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ARL Membership Refines Strategic Thinking and Design at Spring 2014 Meeting

image © OSU, photo by Meera on Buckeyes Blog

ARL president Carol Pitts Diedrichs of The Ohio State University (OSU) convened the 164th ARL Membership Meeting in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday afternoon, May 6, 2014. Almost all of the program sessions at this meeting focused on the current ARL strategic thinking and design process, upon which the Association embarked in the fall of 2013 to define its role in higher education and to maximize ARL’s ability to be agile and responsive to changing priorities and member needs. The meeting also included a panel discussion of SHARE (SHared Access Research Ecosystem), a higher education and research community initiative to ensure the preservation of, access to, and reuse of research outputs.

ARL member representatives arrived in Columbus having viewed three short videos in which selected members of the ARL Strategic Thinking and Design Working Group reflect on the strategic process and how it will help ARL and research libraries build their desired future. Member representatives also had the opportunity during the week before the Membership Meeting to participate in web sessions led by Carol Diedrichs and ARL executive director Elliott Shore, bringing members up to date and providing them with a chance to ask questions.

The first and only Membership Meeting session on Tuesday, May 6, “Strategic Thinking and Design—Research Library in 2033—Vision and System of Action—Part One,” featured a group presentation (PDF) on the strategic design process to date by ARL consultant Ann Pendleton-Jullian and four ARL Strategic Thinking and Design Working Group members: Wendy Pradt Lougee of University of Minnesota, Susan Gibbons of Yale University, John Wilkin of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and James Hilton of University of Michigan. Ann Pendleton-Jullian reviewed how—in 10 regional design meetings across the US and Canada and 5 design studio meetings in Washington, DC, funded in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services—342 people from the library and higher education communities developed a draft vision of the research library two decades into the future:

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.

Pendleton-Jullian reminded participants that, in order to build this future, research libraries and ARL will need to move beyond incremental change and avoid the “competency trap” of simply continuing to do what they already know how to do. Throughout the spring, ARL design meeting participants began creating a system of action to help research libraries and ARL effect radical change and achieve their desired vision. Six potential components of a system of action were presented to the ARL membership on May 6:

  • Coordinated Management of Collective Collections—federate networks of print repositories, digital repositories, data repositories.
  • Scholarly Publishing at Scale (Short + Long Forms)—bring scholarly publishing back home to the academy with shared-infrastructure press.
  • ARL Academy—reshaping the profession by developing new leaders and leadership teams, establishing an agency with a talent pool to be drawn on by libraries.
  • Boundless Symposium—orchestrate meta-collaborations and meta-conversations across institutional boundaries to build new insights.
  • First Suite of Smart Libraries—design, fund, and build a coalition of libraries that create personalized content delivery.
  • Innovation Lab and (Venture) Capital Fund—create a think tank and pop-up innovation labs, use investment to spur innovation.

On Wednesday, May 7, Ed Ayers, president of University of Richmond, exhorted participants to consider “The Library as the Center of Change” and captured several of the themes of ARL’s strategic design. Ayers said, “We can’t know exactly what we’re going to do before we do it,” emphasizing the importance of experimenting and fostering “non-successes.” He also predicted that, in the not-too-distant future, “Libraries will be more central to digital scholarship than they are to books today,” encouraging libraries to embrace the role of making scholarship.

Later that day, in a panel on “Building 21st-Century Teaching and Learning Infrastructure through Collaboration,” David Gift (PDF) of Internet2 noted the importance of collaboration across departmental and institutional lines. He observed that information organization and information services are natural companions—librarians and IT need to partner more. Rebecca Graham (PDF) embodies that kind of collaboration by playing the dual roles of chief information officer and chief librarian at University of Guelph. She said that the most important benefit of her dual role is the advocacy opportunity it provides locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally.

In the last session on May 7, “Strategic Thinking and Design—Research Library in 2033—Vision and System of Action—Part Two,” ARL member representatives and invited guests worked in small groups to further develop the six system of action components as well as brainstorm new ideas. Participants identified “first actions” for each system of action component:

  • Coordinated Management of Collective Collections
    • Convene the broader library community in conversation about standards.
    • Identify high-impact research collections.
  • Scholarly Publishing at Scale (Short + Long Forms)
    • Collectively fund shared infrastructure with imprimatur from ARL, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), and the Association of American Universities (AAU).
  • ARL Academy
    • Broker concierge consultants.
    • Hold a symposium with LIS & iSchools to talk about curricular changes.
  • Boundless Symposium
    • Identify institutions already working on this and scale their work.
    • Share patron databases and users across ARL libraries.
  • First Suite of Smart Libraries
    • Convene across campuses to discuss data types and work toward common-gauge rails not customized tracks.
  • Innovation Lab and (Venture) Capital Fund
    • Prototype an idea lab in an organic and agile way.

Additional ideas shared by participants in this session included:

  • Help library staff prepare for and be excited about constant change.
  • Diversify the conversation beyond libraries and beyond campus. Include more students.
  • Engage globally. Admit international members. Identify new constituencies. Seek new allies. Spawn new networks.
  • Create environments for innovation, such as retreats—boundless symposia for ARL representatives.
  • Explore new models of venture capital and other funding.
  • Ensure a strong public policy program in ARL.

On Thursday, May 8, the meeting wrapped up with two sessions. The first was a panel discussion of “The SHARE Initiative—Value and Importance to Universities” with Kelvin Droegemeier (PDF) of University of Oklahoma (OU) and Clifford Lynch of the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), moderated by Rick Luce of OU. Michael Tanner of APLU delivered a short presentation by prerecorded video. SHARE illustrates some of the values that have emerged from the strategic thinking and design work, namely reclaiming control of the scholarly communication system by the academy and innovating via collaboration on a global scale. Kevin Droegemeier may have expressed some of these values best when he predicted that SHARE will enable better ways of doing old things but will also allow libraries and higher education to do as-yet-unimagined things, thanks to “collaborability” and “creatability.”

In the final session on “Organizing for New Work—ARL and Libraries,” Merrill Schwartz of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) and James Wynn of Quatt Associates presented guidance on putting strategic plans into action. Wynn advised that diversity of experience and perspectives is key to successfully moving to a new strategic framework. Schwartz recommended that ARL’s strategic framework be expressed in tangible terms—for example, set feasible and measurable goals—and she encouraged ARL to think of the framework as a living document.

This strategic thinking and design process will likely change the ways in which ARL works as well as which issues ARL prioritizes. A wide spectrum is envisioned for ARL’s engagement going forward: ARL might inspire, broker, facilitate, shape, manage, and/or spin off various elements of the system of action. This summer and early fall, a working group of 10 ARL member representatives, a non-ARL representative, and ARL’s executive director and deputy executive director will develop a working strategic framework—based on the vision and system of action—to guide the Association for the next two to three years. The proposed framework will be a focus of the next Membership Meeting, to be held in DC in October 2014.

View a short video montage featuring clips from an interview with Elliott Shore and Ann Pendleton-Jullian as well as selected footage from various design studio sessions and regional design meetings conducted across the US and Canada:

Video production by Dupont Studios

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 125 research libraries in the US and Canada. ARL’s mission is to influence the changing environment of scholarly communication and the public policies that affect research libraries and the diverse communities they serve. ARL pursues this mission by advancing the goals of its member research libraries, providing leadership in public and information policy to the scholarly and higher education communities, fostering the exchange of ideas and expertise, facilitating the emergence of new roles for research libraries, and shaping a future environment that leverages its interests with those of allied organizations. ARL is on the web at http://www.arl.org/.


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