By: Cameron Tuai, consultant
Definition: Structural Contingency Theory (SCT) posits that while there are many types of structures through which an organization can deliver services, the optimal structure is contingent on the type of service being delivered.
Application: SCT is an analytical tool that provides a roadmap for optimizing the relationship between a service and the structures used to facilitate the creation of that service. Examples of the types of questions that SCT poses include:
- Does the change strategically or practically involve creativity?
- Does the change strategically or practically involve efficiency?
- Organizational Structures:
- To what degree do we empower staff to make decisions?
- How much training should staff receive?
- What level of policies and procedures should we establish?
- How do we coordinate services that span multiple units?
Examples: SCT is a practical tool with a proven record of success in both public and academic libraries. The following are two examples of how library managers have applied SCT:
1. Transition to a referral-based reference desk
- To what degree does the change to a referral-based desk involve questions of efficiency or creativity?
- What level of training should we provide for staff on the new referral based desk?
- What level of policies and procedures should we write to ensure that staff properly refers questions?
- What types of structures (teams, meetings, common goals) should we use to coordinate workflow between the desk and reference librarians?
2. Reclassifying children’s material from Dewey to a Book Store classification
- To what degree does the reclassification involve questions of efficiency or creativity?
- What level of training should we provide to catalogers, children’s librarians, vendors?
- What level of policies and procedures should we write in order to ensure uniformity in classification?
- What types of structures (teams, meetings, common goals) should we use to coordinate workflow between the (a) children’s librarians & catalogers; and (b) library & vendor?
Conclusion: Implementing change is always a difficult task. Managers need to control, or at least be aware of multiple internal and external forces for a change to succeed. SCT is a practical and intuitive means for systematically analyzing one of the key factors, Service – Structure in the change process.