Case Study: Transforming the Library

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 When Greg Eow became Associate Director for Collections at the MIT Libraries in June 2015, the library had long been a leader in thinking about the future of scholarly communications. The scholarly communications program in the library was created in 2006, and in 2009 began the work of implementing the MIT Faculty Open Access Policy. Chris Bourg had become director of the libraries earlier in 2015, bringing with her a commitment to openness and to the transformations that had begun in digital publishing.1

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 As Greg tells the story, when he first joined the libraries’ leadership team, his portfolio included collections (which mostly entailed purchasing of new resources), archives and special collections, and technical services (which included cataloging and metadata). Scholarly communications — the team, led by Ellen Finnie, that was implementing the open access policy, working to build the institutional repository, and managing a wide range of relationships around licenses and publishers — was not part of that group. Greg’s initial idea to bring collections and scholarly communications together derived from his sense of the libraries’ mission: “trying to create a nice, healthy scholarly communications ecosystem, not just being a purchasing agent but shaping the whole content and creation space.”2 So he suggested to Ellen that they create what came to be called the Scholarly Communications and Collection Strategy department and — most astonishingly — that they move the entire collections budget and team into that new department, ensuring that its focus would be part of an overall vision for the future of scholarly communications.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 It was an audacious plan, and one that drew significant attention from the larger library world when it was announced, but the thing that made it work was not the brilliance of the vision but the inclusion of the team. As Greg told me, 

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 I didn’t just say, here’s my plan, what do you all think…. I started talking with my peers. I talked with Chris Bourg and I was like “Chris, what do you think about this idea?” And she’s like, “I kind of like it.” And then she hammered it out a bit, and we talked to this person and talked to that person… I talked to my peers, and Tracy Gabridge, who’s now the Deputy Director. “What do you think about this?” And then she would say, “oh, Ellen’s a really good leader,” and she would ideate with me. And then I talked with another peer and they said, “well, this is what the title should be.” In every conversation, the idea got more refined. It also got socialized, so other people started talking about it. I wasn’t surprising people with it. Then I talked to Ellen about it, and Ellen and I started sketching things out and getting excited about it and playing around with — well, what would they do, what would the workflows be, what would the title be, what would my title be?

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The openness of this set of conversations, and the fact that each conversation was allowed to influence and shape the idea as it moved forward, built an investment among the team in moving the plan forward. 

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 After he and Ellen had worked through the idea enough that they were comfortable, Greg started talking to the folks who would be most affected by it — the people who would under the new model be reporting up through a structure that made collections a sub-group of scholarly communications:

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 1 I remember I was a little bit nervous. Like, is there going to be push-back? This is going too smoothly. And I remember one librarian who was a really, really strong critical thinker — if someone was going to be a naysayer, this person was going to do it, and be really good at it, because they’re really smart. And I explained the idea to her, and she went [pauses, nods slowly], “Yeah, let’s do it.”

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 All of these conversations, with everyone who had a stake in the change, resulted not only in a plan that improved over time, but also in a plan that everyone was able to get on board with before it was implemented. As Greg notes, the process not only refined but socialized the idea; there were no secrets or surprises sprung on the team, but instead everyone had the opportunity to provide feedback in advance and to see evidence that their feedback had been heard.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 2 This moment of transformation brings together a focus on the deepest values of the library, a recognition that the institution’s structure must be organized in service to its mission rather than being an end in itself, and a commitment to building a coalition that would support the transformation and work toward its success. The most amazing part of this story, however, may be its efficiency. Greg describes the conversations he had — “lots and lots of conversations” — as “time-bound,” working to move the idea forward in a focused fashion. As a result, “we went from the idea to launching this department, probably within a month.”

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 2 Not all coalition-building processes will be that efficient, by any stretch. But it is possible that a series of one-on-one conversations, conversations that are allowed to help shape the idea under exploration, can produce a plan that faces far less resistance upon execution.

  1. 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 1
  2. MIT Libraries, “Meet Chris Bourg.”/ Greg’s role, as described in the announcement of his hire, emphasized his leadership skills — including his “passion, intelligence, creativity, and commitment to diversity, inclusion, and transparency” — and noted that he’d be bringing those skills to work with the “innovative and entrepreneurial” collections team, but it’s not clear that anyone had a sense of the massive changes that lay ahead.[2. Hartman, “Greg Eow Named Associate Director for Collections of MIT Libraries.”
  3. This and all quotations that follow in this case study derive from Eow, Interview.
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