ARL’s strategic thinking and design process. Sarah Thomas, vice president for the Harvard Library and the Roy E. Larsen librarian of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, hosted the meeting that included librarians, faculty, and a graduate student from colleges and universities across New England, the Boston Public Library, and ARL.On the day after the 2014 Boston Marathon, 33 participants gathered at Lamont Library on the Harvard University campus for the 10th regional meeting in
ARL executive director Elliott Shore welcomed the group and introduced Ann Pendleton-Jullian, ARL’s strategic design consultant, who set the stage for the day’s activities. Ann began by describing the three tracks and five components of the strategic thinking and design process. The tracks are data gathering and analysis (to develop a clear understanding of current research library and higher education issues and challenges), regional design meetings (to imagine and articulate elements of the research library in 2033), and design studios (to synthesize and critique the information flowing from the other tracks in order to create goals and systems of action). The design process components include framing the design problem, telling stories, visioning charrettes, worldbuilding, and design studios. On a process timeline Ann illustrated the work that has been accomplished and how the various tracks feed into the work of one another.
Following the process review, the participants broke into groups of three for a “sharks” and “cool cats” storytelling activity, as in the previous regional meetings. Each group selected two of their stories to report out. Among the sharks were:
- the dilemma of how to provide information resources to researchers who have collaborators around the world;
- a university’s résumé-gathering project that didn’t collaborate with the library and ended up badly flawed;
- librarians who staff desks to answer questions about collections that aren’t well-described because the librarians don’t have time to do that work because they are staffing a desk;
- a manuscript collection donated to the library on a computer;
- how to hire staff who can grow in the direction you might need in the future; and
- the current systems of prestige/reputation that academics created and then ceded to commercial publishers.
The cool cats included:
- how a library was able to intervene in the demolition of a building on campus to create a 3-D visualization to record the structure;
- a collaborative project in which libraries distribute texts and images and crowdsource the metadata through short online games;
- a collaboration between the library and campus administration to help faculty find alternatives to textbooks that has saved over $1 million in textbook costs;
- library users who are dropouts but are independent thinkers and self-propelled learners;
- an opportunity to work with a faculty member to imagine a new research process that led to thinking differently about discovery tools;
- a pilot digital preservation network; and
- an information commons that collocates consulting services and undergraduate deans.
After lunch, Ann explained that this meeting represented the turning point from one phase of the design process to a second phase: creating systems of action to close the gap between the present and the library of 2033. Systems of action are collections of inter-related components that affect both explicit behaviors and embedded habits, and enable small actions to affect a larger social ecosystem. As an example, Ann described El Sistema, José Antonio Abreu’s project to transform the lives of poor children and their communities in Venezuela through participation in youth orchestras. She then described several trends that emerged during the ARL design studio work that resulted in major shifts in thinking about the research library of the future and led to this vision concept:
In 2033, the research library will have shifted from its role as a knowledge service provider within the university to become a collaborative partner within a rich and diverse learning and research ecosystem.
With this vision as inspiration, meeting participants convened into six groups to brainstorm steps the library could take to achieve this vision. The results of this session shared several themes, including networks, interoperability, data mining, collaboration, teamwork, new publishing models, and new staff skills.
Immediate next steps for the strategic thinking and design process include a series of webcasts for ARL member libraries this week and two sessions during the ARL Membership Meeting next week. These activities will engage ARL directors in discussions about the ideas developed in the design studio process and the work of the Board of Directors from its February 2014 retreat. During the Membership Meeting, ARL will collect feedback to refine the systems of action and identify any additional actions that the membership thinks ARL should address. This summer and early fall, the design team and ARL staff will develop a working framework—based on the vision and systems of action—to guide the Association for the next two to three years. The proposed framework will be a focus of the October 2014 Membership Meeting.