Libraries Rebound: rethinking services, collections, space

On June 5th and 6th, 125 folks from the OCLC Research Library Partnership gathered in Philadelphia to attend Libraries Rebound: Embracing Mission, Maximizing Impact. We’ll be doing a series of blog posts to try to recap some meeting highlights, including presentations and discussion points. I’m pleased to say that the Twitterstream was particularly active during the meeting and not only captured the proceedings but also carried observations and pointed commentary. For a flavor of the meeting, you can check out #LibRebound. All of the presentations from the meeting will be posted to the event website soon, and in due course we’ll post the video from the meeting as well.

Libraries ReboundWe held Libraries Rebound to foster a conversation about how academic and research libraries have an opportunity to frame the library as a set of distinctive services that better align the library with the mission of its parent institution. There were three broad themes for the meeting: creating services to more directly support researchers; aligning special collections with institutional mission; and exploiting space as a distinctive asset.

We were fortunate to have Scott Walter give our opening keynote. (Scott is University Librarian at DePaul University, where he is freshly arrived from his previous position as Associate University Librarian for Services and Associate Dean of Libraries at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.) I’m sure I was late to the party but I first noticed Scott’s work when he wrote a guest editorial for College & Research Libraries, “Distinctive Signifiers of Excellence: Library Services and the Future of the Academic Library Subsequently, OCLC Research invited him to give an OCLC Distinguished Seminar Series lecture on the “Service Turn.” Scott’s talk was quite rich, and I’ll point to the presentation once it’s up because it has pointers to lots of resources for further reading and exploration.

“Stories,” Scott began, “are important.” And the research library story has been, traditionally “by the numbers,” largely defined by how many books and journals we have. We are largely defined by our “stuff.” Similarly, library services have traditionally been arranged around giving access to collections. This was all a very good thing when libraries were the center of resource discovery. But now, with the academic library becoming increasingly becoming disintermediated from discovery, the library’s well-defined brand should shift from being so very closely tied to collections. We should be wary of having our story so closely defined by collections, because great libraries are not only composed of wonderful things — excellence is also defined by skilled librarians. Scott encapsulated this as “The most important collection in any library is its people.”

Stories Are Important
"Stories Are Important"
In shifting the story, libraries have an opportunity to take a close look at their service array to see if it is meeting evolving needs on campus. Scott gave some examples of services that do not represent the traditional “collection as service” offering, such as the Center for Digital Scholarship at the University of Kansas.

Scott also addressed the question of “distinctive services” which he defined as a campus taking a new approach that ties to campus mission or research strength, and / or which is such a hit that others follow.

Scott Walter at the podium
Scott Walter at the podium
For example, the Levy Library at USC may have been the first “info commons,” which are now, well, common! He also touched on the notion of developing shared services, which seemed to muddy the waters somewhat, because how can you have a services that is distinctive, but shared? I think that a service that starts off as “distinctive,” say chat reference, can evolve into a shared service if the need is broad and if can be scaled. My take on this is that not all services will scale, or need to. And rather than striving for “distinctiveness,” we should be aiming for appropriateness.

As a side note, we met in the historic Hyatt Bellevue Hotel, which was a lovely venue for the meeting. Unlike many historic hotels, this one has not been badly remodeled, and seems to have maintained some of its charm.

3 Comments on “Libraries Rebound: rethinking services, collections, space”

  1. Thanks, Scott! I was trying to capture some of the confusion reflected in the Twitter stream, and then add my own spin on it — what really matters is that you are doing what is right for YOUR environment (shared or not, distinctive or not). It will be good once your presentation is up, but of course people can always go and read your articles as well.

  2. “How can you have a services that is distinctive, but shared?” Perhaps better to go back to the idea in the presentation about the “service spectrum,” where some services are common, and others distinctive, and where are some locally provided, and some are provided through a shared service model. A shared chat reference service is a good example, as are the efforts some have made to build a sustainable approach to shared subject specialists across institutions. This is not so different from the rubric that Wendy Lougee recently posed in terms of collections, but I can safely say that I came up with the service application of the idea long before her recent talk at ARL 🙂

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