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ARL President Lorraine Haricombe Talks about the Profession, the Association

Lorraine Haricombe
Lorraine Haricombe, image courtesy of UT Austin

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) Communications Team interviewed the new ARL president, Lorraine Haricombe, vice provost and director of the University of Texas (UT) Libraries at UT Austin, to learn her views on inspirations, opportunities, and challenges for the research library profession and the Association. The full interview follows.

ARL: What inspires you about the contributions research librarians are making today?

Haricombe: A hallmark of today’s research libraries is their strong focus on the quality of their services. Librarians are increasingly combining their traditional roles in support of research, teaching, and learning with greater advocacy for the patrons they serve. They are positioning themselves as trusted, indispensable partners to provide both training and ongoing support to scholars in their research projects. Using resources beyond books, research librarians are providing scholars with high-quality, inclusive, and accessible training that enables them to continue their academic endeavors both inside and outside the library. I’m inspired by how librarians are helping to expand this vision of the library from “warehouse of books” to embedded research partner that aligns with the educational mission of the larger institution. Despite some challenges in transitioning to these new roles, librarians have been out front to ensure that scholars have what they need to do their work.

ARL: As a research library leader in a time of significant flux, what do you see as the most important benefits of belonging to the Association?

Haricombe: In my ARL Board service over the last few years, I have had a firsthand opportunity to measure the benefits the Association brings to its members. ARL helps connect peers with each other to foster interpersonal and interorganizational collaborations. These new partnerships are expertly supported by our experienced and talented ARL staff. The Association’s presence in Washington, DC, gives our members input on a national level as we work to influence policies and shape scholarship. This is a time of significant transformation in the research library profession; there are challenges with access to high-quality training and obstacles in advancing new areas of work, among others. ARL is an indispensable forum that allows members to pool their resources and experiences to face these challenges together.

ARL: In your new role as ARL president, what do you believe are the core issues that research libraries should advocate for?

Haricombe: Libraries are facing many challenges that are not necessarily well understood on campus. I will highlight three core issues research libraries need to advocate for: leadership on campus, funding, and collaborative partnership with key stakeholders.

Jim Williams (dean emeritus, University of Colorado Boulder Libraries) said it succinctly: “Libraries should always advocate to be at the table; if not, they will end up on the menu.” Our libraries are about the business of our universities; we are microcosms of our campus environment and uniquely positioned to anticipate and help define the future ecosystem for our users and our campus communities. We support and touch the experience of our campus communities: every student, faculty member, and staff member, and also those beyond our campuses. No other place on campus has as much potential to serve as a bastion of equity. We have a responsibility to elevate and advocate for the voice of libraries as a core partner in the business of the university.

We need to advocate for funding to support the changes in learning and research behaviors in a networked environment. Despite these changes, our current funding models for libraries focus largely on library collections, a traditional and very important component of libraries. But, as Lorcan Dempsey and Constance Malpas state, the collection is only one component amidst an array of resources and services available to our user communities. Researchers, teachers, and students are looking to the library for multimodal support; our mission to be there for them will require new funding sources for these specialized resources, training, and professional development.

Libraries can be catalysts for on-campus collaboration and we should lead that role. Librarians embedded in research teams are providing support in collaborative learning environments. Faculty and researchers see librarians as trusted partners and see libraries as prime spaces for learning. We must advocate for our library environments to be re-envisioned in a manner responsive to evolving needs in higher education, including knowledge creation, curation, and preservation. The University of Texas tells its students, “What starts here changes the world.” That motto, I believe, is also apt for libraries: “What changes the world starts in the library.”

ARL: What is one area of focus that you hope to influence during your tenure as the president of ARL?

Haricombe: One of my top goals for this year is to focus on elevating the role of libraries as critical leaders in higher education and to bring ARL’s role into sharper focus in that space. The 2019 ARL-CNI Fall Forum was a first step in that direction to engage the ARL membership and key stakeholders. I look forward to the summary report from the Fall Forum to align those ideas with ARL’s priorities for 2020 and to (hopefully) help shape new and exciting collaborative roles for libraries on our respective campuses.

Another priority is to expand our collaboration to include libraries from underrepresented communities to provide us with deeper and richer perspectives of the opportunities available to ARL.

ARL: What challenges or opportunities do you see for ARL (or research libraries in general) in the next two years?

Haricombe: I think the opportunities abound, but not without challenges. One of the biggest challenges for research libraries continues to be attaining recurring funding for library resources, tools, and services needed. The University of California system’s bold move to suspend negotiations with Elsevier has re-energized discussions, conversations, and actions to advance open and sustainable scholarship and we are learning many facets of the move’s impact on the core work of the university. During OA Week the MIT Framework for Publisher Contracts launched, offering us another model to advance open, equitable access to knowledge in a sustainable way. In another significant move, the Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA) recently identified a framework for operationalizing the BTAA’s collective collection to increase both impact and efficiency. This is an intriguing solution and a great move in the right direction. These cases offer new opportunities to collaborate at scale that require the collective will of library leaders.

Data is the new currency of science. Researchers across our campuses are looking to the libraries as a place to find high-quality, inclusive, and accessible training in foundational data management, curation, and preservation. Research libraries have an opportunity to pivot from providing support services to being engaged partners in the research enterprise. We need to cultivate and embrace innovative partnerships with researchers to organize, curate, disseminate, and preserve the data their research generates.

Finally, several research institutions are developing new organizational structures that include novel roles for library leaders. This is an emerging opportunity to expand our professional portfolios beyond the traditional role of the library. For example, at Yale University the university librarian now serves as vice provost of collections and scholarly communications, which includes oversight of the libraries and several cultural heritage institutions at Yale. The dean and university librarian at the University of Cincinnati has a new title and additional responsibilities as vice provost of digital scholarship. At the University of Colorado Boulder, the dean of libraries was tapped to lead the university’s online education program as a senior vice provost. These instances of expanded leadership extend recognition to the library’s growing role as a critical stakeholder.

ARL: What are ways in which you, as a research library leader, advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in your work, and in the work of research libraries as a whole?

Haricombe: I have been privileged to serve in leadership roles throughout my professional career. That experience (on two continents) offered different perspectives and opportunities to “give back.” I support, coach, and mentor young professionals from underrepresented communities even as I learn from them on my professional journey. Along the way they have certainly inspired me with their accomplishments. At The University of Texas (UT) I launched the first Diversity Residency program; we have three residents currently who have made significant contributions to UT Libraries and to the surrounding community. I work closely with our Diversity Action Committee, one of our most active library committees. UT Libraries led the way on campus (and perhaps in Texas!) with gender-neutral bathrooms. One of our three strategic objectives for 2019–2021 is to “Build IDEA communities: Be the change,” a commitment from the UT Libraries executive team to be a leader at UT.