Library concerns in an evolving landscape: highlights from the 2019 OCLC RLP Research Retreat

On 23 and 24 April, members of the OCLC Research Library Partnership gathered together with OCLC staff in Dublin, Ohio for the OCLC RLP Research Retreat. This event was conceived as an opportunity to “dig in” to some of the research around transformations in scholarly communication and the evolving research library landscape.

To help frame that discussion, we invited two speakers to provide their insights into how libraries are evolving in response to demographic, social, and technological changes.

Generational change and the decline of lower skill employment in academic libraries

Stanley Wilder(Louisiana State University) gave a fascinating presentation in which he revealed some key changes in the library workforce:

  • Impending rapid turnover in library dean positions
  • The evolution of skills required for librarianship
  • The decline of lower-skilled staff library positions as the number of skilled positions increase

Wilder’s analysis was drawn from twenty years of rich data collected by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). The OCLC RLP is a diverse and transnational membership organization, with many non-ARL libraries; however, the peerless data set that ARL has been collecting for decades gives valuable insights into professional shifts. [download slides]

Stanley Wilder presenting at the OCLC RLP Research Retreat

The evolving scholarly record and the utility of OCLC Research models

Keith Webster (Carnegie Mellon University) presented as a roundup of OCLC Research “greatest hits” as viewed through through a Carnegie Mellon lens. He particularly articulated how OCLC Research models helps support his high level understanding of the signals and drivers acting on the library landscape. For instance,

  • Keith specifically called out the utility of the University Futures, Library Futures report, describing it as a “wakeup call” for libraries, forcing us to see that the goals and mission of the parent institution is shaping our libraries. We should no longer be defining ourselves by the size of our collections, and he finds the library services framework detailed in that report offers new ways for us to consider how library services align with institutional goals.
  • He frequently uses the Evolving Scholarly Record and Stewardship of the Evolving Scholarly Record reports to help him explain the rapidly changing scholarly communications landscape to others at his institution, and he has taken action to deploy tools to support all parts of the evolving scholarly record. “As the ESR report model points out, we are in an environment where it’s not just the published outcome of the research process that is relevant.”
  • He also specifically cited how OCLC Research has helped to think about the local CMU collection as a subset of the larger facilitated collection.

Discussion themes

But most of the day was spent in small group interactions, as RLP staff led participants in discussions focused on the major future challenges and opportunities facing research libraries, using Art of Hosting techniques to facilitate meaningful activities. Discussions were lively, and we captured some high level themes focusing on:

Library value proposition

  • Libraries need to better understand and be more responsive to campus stakeholders. These stakeholders not only represent campus collaborators but frequently control funding sources. This helped to confirm work we have planned.
  • Low expectations of libraries, created by a misunderstanding of the value we actually offer, is a threat.
  • Libraries touch everyone on campus. We should be thinking of ourselves as a force for removing friction – that could be through technology, or it could be through building partnerships.
  • For the library to lead, we need to be the envy of others on campus. 

Library skills development

  • Research libraries are challenged to acquire and develop new skills for staff in key areas.
  • Staff turnover creates opportunity, but that opportunity for fresh perspectives can be thwarted by a culture that is resistant to change.
  • Libraries must invest in leadership development and change management.  
  • We are switching from a “pay to read” to a “pay to publish” model: how does this shift impact our work?

Intra-institutional collaboration

  • Libraries need to collaborate around further consolidating shared services, and then invest in what is important locally, that no one else can do.
  • University mandates create opportunities, giving us a moment to change discussions and reframe roles.

Extra-institutional collaboration

  • We need to figure out how to assess the viability of organizations we are asked to invest in. 
  • We need to appropriately balance investments and effort between “local” and “legacy”.
Participants at the Research Retreat

OCLC Research staff also presented on some of our own models. The presentation was intended to unpacking the models, which are inspired by the OCLC RLP and created for adaptation and use in planning. We also wanted to expose our way of working — how research questions can lead to further explorations and discussions and can inspire more work. [download slides]

Event attendees gave the Research Retreat high marks. This was an invaluable experience for OCLC Research as well, helping to direct our future investigations in areas of need for research libraries. A blog post describing our takes aways and next steps will follow.

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