Thinking About ACRL’s New Strategic Priorities

“Look forward to it” may not be the phrase many academic librarians would use to describe their feelings about strategic planning. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s one of my favorite activities I certainly have no personal opposition to being involved in a strategic planning process. I find it stimulating and I enjoy partnering with colleagues as we think seriously and purposefully about the future direction of the library. It’s like they say, if you don’t have a plan you can end up anywhere. And in our current atmosphere of accountability and assessment, that may not be such a good idea.

I read with interest that ACRL has issued a new set of strategic priorities for 2009-2013. Having worked on strategic plans (and doing so currently) I can appreciate the work that goes into creating one, and I even take time to read the plans of other academic libraries to get a sense of what direction academic libraries are taking. In what new directions do these priorities take ACRL? Take a look:

The ACRL strategic priorities for 2009-13 are:

Strengthening ACRL’s relationships with higher education organizations that are important to faculty and administrators in order to develop institutional understanding of librarians’ roles in enhancing teaching and learning.

Enhancing ACRL members’ understanding of how scholars work and the systems, tools and technology to support the evolving work of the creation, personal organization, aggregation, discovery, preservation, access and exchange of information in all formats.

Increasing ACRL’s influence in public policy affecting higher education.

Increasing recognition of the value of libraries and librarians by leaders in higher education, information technology, funding agencies and campus decision making.

Supporting members in their exploration, research on and implementation of new and emerging information technologies and their application for library services in educational environments.

Increasing ACRL’s membership from professionally underrepresented ethnic and racial groups.

I’m one hundred percent behind that first priority. Too often in the past I’ve seen situations where higher education organizations are developing programs, plans and publications that can impact on or discuss higher education issues that directly effect the academic library and there is absolutely no representation from our community. The annual Horizon Report comes to mind, but there are other examples where a representative from our profession is not invited to the table. I hope ACRL can do more than just create understanding. We need to be involved and well represented.

While there no dearth of activity geared toward scholarly communications issues I believe that ACRL can be doing more to ensure its members are well prepared to both be advocates for the issues on their campuses and to engage the faculty to help them become advocates in the effort to create new models of scholarly communication. I would encourage ACRL to devise tools and techniques to enable frontline librarians at every type of higher education institution to be more aware of the issues and strategies for creating change. And developing more clout in the public policy area would help ACRL and its members to make themselves heard when scholarly communication and other information policy issues are topics of discussion and action in our legislative bodies.

The goal to increase the visibility of academic libraries and librarians within the higher education enterprise seems to me a long running priority for ACRL. But it is hard to recall, in the last year or two, a specific and direct initiative to make this happen. What I can remember is the campaign that placed highly visible advertisements about academic libraries in the Chronicle of Higher Education. That effort had a good return though I’m sure it was costly to the organization. Perhaps if more progress can be made with the first priority there will be more opportunities to promote the academic library and its value to higher education in other venues. But a eye-catching, well-designed, creative ad campaign that communicates sticky messages about our value might be just the thing we need to raise our visibility level. Got academic libraries?

As an ACRL member always looking for ways to implement new technologies that can improve our outreach to the community and the quality of our resources and services, I would welcome any assistance from ACRL to support the efforts of academic librarians to leverage and possibly create their own educational technologies. I advocate that many of our resources are instructional technologies, and we need to do a better job of creating awareness about them and making sure they are well designed so as to improve their ease of use. As an advocacy organization I’d like to see ACRL partnering with vendors of library technology, technology firms such as Google, Amazon and Blackboard, and others such as Microsoft, to promote the needs of academic librarians for better information technologies that help us remove the barriers and enhance the accessibility to our great information resources.

Increasing the diversity of our profession is another ongoing priority for ACRL. Advocating for more scholarships and support to both encourage minorities to enter our profession and to become active in ACRL will only serve to make our profession stronger. Academic librarianship needs to demographically reflect the changing face of American society. While each of us needs to accept some personal responsibility in this effort, I look to ACRL for leadership and support.

Day-to-day ACRL’s strategic priorities are far from the minds of most ACRL members and academic librarians. That’s totally understandable. It’s not as if we don’t have priorities of our own these days – like making sure you do your job well so you can actually keep it. But it’s worthwhile to take time to think about and reflect on these priorities to consider how they might impact on your work, your library and your institution. While I was encouraged by the many new and younger faces of the profession I saw at the ACRL conference, I think ACRL must continue to prioritize any effort to increase membership among the newest members of academic librarianship. Without a strong member base, none of these other priorities will matter much. If these newer academic librarians fail to find relevancy in our association or they cannot afford to join, we will be weaker and less able to move strategically forward in new directions.

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