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Workforce Transformation: Possible Library Futures

I have held a series of administrative positions at Oklahoma State University (OSU) since 1978 and have been dean of libraries since 2004. During that time we have experienced a number of changes and in 2012 the OSU Library looked to be thriving. We had adopted technology to enhance collections and improve services. We had been a development partner with Summon and were in a similar role with Intota. We consistently received positive survey results and comments for our services and collections. Our building was heavily used by students. For most of my staff and many of my librarians, the library looked healthy and robust. We were clearly not stagnant, but I had a strong sense that many librarians had not yet acknowledged how precarious our future was in research libraries. Staff members who did not have opportunities to attend professional meetings or the time to read the professional literature were unaware of the danger we were in. They did not fully comprehend how the transformations in technology, scholarly communication, and higher education would change their work, nor did they recognize how the competitive challenges from Google and others could make our traditional services irrelevant.

To prepare my staff to participate in the redesign of our work processes and to help prioritize our future work, I needed to give them opportunities to learn about the drivers of change and how other libraries are responding. They needed information to help inform their participation. Raynna Bowlby, an associate in Library Management Consulting, and I together designed the OSU Library Future Series (LFS). This iterative process included on-site learning opportunities and facilitated group discussions to build awareness of strategic developments in research libraries and create readiness for implementation of organizational changes. The primary focus was on learning about the factors influencing research libraries, the changing nature of academic work of faculty and students in research institutions, and the contemporary initiatives being pursued by members of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). The series was planned to run through the 2012–2013 academic year with May and June of 2013 devoted to developing priorities to guide subsequent changes.

At each LFS event, our invited speakers gave formal presentations to a library all-staff meeting. They talked about innovations they've tried or observed and then answered questions. Speakers also met with one or two smaller groups for more informal discussions. On the morning following each presentation, we held an all-staff meeting, and Raynna engaged participants in a focused discussion about the potential impacts on OSU of the ideas presented and to brainstorm about possible new initiatives and work changes. One of the desired outcomes of the LFS was to establish a process whereby we continuously target some strategic priorities for the library.

We have now formalized this environmental scanning process by naming the Library Horizon Committee (with acknowledgment of the name first seen at Rice) to be a “think tank” of change agents who look at trends in libraries and information resources, emerging technologies, and user experience.

I decided not to participate in these post-speaker sessions so as not to unduly influence the discussion, and I asked my associate deans to be listeners and limit their influence on the discussions as well. They had opportunities for input during the executive team meetings with Raynna afterwards.

We held our first seminar in September 2012, and our two speakers were Rush Miller and Brian Schottlaender. Rush talked about the University of Pittsburgh's re-engineering of technical service operations, the closing of departmental/branch libraries, digital reference services, creating a knowledge commons, repurposing space for graduate and other students, and the transformation of collections with e-books and digitization efforts. Brian emphasized University of California (UC) San Diego's efforts to establish data curation services. Later in 2012, Joan Lippincott of the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), spoke on creating library spaces that foster learning, collaboration, and creativity. Joan was joined by two OSU faculty who discussed different learning and study styles for today's students. Subsequently, we heard from Kim Duckett, North Carolina State University, who discussed the new Hunt Library, the repurposing of space in their 60-year-old main library, and how these spaces foster learning, collaboration, and exploration of new discovery and presentation technologies. Rachel Vacek of the University of Houston Libraries spoke on integrating web-based access and mobile apps into library services. In 2013, we welcomed Brinley Franklin from University of Connecticut, who talked about aligning strategic planning with the university's academic plan and then restructuring the library to accomplish the work.

As the Library Future Series progressed in 2013, Raynna led the library faculty and staff in a focused planning process. We created two groups, each composed of three librarians and three staff members, for very short-term research assignments which they would then present to an all-staff meeting. The first group researched OSU strategic priorities and initiatives, and the second studied strategic initiatives in other ARL institutions, highlighting a broad spectrum of ideas in practice. This second overview complemented our LFS keynote speakers and provided the library community with a real picture of how work is changing across research libraries. We have now formalized this environmental scanning process by naming the Library Horizon Committee (with acknowledgment of the name first seen at Rice University) to be a "think tank" of change agents who look at trends in libraries and information resources, emerging technologies, and user experience.

Our Library Executive Committee vetted this staff input and a final set of immediate Strategic Priorities was announced in 2013. Our departments were reorganized around the Strategic Priorities' three main focus areas, and I indicated to faculty and staff the areas where we would invest energies, staff time, and resources, through reallocation and recruitment based on these areas. The priorities and organization plans can be found at: http://www.library.okstate.edu/news/dean/ProposedOrganization.pdf.

With the initial planning component successfully completed and a new set of strategic directions and organization in place, we have continued the LFS because of its many benefits helping with staff transformation. Recently we hosted Rick Luce from our neighboring University of Oklahoma who talked about collaborative efforts in libraries, including the ARL-AAU-APLU SHARE initiative and the local partnership of OSU and OU on an institutional repository called ShareOK. In the past six months, we've had leading speakers on key functional areas of library work: Rick Anderson from the University of Utah on acquisitions and technical services, Karen Williams from the University of Arizona on subject librarians/liaisons and information services, and John Riemer from UCLA on cataloging and metadata. They have helped us identify the details of change in specific functional areas and the resources needed to implement significant changes in the work. The post-speaker staff discussion sessions with Raynna have engaged those individuals whose work is primarily affected, enabling them to contribute specific ideas for how the work in their area of responsibility can change.

The result of the LFS has been extremely positive. Every staff member has a base level of understanding of the challenges academic libraries face. The post-speaker discussions have become very productive, and some who were silent at the beginning are now contributing comments and suggestions. This fall we will implement changes to reference services that will give reference librarians more time for liaison work. In July we began implementing changes in cataloging and acquisitions as indicated by our Strategic Priorities.

Many thanks to all of our LFS speakers for the generous amount of time and effort each of them gave us. We couldn't have come so far without their help.

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