What does successful collaboration look like?

The OCLC Research Library Partnership recently hosted an event on 25 February 2019 focusing on the challenges of leading the 21st century research library. This half-day workshop was held in Marseille, France, in conjunction with the OCLC EMEA Regional Council conference and attracted many participants from the region who were new to the Partnership.

OCLC Program Officers shared recent OCLC Research on linked data, research information management and persistent identifiers, and open access, with a particular focus on findings relevant to European practices and institutions. A copy of the slides are available for download.

But most of our time was spent in collaborative dialogue. OCLC Program Officers utilized a World Café format to facilitate small group conversations around one of the most important issues for libraries and research institutions today:

How do you successfully collaborate?

We also encouraged participants to particularly address the challenges of transnational collaboration — this was particularly relevant given the international makeup of our group.

In discussion groups of 4-6 people, participants examined a multitude of opportunities, challenges, and barriers to effective collaboration, distilling and sharing a few relevant takeaways:

  • Collaborative efforts should be TANGIBLE. People are more willing to engage when an initiative solves real world, practical problems. It’s not enough that something seems like a “worthy effort” or “something we should support.”
  • Collaboration can be HARD. That’s why, as participants acknowledged, so many of our efforts are institutionally-focused. Collaborating across national borders is particularly difficult as it involves challenges that are linguistic, cultural, and often with asymmetrical resources.
  • Collaboration is slow. That’s one of the reasons people and institutions don’t collaborate. But. . .

  • Cross-institutional efforts provide greater pay-offs than local, institutionally-based efforts. It’s hard to innovate and have significant impact by making changes at just the institution level.
  • Communication is imperative and there are many elements to this. First, it’s essential to know and understand the interests of fellow stakeholders–but it’s also important for librarians to hone their soft skills in order to be effective leaders and collaborators. And the engagement of a diverse group of participants and stakeholders is essential for sound decision making.
  • Funding is, of course, a perennial challenge.

Participants identified several examples of successful transnational collaboration, particularly citing programs like the Erasmus+ program, which provides opportunities for librarians to make extended visits to other institutions; the leadership development programs offered by LIBER;  OPERAS (Open Access in the European Research Area through Scholarly Communications); and also some of OCLC’s efforts like WorldCat, VIAF, and OCLC Research.

Transnational cooperation leads to accelerated cross-pollination of innovations and practices as well as rich learning experiences. Facilitating transnational cooperation is a primary effort of the OCLC Research Library Partnership, and events like this one offer participants opportunities to connect and learn from others at similar research-focused institutions.

What’s next?

We are looking forward to hosting RLP members in Dublin, Ohio on the OCLC campus for a Research Retreat on 23-24 April 2019 where we will focus on the myriad of challenges for library leaders today: shifts in the library workforce, scholarly communication and research workflows, collecting practices, and stakeholder relationships. This event will offer information and models to support strategic conceptualization as well as in-depth, small group discussions to make sense of it all.

It will be immediately followed by ResearchWorks, in which the community can help shape an applied research agenda that charts engagement with data science and a range of computational methods. It promises to be an exciting and collaborative week.

Please join us.