Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A thousand compromises (don't add up to a win)

I often find that when I am uncomfortable with something, I need to pause and think about what it is about that thing that makes me uncomfortable beyond my initial knee-jerk reaction.

So it was when I read this this essay from Inside Higher Ed. (hat tip to Jacob Berg, noted BeerBrarian).

I agreed with much of what Ward had to say about how envisioning the future a campus library has to be a collaborative effort between the library’s leadership and campus-wide stakeholders.

Ward writes: 
It will take a university community to shape a future library that meets the specific needs of learning and research at that institution. This transition is not just about libraries. It is about how colleges and universities come together to solve a collective challenge. Libraries cannot puzzle out their future alone.

And as much I as I agreed with Ward on this, something didn’t sit right with me. After writing and deleting several blog posts worth of material, suddenly I was confronted with what made me uncomfortable about Ward’s essay.

Ward is right in that academic library leadership must understand the decision-making process of key university stakeholders and he is correct that that process is both “complex and ambiguous.”  Understanding what faculty and administrators value is important when considering what areas of collections or services you need to develop. Are members of your science faculty working more on securing grants? Great—work on developing a plan to build up your data management services, including better understanding grant requirements. Are members of your humanities faculty working more on incorporating geospatial components to their research? Great—maybe it’s time to consider investing in a GIS Librarian!

Ward writes:
At the same time, librarians will be unsuccessful in planning for the future on their own. They possess much expertise about libraries, but less about trends in research and curriculum. Moving forward, the process of recreating the library must be one that involves many people in many roles on campus.

But I feel like it goes both ways. The academic library plays a unique role on a college campus, but I feel like its leadership is not always invited to participate in conversations in which it possesses expertise. Does someone from your library serve on your college’s curriculum committee? Is your library represented on your college’s committee on rank and tenure?

Academic library leaders should absolutely involve campus stakeholders in the planning process. Have summits, run focus groups, host strategic planning days to better understand the needs of constituencies.  Develop relationships with your stakeholders based on areas of mutual concern. I have written before about how important it is to develop relationships with stakeholders by crafting compelling stories about our services and collections.

But academic library leadership shouldn’t stop there. They should be active in their college’s community, offering their expertise on issues where their library is uniquely qualified to comment and offer solutions.

So, I guess the question is—what is it that the academic library is uniquely qualified to do that no other department on campus can? And how do we include stakeholders in developing our future without giving that away?

Stay positive,


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