A lot of blog posts followed ALA last summer but I can’t say that I saw much about the ALCTS Program on the Ithaka Report. A great deal of that probably had to do with the fact that it was scheduled at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, which is a challenging time slot. Personally, I’m not sure I would have hauled myself out of bed had I not really wanted to see Jenica Rogers speak. As one of an audience of less than fifty people and (as I would note specifically when I asked a question–one of about five people under the age of forty), I’m glad I went.
Ithaka asked respondents to speak to overcoming the library director and faculty disconnect; making priorities align with high level goals; and trends such as print books following journals.
*If I misstate the speakers, I ask them to let me know. I am taking my interpretation from notes hastily take during the presentation*
Jenica Rogers spoke first and opened bluntly: Ithaka brought conclusions, she came to judge. Her opening slide was “We Should Worry”
As a director, Rogers said she identified as a next generation of leaders. Insofar as the Ithaka report, she admonished that we are not seeing good things expressed. Specifically, when asked about strategy and strategic plans 65% of the respondents said that they didn’t have one. Strategic planning, Rogers reminded the audience, is a director’s job and these directors said no. So the frontline staff is ostensibly moving forward without a plan and without leadership at the top.
Rogers asked questions: How many libraries are doing some planning but didn’t think it was enough to say they were doing strategic planning? How many want to but are paralyzed? And if that many respondents aren’t actually doing any strategic planning, how seriously are we supposed to take their responses to the rest of the survey?
In response to the migration of journals from print to electronic, Rogers asked how much more information we need? We already see and know that we’re going to electronic but our behaviors and are stated feelings are out of alignment. If we’re waiting for a policy, then we need to create one. Noting that Ithaka said faculty are tied to print journals, Rogers admonished that those are a dead technology and faculty will have to change. She pointed to our missions of libraries where access is high amongst stated goals–what makes print so important to that?
In the Ithaka report, 40% of the respondents said that they were working with faculty or technologists. This number, Rogers stated is far too low. For we must collaborate with them or die. We can provide what people can’t get from the internet but we can’t exist just to be the library, an institution that’s always been there. Why can’t we get to them? What’s in the way? How much is institutional politics? Do we have the skills to be effective partners? How would a strong leadership voice change that?
Some of Rogers strongest comments, however, were reserved for the answer in the report that 75% of the respondents felt that libraries should be gateways. She flatly dismissed this, saying we haven’t been gateways in 15 years, the internet changed so that we are one node of access, not the be all and end all. The idea of the gateway is a sunk ship and we need a new one.
Facing these realities, that we’re looking at outdated ideas of what a library should be and without leadership willing to plan, Rogers asked when we are going to be find a future that makes logical sense and noted that we need to determine what skills and training we’ll need to get there (especially for those decision makers), what questions we need to ask, etc.
The second speaker was Robert Kieft who is the college librarian at Occidental College. He opened by saying he seriously wanted to throw out his prepared remarks and just respond to Rogers, but that he wouldn’t.
Kieft described the Ithaka report as a cultural document plus and opinion poll and would liked to have seen the results in comparison to information from the annual LibQual surveys. Noting that the literature is littered with surveys, he pointed out that we need to study survey results in context.
Kieft discussed the major change in emphasis in user education. We have big gaps between librarians and faculty, partially because we’re not sure what we mean by supporting the faculty or what the faculty are expecting from us insofar as support. When we’re talking about technological needs, many faculty think only of what they need at present, not what they might need in the future.
Insofar as comments about print journals, Kieft pointed to the work being done by the Hathi Trust to try and get orphan works that are no longer under copyright digitized. His suggestions were that we should
- reorient collection development and weeding around collectives and collaborations
- rewrite policies in terms of partner management
- if the question of optimal copies arises, we need a firm number and a good reason as to why we need even those copies
- if we’re going electronic, the scans have to be good
- pointing to Hathi and current circ records, he noted we can reclaim space in central campus buildings where we’re presently “storing cellulose”
- we must strengthen consortia with business models–the gentlemen’s agreement where ARL libraires have to keep everything isn’t working
Kieft stated that we need to abandon the idea of of shelf browsing for both faculty and students, noting that Google provides one of our best browsing opportunities ever. Browsing is a bucolic ideal we need to get out of our heads.
He reminded that we need to keep an eye on the practice of our users as we’re making these transitions, that many may express a sense of loss and giving up of successful work pratices (however successful those actually are) and recommended engaging with scholars to talk to them about collections development on a higher level than campus politics. This is particularly important, he emphasized, with the humanities.
