A critical analysis of the strategic decision-making process for information technology in academic libraries

Steven Jay Bell, University of Pennsylvania


Acquiring large-scale information technology is a strategic decision for academic libraries. The Library Management System (LMS) is the nexus of an automated library's operations. Acquiring the LMS is a complex, challenging strategic decision, and is susceptible to complications that can undermine the decision process. A research library's LMS acquisition is examined to provide insight into the decision process, how it is conducted, and determinants of problem resolution. Using a case study research design, the library's technology selection process was compared with one at the same university in which a new institution-wide financial management information system was acquired. Data were collected by participant interview, and decision committee documents. This study describes and critically analyzes each decision process, and then provides recommendations for improving an information technology acquisition decision process so that decision resolution is achievable. Decision models provide a technique for analyzing and interpreting decision events. A review of the decision making literature identified the Garbage Can Decision Making model as the most appropriate framework to critically analyze the LMS decision process. This model is particularly applicable to academic organizations, referred to in the model as organized anarchies. Their decision making is typically characterized by dysfunctional behavior. A series of research questions was used to collect evidence to ascertain whether or not the LMS decision can be adequately explained by the Garbage Can model. Because the LMS decision process showed evidence of problematic preferences, weak access and decision structures, decision flight, and other characteristics of anarchic decision situations, this study confirmed that the Garbage Can Model is an appropriate framework to explain the library's decision process. Administrators will minimize conditions that lead to dysfunctional decisions by managing decision process ambiguity and decision process structure. A good technology decision process successfully assesses and manages the inherent risk of information technology acquisitions, achieves intended implementation goals, and does so while securing an outcome that is judged favorably by the university community. No guidelines may enable higher education institutions to eliminate anarchic decision situations. Proper management of decision ambiguity and structures can lead to better information technology decisions.

Subject Area

School administration|Library science|Higher education|Information Systems

Recommended Citation

Bell, Steven Jay, "A critical analysis of the strategic decision-making process for information technology in academic libraries" (1997). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9727008.