Bureaucracy in libraries is typically presented in terms of six banal characteristics originally identified by the historian Max Weber at the turn of the twentieth century. In some cases, bureaucracy in libraries is seen as a system that might be undone. These characterizations underestimate the power of bureaucracy as a force external and intrinsic to libraries. The purpose of this paper is to reintroduce the topic of libraries as bureaucracies such that library practitioners can identify, question and reform aspects of bureaucracy in libraries.
A review of literature from the library field and from the social sciences is presented in the framework of a SWOT analysis, such that readers can see bureaucracy in libraries for its strengths and weaknesses, as well as in regards to its external opportunities and threats.
Bureaucracy is a largely misunderstood and overlooked topic, in all disciplines, including library science. Generally, bureaucracy is presented as a negative and ineffective system operating in the public sector only, though bureaucracies serve many positive purposes and functions in all aspects of society. Bureaucracy cannot be dismantled, though opportunities exist to eliminate its less desirable aspects and effects. In some ways, libraries exemplify bureaucratic thinking, yet in webs, libraries are poised to offset or challenge the harmful effects of bureaucracy in all other aspects of society.
Bureaucracy is seldom considered in library research or in other fields. As such, it is a grossly misunderstood subject. This extensively research paper synthesizes the literature that does exist on the topic, and expands upon it using theory from the social sciences. As such, this paper stands to begin a discussion about how libraries can restructure and respond to change.
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