Back from the Taiga

I’ve just returned from the first (annual?) Taiga Forum – a 2-day conference sponsored by Innovative Interfaces that brought together Assistant Directors (and others) from across the country to discuss the future of academic libraries and, specifically, the way in which a variety of traditional boundaries are dissolving across our emergent organizational structures.

The Forum Web site identifies IT changes as a primary driver, but, in fact, the discussion was more wide-ranging, including:

  • the boundaries between professional librarians and non-librarian professionals in the academic library (e.g., the anthropologist at the University of Rochester that Steven noted yesterday);
  • the boundaries between professional staff of all stripes and para-professional staff;
  • the boundaries between libraries and IT, and likewise between librarians and other campus professionals (e.g., instructional designers, institutional researchers);
  • the boundaries between traditional functional areas in the library (public services, technical services, IT, etc.) and the programs, initiatives, and strategic goals around which a librarian must exercise competencies across those traditional areas.

Speakers included Jim Neal (Columbia), who, among other things, returned to his discussion of feral professionals, Paul Duguid (Berkeley), who, among other things, took apart Wikipedia, and Lorcan Depsey (OCLC), who gave a great talk on how libraries need to work to “create gravitational pull” on the Web, but also in the increasingly crowded and competitive personal information environment(s) of our faculty and students.

Good as these presentations were, the real energy in the room came from participants engaging the basic idea that many of our most important initiatives (e.g., institutional repositories) require library leaders (at all levels) to master a wide array of skills and knowledge in order to build programs that bridge traditional boundaries in the profession and on campus.

I may blog additional Taiga-related throughts once the conference materials become available online, but, in short, this was an interesting new entry into leadership development and one that I think has a tremendous upside should it continue to be supported and if we can retain focus on the idea of developing library leaders who are accomplished boundary-spanners and who have thoughtfully engaged the question of how to initiate and sustain programs and professional development on their local campuses that brings this holistic approach to our work to librarians and staff throughout the organization.

Oh, and there were also some provocative statements (PDF) posted ahead of the conference meant to spur discussion. Here’s one that almost every small group chose to engage:

“Within the next five years, there will be no more librarians as we know them. Staff may have MBAs or be computer/data scientists. All library staff will need the technical skills equivalent to today’s systems and Web services personnel. The ever-increasing technology curve will precipitate a high turnover among traditional librarians; the average age of library staff will have dropped to 28.”

Being as I was one of the younger people in the room at (just-turned) 39, this turned into a wide-ranging and useful talk – even if we didn’t agree with all of the starting points!

There aren’t too many programs worth dealing with O’Hare International Airport (2 hour delay coming home, again, thank you!), but this was one of them. I hope it continues and I hope it spurs further discussion on individual campuses and in other consortia.

2 thoughts on “Back from the Taiga”

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