Category Archives: Academic Libraries

New Article on Strategic Planning

I am pleased to report that an article Kathy Dabbour at California State University Northridge (CSUN) and I wrote has just been published in the Journal of Library Administration 57 (4). The article, Dialogic Approaches to Strategic Planning in Academic Libraries, a contribution to the Strategic Planning and Assessment column edited by Wanda V. Dole, discusses trends towards strength-based methods for planning and describes how we used Appreciative Inquiry for strategic planning at CSUN.

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Academic Libraries, Community Engagement, and Service Learning

Are community engagement and service learning strategic priorities at your college or university? Are you wondering how your library can be more involved in community engagement and service learning? Do you want to know how you can take your service learning program to the next level? Continue reading Academic Libraries, Community Engagement, and Service Learning

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The Year Ahead–2016

Happy New Year!

What’s on tap for 2016?

  • Continue consulting to organizations–especially libraries–that are motivated to transform themselves through leadership, strategy, and innovative organizational design.
  • Integrate a lifelong commitment to community service through service learning advocacy.
  • Explore the possibility of bridging polarized relationships that are obstacles to transformative change.

I am excited about the publication of a chapter on developing service learning programs in academic libraries forthcoming in Service Learning, Information Literacy, and Libraries in April. Publication of the book will follow a working session on developing an assessment framework for service learning programs in academic libraries at the Libraries and Service Learning Embedded Institute before the Campus Compact 30th anniversary conference: Accelerating Change: Engagement for Impact. Involvement in service learning provides an opportunity for all types of academic libraries to participate in their communities at the campus level and beyond in a variety of ways.

Could libraries prototype models for overcoming structural obstacles to transformative change? It would be great to explore possibilities for creative destruction of barriers to change. Many of these issues were topics at the Taiga Forum at DLF Forum 2015 in Vancouver, BC last October.

Colleagues here in the bay area shared an inspiring story about a direct conversation between union member and managers of a local transit company that they facilitated. Drivers and managers met to exchange information about one specific process–scheduling, but left the meeting with their relationship transformed. For the first time, they had communicated directly rather than through lawyers and mediators about an issue important to both parties and about which there was little initial agreement.

Libraries generally include both managers and union members in strategic planning processes, so it is not really the case that union members and managers do not discuss important issues directly. However, sensitive issues that fall under the Taiga Forum topic “employee relations”  are usually omitted from these discussions–sometimes out of fear of grievances or otherwise motivated by conflict avoidance. Even in non-union environments general discussions about faculty status or tensions between librarians and other library workers are rare.

What would it take to try something different? I don’t have a plan, or goal, or preconceived notion about what might create a shift in structure to create positive change but would love to collaborate on an experiment in this area. Ping me if you’re interested!

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Sliding off the Bandwagon: Academic Libraries and Isomorphism

HikingArtist.com
HikingArtist.com

Earlier this summer, I had a couple of moments when I wondered what had happened to a trend that was really hot for awhile but seems to have died down. One was as I read through the ACRL Environmental Scans for 2015 and 2013. In 2013, MOOCs were seen as a phenomenon that would have an impact on every college and research library whereas in the 2015 report, they were only mentioned in passing as a market-based alternative to “traditional place-based programs” (p. 2) without mention of impact on library services.

The other was as I was reading an article that mentioned using Second Life for service learning, online reference, and information literacy instruction. While it is still possible to find popular articles about how virtual reality environments will transform higher education, the pressure for libraries to jump on the Second Life bandwagon quietly subsided when Linden Lab changed their business model.

Analyzing what has happened to MOOCs and to Second Life would be interesting. What is really intriguing is the apparent lack of reflection as we slide off these bandwagons. Why did we think we needed to jump on them in the first place?

In Redefining Academic Libraries: How Trends in Higher Education are Driving Change, a talk she gave at the ACRL President’s Program at the American Library Association conference in San Francisco in June, Constance Malpas of OCLC Research talked about isomorphism, a phenomenon whereby organizations of a certain type become more similar to one another.

Ms. Malpas focused her remarks on normative isomorphism–the force professionalism exerts on organizational change (or the lack of it), approaches to problem solving, etc. Mimetic isomorphism is the tendency of organizations to jump on (and off) a bandwagon during uncertain times. Perhaps developing an awareness of these isomorphic tendencies would help us, as a profession, develop more thoughtful responses to environmental changes.

To that end, I would love to hear about people/libraries that are still actively experimenting with producing and/or supporting MOOCs or that are using virtual reality spaces for research support, information literacy instruction, exhibits, etc. How did you think about and plan for integrating MOOCs into your work? For people/libraries that were once involved in MOOCs or Second Life but have disengaged, what was your thinking when you decided to get involved? What made you decide to give it up?

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From Scarcity to Abundance: Libraries, Learning Spaces, and Collections

Last week I had the good fortune to attend a workshop on creating learning spaces at the Fielding Graduate University Winter Session. The workshop created a learning space in its own right in a large hotel ballroom. We participated in exercises to expose us to the different experiences two Fielding graduates had as they taught online courses for the first time. We heard about the model a student had built to show the difference between collaborative and networked online learning experiences.

