Drinking from the fire hose. That is what I’ve been doing for the past month, my first here at The Ohio State University. It has been whirlwind of meetings, receptions, and other opportunities to meet new colleagues inside and outside of the Libraries – a process organized to help me assemble an understanding of how Ohio State is structured, how decisions are made, and to foster the relationships important to our collective future success.
Over the past four weeks, I’ve met with 14 university administrators, the Office of Academic Affairs Leadership team, the Council of Deans, the Council on Distance Education, Libraries, and Information Technology (DELIT), Faculty Advisory Council, Staff Advisory Council, the Director of the Center for Library Initiatives at the CIC, and multiple current and prospective donors, among others. And last Friday, I began my internal listening tour with a morning of meetings with colleagues at the Library Tech Center. The calendar for March is just as crowded, if not more so.
Notable during my meetings with stakeholders from outside of the Libraries, I’ve been asked several times for my views “on the future of the Libraries at OSU” or something thereabouts. I’m sure many of you have been confronted with similar questions from time to time, but I thought it might be useful to share the outlines of how I’m answering such questions as I interact with our colleagues across campus and beyond.
I usually begin by offering what I consider to be the three broad missions of an academic research library as context: (1) to support faculty teaching, student learning, and community outreach; (2) to support research and the creation of new knowledge; and (3) to selectively collect and preserve our cultural heritage. Obviously, there is interplay among the activities that support these increasingly overlapping missions, but I’ve found framing the work of academic research libraries in this way to be helpful as a foundation for conversations with folks from outside the profession.
Next, I admit that I don’t know enough yet to offer much prescriptive detail but can say that:
- to be vital to the academic enterprise, the Libraries must position itself as an active, engaged participant in solving university-level problems (Looking outside ourselves);
- to maintain its vitality, the Libraries as an organization must continually renew its expertise, facilities, service programming, and business practices (Change never ends);
- the Libraries must become more sophisticated in how it identifies and presents its stories of success and impact to external stakeholders (Success enables success).
Lastly, I posit that a successful academic research library is ever sensitive to where the university and its component parts are heading. You want to find the future of the Libraries at OSU? Look to where teaching and research within the academic disciplines and cultural acquisition are moving, and you will see the Libraries skating to the same puck, sometimes as partner, sometimes as leader, always engaged.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts about our collective future as we interact in the coming weeks. This is going to be a lot of fun…
Vice Provost and Director of University Libraries
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