Achieving Organizational Excellence Course Syllabus

Over the summer I’ve been  developing a syllabus and plan for teaching LBSC 631, Achieving Organizational Excellence at the University of Maryland’s College of Information.  It is the leadership/management/organizational theory course, and it’s one of the three core courses for the UMD iSchool’s MILS program. I just sent the syllabus out to everyone in the class and I’m also posting the syllabus here for anyone who might be interested.

This is a new course for me. Over the last five years I’ve taught five other graduate seminars for the iSchool, but those were all digital curation, preservation, and policy courses.

My section of the course was originally intended to be a face to face course, so in transitioning it to an online course I ended up playing around with approaches to make sure that there is a lot of flexibility in the course design. I sent out a questionnaire  to students in advance of the semester which confirmed my sense that there would be some anxiety about both a desire for synchronous interactions from some students and concerns about how to make  synchronous  interactions work for everyones schedules during the ongoing pandemic. I’m hopeful that I’ve figured out some ways to build a lot of flexibility in on the course but it will be curious to see how it all plays out. I should note that a lot of my approach to the design of this course is anchored in a fantastic education leadership seminar I took in my Ph.D program with David Brazer.

Reading on How Orgs work and how to work Orgs

I’ve largely developed the course around Bolman and Deal’s Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership which I’ve written about before. I like how they approach work in organization in terms of competing frames; structural, human resources, political, and symbolic. I also really appreciate that their book is more about organizational theory than it is about leaders and leadership. In large part, I think the cult of leadership books on what leaders do misses out on how things really get done in the complex systems that are organizations. I’ve paired that book with some sections from Evans & Greenwell’s Management Basics for Information Professionals, which is great at being more directly focused on issues in libraries and archives but I think less strong as an overarching toolkit for understanding organizations.

Along with those two books, I’ve also assigned two other books that we will focus on for individual weeks in the semester. We will read Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, which I continue to find to be a really accessible point of entry into a lot of work in the psychology of motivation. We will also read Systems Thinking For Social Change: A Practical Guide to Solving Complex Problems, Avoiding Unintended Consequences, which is both a great point of entry into systems thinking and also a useful book in getting us to think beyond the boundaries of individual organizations to collectively enable social change.

I’ve tried to round out readings from those books with a mixture of articles. It ended up working out that I’ve got a lot of straightforward articles from Library Leadership & Management which I’ve tried to round out with much more critical work, largely from In the Library with the Lead Pipe.

Alongside the readings, I’ve built in a few situations where students need to go out explore some resources that I think everyone in library school needs to know about. Things like the Library Journal Placement and Salaries reports, the AFL-CIO“Library Professionals: Facts, Figures, and Union Membership” results from the IMLS annual  public library survey and both the ARL Salary data and general ARL library statistics. While all these reports are pretty dry, they are also amazingly useful resources for understanding how pay works in the field and how resources are located across and within library organizations.

Reflection, Introspection, and Engagement through Assignments

I spent a lot of time trying to think of what the right kinds of assignments are for a course like this. I think this kind of course really needs to support students in working to process and synthesize their own notions of how organizations work. To that end, I decided that a core part of the course would involve weekly journaling about course readings.

At the same time, I wanted to make sure that there were opportunities for students to connect with each other. This was originally intended to be a face to face course. Beyond that, there are actually two sections of this course this semester and the other one was an online course from the start. So functionally this section of the course is all students that had explicitly opted to take a face to face version of the course. It’s great that the course can work well as an online course, but I fully realize that this isn’t what students had signed up for. Beyond that it’s a seminar with 30 students, which presents challenges for having everyone do anything together in any situation. In light of that, I worked out a process where students are going to have peer learning partners that they set up time to check in with each week and who they will read and comment on each others journals. Over the course of the semester the partners are going to rotate four times, so everyone will have a few weeks with a different partner. My hope is that this helps scaffold everyone into some rich discussions and explorations of the issues that we get into over the course of the semester.

The last major set of assignments are focused on having each student do an interview with someone working in a leadership/management role in a library or archives who they will then write an essay about that connects that persons ideas about leadership with readings from the course. My current concept is that for all the students that opt in, I will go ahead and put out an open access book of all these essays on LISSA. My hope with this assignment is that it provides a chance for everyone in the class to do some networking and meet folks working in the field while also giving us a chance to make something together that everyone can point to after the semester as an outcome from the course. I’ll be curious to see how it goes!

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