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Bureaucratic and individual knowledge and action in the public services units of an academic library

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Title: Bureaucratic and individual knowledge and action in the public services units of an academic library
Author(s): Bradley, Johanna Rediger
Director of Research: Smith, Linda C.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Smith, Linda C.
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Edmonds, M. Leslie; Contractor, Noshir S.; Sutton, J. Brett
Department / Program: Library and Information Science
Discipline: Library and Information Science
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): Library Science Speech Communication
Abstract: This study examined the patterns of knowledge and action demonstrated by public services staff in interactions with users. It was a three-month ethnographic study of five public services units in an academic library, using participant observation. The data were analyzed by a framework (coorientation) which compared the staff's perceptions of shared knowledge in the unit with knowledge that is actually shared.Library staff perceive they know the activities, procedures, and policies that are sanctioned by the authoritative structure of the institution. Following Weber's analysis of rules and regulations that govern bureaucratic offices, this knowledge is called bureaucratic knowledge.Service points fall into two groups: those where bureaucratic knowledge predominates (bureaucratic service points), primarily circulation and reserve, and those where little bureaucratic knowledge is perceived as governing action (non-bureaucratic service points), primarily reference service points. Knowledge of both kinds exists, however, at all service points.Staff at bureaucratic service points share bureaucratic knowledge of what tasks the unit performs, who performs them, how they should be performed and under what conditions. In addition, much knowledge of policies and procedures is diverse; however, in general, the staff believe that their version of policy and procedural knowledge is known by most as the way things are supposed to be. This situation, where people perceive that their knowledge is known by all, when, in fact, it is not known by all, is labelled the fallacy of shared knowledge. As a result, staff at bureaucratic service points perceive more uniformity of bureaucratic action than actually exists.Two modes of responding to the requests of users were identified. In the bureaucratic mode, staff members ascertain only enough detail about the user's request to fit it into a repertory of authorized tasks and authorized criteria about who is eligible to have these tasks performed for them.In the individual mode, the staff member learns the details of the user's situation and then uses judgment, calling on various kinds of knowledge (bureaucratic, institutional, and professional) and experience to develop a course of action fitting the individual situation.The study also examines the role of bureaucratic knowledge in whether or not users got what brought them to the library, as determined by a third party. Reasons that users did not get what brought them to the library were identified as (1) not offering procedures that would mitigate against institutional contraints, (2) enforcement of policies, (3) staff actions representing instances of the fallacy of shared bureaucratic knowledge, (4) the user's incomplete understanding of the staff member's communication, and (5) various problems related to equipment.
Issue Date: 1991
Type: Text
Language: English
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/20564
Rights Information: Copyright 1991 Bradley, Johanna Rediger
Date Available in IDEALS: 2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog: AAI9124384
OCLC Identifier: (UMI)AAI9124384
 

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