He concluded that we need to translate practical concerns to a mission centered to access to materials not movement of physical objects, turning practical tiggers into a mission.
Following the presentations there was a spirited conversation–I apologize that my notes from here are a little fuzzy and attribution is mostly nonexistent.
Aleast one audience member commented that it was nice to see Rogers as a younger side of being a library director but that age might be part of the anxiety that we’re seeing. Rogers responded that the profession has always been facing huge change and is always updating with people creating plans and walking away. She advised that moving towards accountability helps, with greater assessment needed so we can show results in order to make the case for future funding.
Rogers noted we need to live the strategic plans but that instead, many libraries are doing it in a vacuum, writing up grand documents and then setting them on a shelf.
The question was raised of two elements that didn’t get a lot of weight: staffing and use of space if we get rid of the print. Staffing must be done in alignment with goals, whether that means hiring or training. Insofar as space, there are going to be new partners with libraries and there are administrative complexities of partners who inhabit the building but don’t report to the library.
One audience member commented on the lack of desire to get rid of print and said she tried to consider it realistically: if rapture hit the library tomorrow and all the print was gone, how much would she replace? The answer was not much.
Insofar as non-library partners, someone mentioned that we already have these in teaching and learning and as we consider what to do with our buildings we’ll need an array of workspaces.
My director spoke up (yes, my director and I were sitting down the row from each other–I think we were the only pair like that from a library) and said that while we are throwing tons away (I can confirm, we just closed the Science library and soon-to-be former science librarian recycled huge amounts of bound journals to which we have electronic access)* but that they (current library leaders) are learning from the process too. My response to that, a couple of questions/comments later, was to point out that we can’t make this a cyclical problem. Library directors need to start including the younger librarians and the not-yet-department-heads on strategic planning so they don’t move into management roles without any experience at doing this.
Another audience comment was that a plan needs prioritization. The Dean at XYZ institution had a “direction that covers the universe” but without focus the staff isn’t sure what to do when or what’s really the most important. The suggestion came back that you sometimes have to send priorities up the food chain and force that conversation to happen. Others noted that if you pick the wrong priorities someone will probably tell you.
Someone pointed out that there’s the mindset in higher education and government that any project will take as long as it is given. The response (my guess is from Rogers) is that we have to expect more and faster from each other. We can have good project management or we can accept the mire as the normal working environment.
There was another note that there is a huge lack of communication within the library and out of the library to the faculty. Rogers noted they do a yearly survey at Potsdam that has both formal and informal components. ** She noted that we want to be constantly gathering data on our users but too often wear professional blinders. It’s time consuming, yes, but it’s important.
————————-END PRESENTATION NOTES
As you can see, this presentation resonated with me. As someone still considered a baby in the world of libraries (less than 10 years experience, looking at 30 very closely), it was not particularly encouraging to hear that present leadership isn’t working on strategic change and from the audience comments, when it is happening, it’s not involving the people who most need it (those front line librarians).
One has only to look at Harvard or UIUC to see that major changes and reorangizations in university libraries are fully upon us. I would like to believe there are some plans, some five year goals or strategies aligned with campus that will help us more forward. Otherwise, I worry that individual librarians will rapidly burn out trying to move things forward while the institution is slowly oozing along towards irrelevance. It is going to take a concerted effort on the part of administration, librarians, and para professional staff. None of those groups of people can be ignored and communication between all of those groups has to be improved.
One comment I heard from one director in that room was that she was just waiting to retire until her child was through college, which was a couple years in the future. While I don’t imagine she is the only representative of that class (I’ve met some professors who were certainly hanging on for the same reason), that really bothered me. I had no sense from her that she had any impetus to plan for the future, really start working on transitions now while she was still there or anything. It was a waiting game for her and I felt for her staff, who must feel stuck in a rut of status quo. I wondered later to Jenica, how we might address that and she suggested the transition to a non-administrative position that allowed still keeping one’s job but not being in the administrative position anymore. I’m not sure how many universities allow for that–at least at the library. One can stop being a dept chair and go back to being a tenured faculty member….
I wish the session had been taped. I hope I’ve been able to capture some of the energy in the room. We could have easily continued the conversation for another hour. Hopefully the conversation did not end there but will resonate in the participants, either by what they heard there or by my bringing it up here.
*He’s soon to be former becaue he got a great new job. Very happy for him. Very sad that I won’t get to work with him here for a longer period of time.
**We’re going to be doing one of those at UIC, I’ve asked and gotten a copy of that survey from Jenica and passed it on to the task force working on it.