gathered and used to create the final instructional product.

    Figure 1. Instructional management: A process approach

  22. There are two primary differences between this process and typical LI functions. First is the level of integration of LI activities into the library and academic community. The second is the increased emphasis on the customer, in this case, the faculty and students receiving instruction. The library will become much more accountable for the quality and context of instruction it provides to its clients. Increased integration and accountability will create a climate between the library and the academic community that promotes a service relationship between the two parties. Quality interactions with faculty and students based on servicing their most critical research needs will result in long-term, committed relationships between the library and the programs it supports.

    Goals of Instructional Management

  23. The goals of instructional management are:

    Objectives of Instructional Management

  24. Primary objectives of instructional management are to:

    These objectives will be further described in the following sections.

    Integration of Technical Services and Public Service Capabilities

  25. Simply stated, instructional management requires the cross-functional utilization of human resources and information technologies. Staff with various capabilities from throughout the organization must be brought together to share their unique skills and knowledge. To accomplish this, the existing library instruction office or library management will engage a diversified team of librarians and library staff to lead and coordinate the IM initiative. A primary responsibility for this team will be to implement staff development programs and to continually reinforce an awareness that all services contribute to user education and play important roles in the library's relationship to the academic community.

    Environmental Scanning to Monitor Environmental Issues and Opportunities

  26. Environmental scanning is a critical success factor for instructional management. Environmental scanning entails "monitoring a variety of task and general sectors of an organizations environment" and to collect information on competitors and markets that can reduce uncertainty in forming strategies, assist decision-making, or illuminate problems and opportunities (Yasai-Ardekani & Nystrom, 1996, p. 187; Boyd & Fulk, 1996). The ability for library staff to collect, organize, access, and transfer information has long been a necessary skill for servicing patrons' needs. Staff must develop the skills to locate, collect, organize, access, and transfer information from both internal and external sources that are considered valuable for decision-making and product viability. Using information about the organization, about how patrons use the organization, and about the intellectual environment influencing the organization, IM teams can better assess their own strengths and prioritize their outreach efforts to those who need it most.

    Process Ownership

  27. Process ownership creates the impetus for employees to participate fully in managing library instructional activities, as it places much of the decision-making, innovation potential, and accountability directly on those producing or distributing the outputs. While library resources and goals limit the extent to which employees can innovate, there are many areas in instructional management where staff can be given the opportunity to exhibit leadership characteristics. One area is the negotiation with departmental faculty regarding the feasibility and value of library instruction as an addition to the curriculum. Staff with public speaking, negotiation and/or subject skills can be called upon to initiate such interactions as dictated by the results of environmental scanning. While environmental scanning opens up possibilities, empowering staff through process ownership permits rapid and relevant communication between the library and faculty based on the information received. Librarians from throughout the organization can be trained to:

    Curriculum Integration

  28. Curriculum integration unites the library with academic departments through formalized instructional contracts ("quality contracts"), to enable seamless delivery of customized products and services to the customer. Libraries have traditionally provided "one-shot" or single contact LI sessions to students enrolled in university courses. Often these sessions have had an insignificant relationship to the overall content, context, and goals of the given course. Negotiations between the library and faculty must reinforce the value of curriculum-integrated instruction. Such a relationship benefits the library and academic department alike. Libraries often spend large amounts of time preparing for instruction sessions, but allocate minimal time to communicate with faculty, clarify expectations and create context for students to learn. By integrating LI into the curriculum, both library staff and faculty can clarify instructional goals and expectations in the context of specific curriculum. While libraries will initially have to increase efforts to customize "canned" courses for students, the potential exists for a much higher quality interaction with students at a time most appropriate for their library research needs.

  29. The "quality contract" creates a service relationship between the library and academic departments throughout the university. Library instruction personnel solicit academic units through departmental meetings and conferences, investigating curricular content and mutual instructional goals and research needs. They then negotiate service agreements which provide both parties with clear goals and expectations. The use of quality contracts enables libraries to clearly study and supply the two most important aspects of library instruction: context and content. The contract will stipulate the courses within the curriculum where research and instruction are most useful. In addition, formal contact between librarians and faculty members can lead to quality content based on the specific needs of the academic program, not the needs or desires of particular professors. While accountability will be increased by the use of formal agreements, so too will be the predictability of instructional components. Library instructors will have immediate reference to the expectations of the departments and will have a permanent record of program goals and guidelines.

    Training, Development, and Current Awareness Initiatives for Staff and Patrons

  30. Instructional activities are not activities solely relegated to external customers. Library staff must be made aware of the importance of environmental scanning to the instructional process and their roles in:

    Selectors, acquisitions staff, and cataloging staff, each being exposed to many of the resources entering into the library collection, can determine the relevancy of reference works, serials, and other library items to library instruction in specific disciplines. All staff, even those not directly involved in classroom instruction, should be made aware of their vital role in extending communication beyond functional lines and should collaborate with IM teams to develop methods of notifying instructional librarians and subject specialists of new and potentially useful information and resources.