Finally, the space was transformed into a maker space as we broke into groups to respond to a design challenge–to create a prototype exhibit for a museum. This was a real life problem and as part of the exercise we presented our prototypes to a member of the museum staff who provided feedback. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to use her feedback to refine our designs, but we had a chance to experience a design process that emphasizes rapid prototyping and gathering feedback early.

Besides being fun, it was great to get outside of ourselves and work on a problem that was new and fresh. Later in the day, we got bogged down when we started to think about what Fielding’s learning spaces should be. We were too close to the problem and had too much invested in solving particular problems.

On the same day, Barbara Fister posted Schrödinger’s Library on her Library Babel Fish blog. Barbara thoughtfully analyzed the trend in libraries toward repurposing library space from “storage” for collection to “a digital scholarship center or study spaces that students clamor for or a new classroom where students can use archival or rare materials”. She also cited the Ithaka research that shows a gap between faculty and library directors’ views about the purpose of the library. I have seen this dichotomy in focus groups with faculty and librarians at client sites.

It has occurred to me that what may seem like nostalgia on the part of faculty for their graduate school days when they could browse the stacks and come upon material serendipitously may represent a kind of learning that is important and that should be accommodated, particularly in certain disciplines. I am also concerned that if librarians focus on the learning process–regardless of how sophisticated the view of that process may be–they will lose opportunities to collaborate with faculty on learning outcomes that may involve deep engagement with content. If faculty and librarians are embattled over who is responsible for information literacy, the students stand to lose.

When a domain such as higher education is undergoing change and is under threat, one of the results can be turf wars. Is it possible that the polarization between librarians and faculty over the issues of the purpose of the library and responsibility for student information literacy comes from a scarcity mentality that results from being under threat? What if librarians changed the conversation from either/or to both/and? What if learning space design specifically addressed concerns faculty have expressed about the need to engage collections in certain disciplinary areas (art and music come to mind immediately)? What if learning space design engaged the question of how to incorporate the kind of learning that results from serendipitous discovery into the use of digital collections?

In last week’s learning spaces workshop, the design assignment we received was abstract but included some important underlying principles such as the goal to have visitors leave the exhibit area feeling hopeful. While my ideas about learning spaces in libraries are also somewhat abstract, they also include some basic principles:

  • shift the conversation from one of scarcity (dividing up responsibility for information literacy, housing collections or creating learning spaces) to one of abundance
  • think about ways to expand the use of print collections in learning spaces beyond engagement with “special” collections
  • model serendipitous discovery in the digital environment
  • use rapid prototyping to design new learning spaces and programs that can be refined and adjusted based on feedback from stakeholders, including librarians, faculty, and students

Perhaps some of these principles are already in use in some places. If so, I would love to hear about these efforts.

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Fiddling While Rome Burns

The heated debates prompted by the recent announcement that University Librarian, Karin Wittenborg has changed the status for new librarians at the University of Virginia from faculty to staff strike me as fiddling while Rome burns. Those who advocate for faculty status for librarians working in academic settings cite the importance of librarians participating in shared governance.

While participation in shared governance may be an important avenue for librarians and faculty to meet and learn about each other’s work in large research universities, librarians and faculty in small college settings have other opportunities for relaxed conversations and serendipitous discovery of complementary skills. If the goal of faculty status is to have an impact on research and learning at a programmatic level, there is not a one-size-fits-all model for accomplishing that goal in every academic setting.

What is perhaps more important to consider is that faculty themselves no longer really have faculty status in terms of having access to shared governance to the degree they once did. The trend towards unbundling in higher education has meant an increasing percentage of faculty are adjunct. A recent article in Inside Higher Education, Making the Case for Adjuncts, references a 2009 study showing that only one-third of faculty are tenure track. Two-thirds are not eligible for tenure, and almost twenty percent are part-time. The faculty voice is bound to become weaker when fewer than half of the people responsible for teaching and learning have a seat at the table. This shift will most certainly have a greater impact on shared governance and the future of higher education than whether or not librarians have faculty status.

Another facet of the discussion about librarians and faculty status focuses on librarians’ participation in the teaching and learning mission of the university. I have worked in academic libraries for decades but have never participated directly in course development or delivery of course content in a physical or virtual classroom. My jobs have included developing new systems and services and managing production operations and systems (and I would include circulation in that category). Many librarians have these types of jobs, which are primarily either task oriented, or administrative in nature. That is not to say that the tasks or program administration do not require specialized knowledge or training, but that is a separate conversation. I posit that the percentage of time librarians as a class spend in direct service to the teaching and learning mission of their institutions makes a weak case for their participation as faculty in shared governance.

In my experience as a consultant to libraries, in libraries with faculty status for librarians, cumbersome promotion and tenure processes and procedures seem to interfere with performance leadership programs designed to align performance with library strategy. The case for faculty status for librarians begins to look like a case for librarians being able to act as independent operators, doing what they’ve always done, in opposition to administrators. What the current higher education environment needs from librarians is participants who can help shape the future of academic libraries in a dramatically shifting environment.

The us/them dichotomies that arise when people and institutions are under threat do not serve us well when creative solutions are needed. Faculty versus staff, unions versus management, MLS librarians versus “librarians” with other credentials. Let’s put down the violins and focus on finding new ways to join the conversation about the fires burning in higher education today. Should we try to put them out, work on a controlled burn, or let them flame on, knowing that some new growth requires heat for seeds to germinate?

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