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Notes from Elliott Shore’s Listening Tour: Delaware, Cincinnati, Ohio U, OSU, Case Western

Case Western Reserve, Smith Library, elevator trompe l’oeil

ARL executive director Elliott Shore has embarked on a “listening tour” of ARL member libraries. This is the seventh in a series of informal reports from his visits.

In late June, I visited University of Delaware and then four of the five ARL member libraries in Ohio—University of Cincinnati, Ohio University, Ohio State University, and Case Western Reserve University. At each library I met with the director—Susan Brynteson, Xuemao Wang, Scott Seaman, Carol Diedrichs, and Arnold Hirshon—and their staffs. There was not enough time to visit all five Ohio ARL libraries but Jim Bracken of Kent State University graciously volunteered to meet with us at Ohio State.

Conversations at University of Delaware resurfaced some of the earliest themes of this listening tour, which began in January—staff are yearning for more involvement in ARL, and they want to see ARL collaborate even more with ACRL, and with CNI and SPARC. This could be facilitated by bringing like folks together—for example, people with similar duties across ARL libraries. I heard praise for SHARE, the ARL/AAU/APLU proposal in response to the White House directive on public access to federally funded research and data. And I heard serious concern about the efficacy of research library statistics. Dianna McKellar was deeply interested in the idea of a MOOC on research librarianship and came up with several interesting topics around tools, design, and HathiTrust. Many staff want to see ARL take a leading role in helping to set standards, especially in the electronic realm. I learned more about Delaware’s wonderful and long-standing residency program. And Shelly L. McCoy, head of the Student Multimedia Design Center, gave me a tour of the center, a place where students create new knowledge together with staff for their courses. The multimedia center is a handsome, welcoming space that will soon be joined by the writing center.

University of Cincinnati has a similarly inviting and collaborative space in the stunning Aronoff Center for Design and Art, designed by Peter Eisenman, where students work with one another, their teachers, and librarians. In a lively conversation with staff, the Aronoff Center’s director, Jennifer Krivickas, suggested that ARL could play a role in convening library school deans and ARL library directors and deans to think about joint-degree programs that connect the MLIS with other master’s-level programs in such areas as education, computer science, law. The campus is studded with handsome buildings, new and old, so that one can almost visualize the history of the research library. I particularly enjoyed the Blegen Library, where I reconnected with my own library history through meetings with the classics librarian Jacquelene W. Riley—we traded stories about the great classics libraries in the world—and Kevin Grace, who presides over the German-Americana Collection, which I had used in my own research at an earlier time. Perhaps the most stunning was the Harrison Health Sciences Library, which is led by Leslie Schick. The theme of our conversations at Cincinnati was also richly on the side of more involvement, more education. Xuemao had just returned from a long trip to China, where he visited nine universities and is helping UC’s president in setting up deep collaboration with the university in Xuemao’s hometown of Chongqing, once the capital of China. He led us in a conversation about what roles ARL might play in an increasingly interdependent world. 

While visiting Ohio University, I was struck by what a gorgeous college town Athens is and what a handsome campus and long history Ohio U has. The library enjoys strong special collections, especially in East Asian and US political and military history, in an impressive building that commands the highest ground on the campus. The staff—especially Kelly Broughton and Eileen Theodore-Shusta—and I engaged in wonderful conversations about statistics—where do we go with them in the 21st century? Can we start to think about how to drain from the existing tools the assumptions that the library is only a physical space? How can we streamline and develop the right categories of measures? How we can develop indices of varying sorts to cover differing needs within the libraries of the Association? The staff had many thoughtful questions about the ways forward in the current world, how to focus on what matters, where to place one’s bets on future directions.

At Ohio State, I met with the associate directors and Carol for a wide-ranging and far-reaching conversation about the role of ARL in their lives. We touched on the need for more involvement, more connection beyond what they now experience. A listserv for the AULs was a concrete idea that came out of that conversation—a way to bring associate deans together around specific areas of focus because they do not currently have enough of the kinds of opportunities they need and want at ALA or ACRL. Lisa Carter and Karla Strieb spoke eloquently about ARL’s role in helping to keep the vision of the AULs focused at the highest level. I also had a tour of a grand makeover of venerable old Thompson Library, with breathtaking spaces, handsome details, wonderful rethinking of an older set of structures.  What a delight it will be to have our spring 2014 meeting there and at the Cartoon Library, now being completed in another thoughtful reconception of the old Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society Building on North High Street.

At Ohio State’s Thompson Library, I met with the five Ohio ARL library directors—Xuemao, Scott, Carol, Arnold, and Jim Bracken of Kent State—for a deep conversation and we mulled over ideas that I had gathered from my previous trips and new ones that they brought to the table. Perhaps the most far-reaching was about the relationship between ARL and the emerging partnerships that ARL librarians have spearheaded, such as HathiTrust and DPN. Some intriguing ideas emerged from those talks.

Case Western Reserve has an amazing cultural mecca—Severance Hall, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Western Reserve Historical Society—within walking distance and a handsome, modern, main library building. Arnold provided a thorough presentation of the library’s strategic plan and all of the changes in the vision that drives it: the information laboratory for knowledge “collection, connection, creation, and curation.” Roger Zender and Gail Reese were among those who helped to spearhead this new plan and helped to bring it to life. One of the distinguishing features of their program is to use CRM technology to track use and interest and try to connect outcomes to their work. In this context, there were voices that I heard, echoed at almost all of my visits, that the assessment tools we have at our disposal are not useful in this work. As I head to the Northumbria Conference on Performance Measurement in a couple of weeks, I hope to urge those who collect and analyze data to rise to the challenge of a new day in acting upon the latest thinking in the field.

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