Reflections on the evolving research library: a report from the OCLC Library Futures Conference

Last week the Research Library Partnership led a pre-conference workshop at the OCLC Library Futures: Community Catalysts conference in Phoenix, Arizona, in conjunction with the meeting of the OCLC Americans Regional Council (ARC).  

Convening “Two Loops”

As the theme of the conference was about catalyzing change, we also focused our pre-meeting workshop on how systems change, using a model called the “Two Loops Model” developed by Margaret Wheatley and the Berkana Institute. This model is one of many models and exercises the RLP uses in our in-person gathers to provide structure for library leaders to take a break from day-to-day concerns and reflect deeply upon the macro scale changes taking places in libraries today.

In Two Loops, Wheatley has created a metaphor that is built not on a mechanistic view of how systems work, but one grounded in how processes, systems, and organizations arise, gain and lose momentum, and finally die. Wheatley’s model suggests a natural arc for all lives, systems, and processes, and also honors and respects the variety of leadership capabilities needed at all stages of that arc.

Debbie Frieze offers an excellent video overview of the Two Loops model in a video on the Berkana Institute’s web page, and I highly recommend it as seven minutes well spent.

During the course of our event, we explained the Two Loops model and invited participants to identify and physically represent where their work or organization fit into the model.

Event participants described themselves as leading in a variety of roles

Attendees then gathered into a variety of small group configurations to discuss change, leadership roles, and to share experiences. Participants found this exercise helped them to think differently about how things work (or don’t work), sharing insights such as:

Stewarding is one of the leadership capabilities discussed in the Two Loops model

  • Many different types of leadership are needed to optimally manage change. One participant said, “I need to be spending more time supporting [leadership for processes that are in decline] and less on some other parts of my organization.”
  • Some participants initially responded negatively to one or more of the roles, particularly those that involved caring for processes in their final decline. However, several shared that through this exercise they have a new respect for the significant leadership required in all roles.
  • Participants frequently identified themselves in multiple roles
  • Emotion was a recurring theme in our group discussions, as change can ignite fear, anxiety, and conflict.

This workshop was a great way to kick off the Library Futures conference, tying into the larger themes of library change emphasized throughout that event program. We look forward to reprising this activity in Europe at the gathering of the EMEA Regional Council (EMEARC) at the OCLC Library Futures: Community Catalysts in Vienna in March 2020.