ARL executive director Elliott Shore has embarked on a “listening tour” of ARL member libraries. This is the eighth in a series of informal reports from his visits.
After a summer’s pause, I went back on the road again to visit Diane Parr Walker at Notre Dame, Jim Mullins at Purdue, and Brenda Johnson at Indiana University on the continuation of my listening tour. I then headed north to visit ARL president Wendy Lougee at the University of Minnesota. The pause was a generative one: in the interim I could collect and synthesize my thoughts and my notes as we started the data collection and mining research project for the ARL strategic thinking and design process with the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. At the same time, we began to put together the various pieces of the design studio that Ann Pendleton-Jullian is leading for us, also with grant support: her work and the regional meetings we are arranging are underwritten by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. A new ARL directors’ orientation in September—did you know that there have been 26 new directors appointed in the last 18 months?—afforded Ann and me the opportunity to have a productive session with 19 of the new directors as we geared up for the first design studio in Minneapolis (watch for that report soon).
When I asked the Executive Committee of the ARL Board this summer if I should continue to visit campuses and member libraries, the committee members said yes: they thought that the benefit to the membership of bringing ARL to the members was important to continue, if on a slightly less ambitious scale. The nature of the tour has changed somewhat in my mind and in the mind of the Board: now we are thinking of it as a listening tour with strategic intent. I learned an enormous amount from all of you in the winter and spring—when I visit, I am seeing clear patterns and themes that I hope will help the Association design its future. Collaborations, innovations, at-scale technological solutions, building transformations, partnerships that derive the best from the present and look towards the future connect in my mind with what I have seen in my first six months as your executive director. Many have asked me if I intend to visit every member library since, in my first nine months on the job, I have been to about a third of the campuses. I tell folks that I have a five-year appointment and perhaps I could indeed pull that off!
What did I see this time round? At yellow brick Notre Dame, I was struck by the tightly interwoven relationship between the Architecture School and its library. They share the old library building as their common home, with the library literally at its heart. The librarians and the faculty all worked together to develop the Seaside Research Portal, which is a foundational part of the curriculum of the school, and they build out and use the rare book collection as an integral part of the process of learning to be an architect. The main floor of the impressive Hesburgh Library, just beginning to be celebrated this entire year—its 50th as a landmark building on campus—is undergoing a transformation into a site for collaborative work in the digital humanities, anchored by a team of individuals gathered together to support this growing area of interest on the campus. Large, open spaces beckon.
South Bend’s Notre Dame is a yellow brick campus—West Lafayette’s Purdue buildings are almost all in red brick. There, I saw the total transformation of the business library into a skillfully and thoroughly integrated set of spaces that were intended to encompass the needs of its students at various times of the day and evening as they took classes and worked in between them and late into the night. Thoughtful, exquisitely modeled and successfully carried off. Like the Notre Dame Architecture School, here was another example of a complete integration of library and school. A further collaboration caught my eye: the IMPACT program brought together the library faculty with the teaching faculty and several other entities on campus to help rethink teaching in a number of the basic courses at Purdue. And a third collaboration that I witnessed was that between the press and the library—this connection seemed exceedingly strong and was evincing benefits to both entities.
At Indiana, the scale and the range of collaborations were especially striking. It was good for me to be back at the Lilly Library after a long absence—since I worked on my dissertation research there. The stunning limestone building with the incomparable collections sits adjacent to another architectural marvel—the former theatre, now the Cinema Center. My visit coincided with the opening of an important conference on film preservation, “Orphans Midwest: Materiality and the Moving Image,” where President McRobbie announced that an important venture was about to be unveiled. That digital preservation initiative is of a stunning magnitude—$15 million—and level of collaboration among the provost, the vice president for research, CIO Brad Wheeler, and Brenda Johnson. Like Purdue, the press and the library are closely linked, as are the many important IT initiatives that were fostered by IU with the library, like HathiTrust, and Kuali OLE. I enjoyed a good conversation with members of the staff at a town meeting and a reception at the Lilly. It was a memorable trip.
At Minnesota, integration of the library into the larger university mission was evident on a number of fronts, many related to the thoughtful collection and use of data. One of the many efforts that I learned about that seemed to be so suggestive of the ways in which the library of the 21st century might operate was the way in which the library is gathering data from a variety of sources and working with a series of partners to leverage what the university is already collecting in order to accomplish a number of 21st-century goals, like connecting the library to student success, or to connect the various strands that make up the most sensible strategies. These experiences fitted nicely with the talk that James Hilton and I presented jointly about the possible causes of and remedies for the ways in which our libraries and our universities have failed to meet some of the challenges of the new century. Many of the words we used and heard in the good questions we fielded together and the reports I heard at Minnesota reappeared the next day during the first design studio for ARL’s strategic thinking and design process: coherence, convergence, unbundling and re-bundling, at-scale solutions, collaboration and cooperation, efficacy and efficiency…themes that keep resurfacing during my listening tour.