    Process Monitoring and Assessment

  31. Evaluation of the instructional management process on a continual basis is not only important, it contributes information back into the IM system. Ongoing assessment of best practices, productivity, and quality should be embedded in scanning activities. Methodologies should include observation, focus groups, statistics, quality surveys, and less formal means such as discussion and requests for feedback from staff and external customers.

    Expanded Use of Available Information Technologies

  32. Information technologies can be extremely valuable in the management of instructional activities. IM teams should:

    General Implementation Guidelines

    1. Establish cross-functional instructional management teams. Teams should establish unit cohesiveness, understanding and sharing individual skills, abilities, and potential contributions.
    2. Assess current status and needs of library instruction, noting best practices, current and preferred role of each department, and information barriers between functions and between library and customers. This step should include focus groups and other methods that permit participation from faculty and students. Develop a baseline measure of production efficiency, quality of product (as perceived by staff & customers), quality of service (as perceived by staff & customers)
    3. Determine overall environmental scanning opportunities, both internal and external information sources.
    4. Assess and re-map structural boundaries for best scanning, best information processing practices, and best use of resources.
    5. Identify staff training and development opportunities.
    6. Establish instructional priorities.
    7. Negotiate contracts for curricular instruction based on priorities derived from scanning.
    8. Produce instructional products.
    9. Provide instruction.
    10. Assess and refine instruction through evaluation and continual scanning.


  33. To enhance the impact of instructional programs in academic communities, it is necessary to examine the processes through which such activities are coordinated and implemented. Academic programs and support services are increasingly measured by cost factors as well as their impact on student performance and quality of life. Successfully justifying library services on a competitive basis requires libraries to market their instructional programs as a necessary component of the educational experience. This means fully integrating services into the goals and objectives of departmental curricula.

  34. Instructional management systematically and strategically aligns the library with its academic colleagues by creating interdependencies within the library organization and among the academic faculty. By increasing efficiencies in the collection, organization, and delivery of information useful for curricular support, academic libraries can enhance the overall value of the instructional programs they offer.

  35. In today's complex information environment, there are many sources for information access and retrieval. However, only libraries can form symbiotic relationships with their communities as they acquire products and develop services that inform and educate their unique user populations. Instructional management guides the role of the library in the institutional culture "from contract to contact", forming communication and coordination structures that build effective and sustainable academic partnerships.


  1. Due to the nature of the literature on this subject, the terms library instruction and bibliographic instruction will be used interchangeably. Although the recent change in preferred terminology does have some significance to many instruction librarians, it is based on an evolutionary rather than a radically transformed course of events. Therefore, it will be assumed that the concepts of bibliographic instruction and library instruction are intrinsically related.

  2. Information as a strategic resource for libraries hinges on the use of this information to create unique products and services. The challenge for libraries is to differentiate their services and uses of technology from other academic departments and support agencies (e.g., computing centers). As will be demonstrated, instructional management uses information to create efficient, yet unique and flexible, products.


Association for College and Research Libraries, Bibliographic Instruction Section Task Force on Model Statement of Objectives. (1987). Model statement of objectives for academic bibliographic instruction: Draft revision. College & Research News. Available from

Boyd, B. K., & Fulk, J. (1996). Executive scanning and perceived uncertainty: A multidimensional model. Journal of Management, 22(1), 1-21.

Choo, C. W. (1996). The knowing organization: How organizations use information to construct meaning, create knowledge and make decisions. International Journal of Management, 16(5), 329-340.

Davenport, T. H., & Beers, M. C. (1995). Managing information about processes. Journal of Management Information Systems, 12(1), 57-80.

Gibson, C. (1992). Accountability for BI programs in academic libraries: Key issues for the 1990s. The Reference Librarian, 38, 91-108.

Hammer, M., & Champy, J. (1993). Reengineering the corporation: A manifesto for business revolution. New York: HarperBusiness.

Lawler, E. E. (1996). From the ground up: Six principles for building the new logic corporation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Markless, S., & Streatfield, D. (1992). Cultivating information skills in further education: Eleven case studies (Library and Information Report 86). London: British Library.

Osterle, H. (1995). Business in the information age: Heading for new processes. Berlin: Springer

Reichel, M. (1993). Information use and projections: The importance for library instruction (and Dr. Seuss). In L. Shirato (Ed.), What is good instruction now? Library instruction for the 90s (pp. 19-24). Ann Arbor, MI: Pierian Press.

Roberts, A. F., & Blandy, S. G. (1989). Library instruction for librarians (2nd. ed.). Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.

Sager, H. (1995). Implications for bibliographic instruction. In G. Pitkin (Ed.), The impact of emerging technologies on reference service and bibliographic instruction (pp. 49-62). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Senge, P. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York: Doubleday.

Yasai-Ardekani, M., & Nystrom, P. C. (1996). Designs for environmental scanning systems: Tests of a contingency theory. Management Science, 42(2), 187-204.