ARL’s strategic thinking and design process kicked off with an invigorating regional design meeting, led by consultant Ann Pendleton-Jullian and hosted by the University of Minnesota on October 1. Meeting participants included almost 30 thought leaders from ARL member libraries, the broader library community, and higher education. The meeting was convened by three of the four co-chairs of the strategic design coordinating committee: Tom Hickerson (Calgary), Wendy Lougee (Minnesota), and Elliott Shore (ARL). Susan Nutter (North Carolina State), the fourth co-chair, was unable to attend but she did participate in the first design studio in Washington, DC, on October 29. Tom Hickerson opened the Minneapolis meeting, noting that this is an “exciting opportunity to engage in a creative process” that should impact the entire library profession.
Elliott Shore then introduced Ann Pendleton-Jullian, who began with an overview of the day’s three-part agenda: a vision charrette to generate visions of the future, sharing of stories about what’s happening now, and refining the vision goals.
For the vision charrette, Ann divided the participants into teams of four and gave them 20 minutes to develop a response to the question, “What is the role of the North American research library for the ecology of knowledge in 2033?” Each team fleshed out as many ideas as possible and presented their responses in three sentences. The main themes of the visions that emerged are:
- The research library ecosystem will become a distributed global network with shared, seamless, invisible infrastructure for the creation, dissemination, and preservation of knowledge across university boundaries—“eduroam on steroids.”
- The research library community will engage in radical collaboration driven by increasing differentiation.
- Local cultures will matter but the audience is global.
- Research libraries will be like explorers and mapmakers—enablers, facilitators, incubators, agnostic, catholic, open, iterative.
- Visualization will become the research tool of the trade the way statistics is today.
After the entire group discussed the above visions, Ann asked the participants to break into smaller groups of three to tell one another their own stories of either “sharks in the water” (major threats) or “cool cats” (exciting developments) in their professional experiences. The small groups then curated the stories, choosing the best ones to report out to the large group.
All of the stories illustrated challenges and opportunities that research libraries have now. Here are two compelling examples:
Shark in the water: One participant told a story about an encounter he witnessed at a university library in Saudi Arabia, which a prince visited and criticized for not prominently displaying books. The library director felt compelled to purchase random books to fill the library before the next visit by the prince.
Cool cat: In Washington state, a local community member found some old documentary films about the town in a storage unit and donated the films to the library. The library realized the films would be of interest to the community so it organized a special screening, which garnered much good publicity for the library and fostered a greater understanding in the community of the library’s mission.
These two stories demonstrate the themes that were common to the stories shared at this meeting:
- Preserving the cultural and scholarly record
- Misperceptions held by others about what libraries do
- Taking down walls/unbundling the library
For the final exercise of the day, Ann divided the participants into new groups of four and asked them to create two to four vision goals. The following are the main goals that emerged from this meeting:
- Advance the development of leaders, a flexible workforce, and spontaneous self-organizing global teams.
- Develop a distributed, porous, global ecosystem of libraries that radically collaborate to create a borderless infrastructure for knowledge creation and access.
- Create hubs of excellence and prioritize innovation, especially scalable and collaborative innovation.
- Model a multi-institutional collective collection, re-balancing collection portfolios to focus on research and learning.
- Demonstrate return on investment (ROI).
This first meeting established a framework and vocabulary that the outcomes from the subsequent meetings can be fit into. The next meeting was a regional design meeting held in Los Angeles on October 17, followed by another regional meeting in Chicago on October 22. We hope that these reports will help facilitate the iterative process of building visions and goals. Each meeting will be reported on by a different ARL staff member, sharing their own perspective on the process.