During a recent webinar on designing for new services in libraries, one of the participants shared that the measure of an organization is how well its purpose survives a crisis. For many organizations across the globe–including libraries–the pandemic has tested the very purpose of why we are here. Just as neighborhood restaurants and specialty shops have developed innovative models to meet the challenges of the pandemic, demonstrating why (or why not) their goods and services are needed within their communities, many library organizations are showing that the purpose of the library has never been more crucial. As we consider what the “library of the future” looks like at Davidson, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the strength and resilience of our own library organization and how well our purpose has weathered the pandemic crisis. Here’s what our library’s current statement of purpose looks like on paper:
We advance the College’s purpose in developing disciplined and creative minds by providing expertise, space, resources, and services for research, access to, and creation of information. We partner to provide convenient access to services from across the college—including tutoring, pedagogical support, and technology. We foster a welcoming and inclusive learning environment through our collections, outreach, and collaborations, and establish sustainable initiatives and develop anti-racist practices to support dialogue across differences and advance intercultural competence.
In January 2021, during the height of the pandemic, our library team was thrilled to receive the ACRL Excellence in Libraries Award. The write-up from ACRL summarized that our library “impressed the award committee with its response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its work in advancing social justice.” Despite this amazing recognition of our organizational purpose surviving a world-wide crisis, we need to constantly reevaluate and ask: What do we keep doing (or do more often)? What do we start doing? What do we stop doing? When it comes to reevaluating our purpose, I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership, community engagement, and teaching & learning partnerships as related to the future of the library:
Leading During Good Times & Bad:
Author and speaker, John Maxwell, shares that “leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.” Never has this been more real than during the emergency remote situation that we found ourselves in March 2020. As faculty rushed to adapt their in-person courses for remote formats and students adjusted to the challenges of the pandemic, the library’s teaching and learning experts worked to support the community at a scale that was previously unimaginable. In addition to partnering with faculty to prepare the community for a future of online learning, our team members took the lead in transforming core services to meet the needs of students and faculty. We expanded our service model to offer chat, text, and Zoom drop-in and virtual appointments; we redesigned our instruction model to provide engaging and inclusive online learning experiences; created a digitization center to meet the needs of the remote community; moved to an entirely electronic reserves model; transitioned to a self-service check-out model; expanded access to our online resources; created new opportunities for community building; and reimagined how we provide print materials to our community via contactless pick-up. But all of this just didn’t happen…it took an entire team of leaders working together. What do we keep doing/do more often: Every member of the organization (no matter their title) influences one another to be okay with uncertainty, to broaden our perspectives, to problem-solve, to stay positive and remember our purpose. What do we start doing: Continuously assess every element of our service model (yes, even the book drop). What do we stop doing: Holding on to outdated models of service that no longer make sense.
Engaging Our Community:
We’ve all heard the library referred to as the “heart” of the community–but that sentiment doesn’t happen though place alone. The “heart” is nothing but a stack of bricks [or a non-intuitive website!] without people engaging as a community. Even before the pandemic hit, we collaborated closely with our colleagues from the college’s Center for Teaching & Learning and other campus partners to offer programming relevant to the needs of our students and faculty. During the pandemic, we worked with our students and faculty to better understand challenges and successes in the online classroom. What do we keep doing/do more often: The realities moving forward beyond the pandemic call for us to keep engaging with our community to understand their needs in and out of the classroom–and closely align our programming and resources with curricular priorities and campus initiatives. What do we stop doing: Guessing what the community needs and wants.
Partnering for Teaching & Learning: In these unprecedented times, the library’s role in student learning and faculty teaching has never felt more tangible or imperative. The pandemic provided us opportunities to gain a deeper understanding of faculty research needs and teaching practices; these experiences continue to provide us an expanded view of our own abilities and roles as library professionals. What do we keep doing/do more often: Partner with faculty and students to share knowledge and skills; continue to expand and share our own expertise; What do we stop doing: Underestimating the expertise we bring to the table as library professionals.
There’s more to come on this topic as we continue to expand our vision for the library of the future. Stay tuned!