Bureaucratic Efficiency

It is often complained that bureaucracies are inefficient. This is amusing insofar as the theoretical idea behind bureaucracies is that they are supposed to be modernity's great innovation in terms of organizational efficiency; they take a huge task and build an organizational structure that breaks the task down into its smallest components and staffs an expert on each of these components in a position to handle it. The specifics of why bureaucracies become bloated and inefficient are not, however, the subject of this post.

I submit that bureaucracies can be highly efficient, provided it is a subject in which they take a heavy interest, and not something unimportant like serving people. I submit the following example from my years working as a clerk at the library:

Several Springs ago the Berkeley campus was beset by a tragedy. Professor Andrew Zelnick, prominent historian of Russian history, was killed in an utterly pointless tragedy on campus. He was backed over by a slow-moving water delivery truck on the service road by the top of the stairs next to Moses Hall. A report appeared in the Daily Cal the next day.

I read the report sitting at my computer at the library. I had never taken a class with Professor Zelnick, but had taken classes in the Russian division of the History department, so I started looking up information about him on the Berkeley website. After a few minutes, it struck me that I could look up his patron information in GLADIS, the Berkeley Library's book database. When I did so, I discovered that, though the news of his death had been reported just a few hours prior, he already had his library privileges cancelled in GLADIS, with a note marking him "DECEASED." Moreover, his entire inventory had been recalled. It's nice to know, in times of grief, that the library has its priorities straight.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on October 12, 2005 10:06 AM.

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