Risky business: research libraries as enterprise

In the summer of 2008, OCLC Research undertook a risk assessment exercise for research libraries in order to help us frame and shape our work. The results were shared internally, and the findings have been enormously useful as a backdrop for work planning and prioritization. I’ve long wished for an external version of the findings, so that I could wave at something during discussions with external colleagues. After months of me sighing about this, Jim, Constance and Arnold have bravely boiled down the most useful findings into a succinct report, Research Libraries, Risk and Systemic Change [pdf]. But they didn’t do it for me, they did it for you.

The analysis took a traditional approach, but looks at a group rather than an individual institutions, which makes it useful as a platform for group action. Major risk factors for the research library “enterprise” include: the erosion of perceived value, the current and future workforce, collections and spaces, legacy technology, and lack of control in scholarly communication. The report goes beyond articulating challenges, and suggests strategies for mitigating risks. These include developing shared infrastructure, restructuring workflows, and devising new services: there’s nothing new in these suggestions, but what is new is that the strategies are tied to cooling specific hot spots in the heat map, taking us from major to catastrophic impact to more moderate consequences.

This 20 page document is worth your attention, and I urge you to read it. I think this paper will help crystallize what we need to face in order to get to our future.

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