Did you know that the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is currently in the process of renewing its strategic plan? I didn’t and despite regularly monitoring what’s happening at ARL this somehow evaded tracking on my radar screen. Since my own library is also currently engaged in a new planning process, I was pleased to discover an environmental scanning document produced by ARL. “Transformational Times: An Environmental Scan Prepared for the ARL Strategic Plan Review Task Force” examines themes, threats and general challenges and opportunities in three specific strategic arenas in which ARL operates. I think the limited number of arenas helps to focus this environmental scan yet still provides a good number of issue areas to which academic librarians, at all size institutions, should be paying attention.
The three strategic arenas are: (1) scholarly communication; (2) public policy that impacts research libraries; and (3) the library’s role in research, teaching and learning. The first two are no surprise here. Taking an advocacy role and helping research libraries to organize in dealing with scholarly communication and public policy are ARL’s meat and potatoes activity. I’m glad to see that ARL recognizes that the research library has a vital role to play in engaging faculty and students in learning spaces. ARL acknowledges that research libraries need to increasingly deploy services and resources into virtual and physical learning spaces. For example, the scan warns that:
Failure to respond with comprehensive, relevant, evolving, and appealing virtual domains runs the risk of alienating consumers.
How interesting that ARL describes our students, specifically undergrads, as consumers. To me that signals that ARL recognizes the importance of paying attention to consumer trends and user expectations. I find repeated references in the document to building relationships and establishing partnerships with our academic colleagues, be they faculty, instructional technologists or researchers. This is an important societal trend that needs recognition in the scan. The value of libraries could increasingly be less measured by collections and content as more emphasis is placed on the importance of establishing relationships that provide meaning. ARL picks up on a variety of ways these changes can emerge. Personally I’m interested to see that ARL predicts a more “blended” approach for academic librarians when it comes to information literacy. They believe we’ll spend less time in classrooms doing instruction and more time spent behind the scenes creating learning objects for instructors.
If you expect an ARL environmental scan to emphasize important developments in new models for scholarly publishing, shifting relationships with publishers, collaborations with internet content providers, technology innovation, copyright and intellectual property, the preservation of special collections and other research library concerns this report will satisfy your needs. But what about the challenges? There are some good ideas here, but what could foul up the works? In a word, us. ARL sees some great opportunities but believes that “as uncertainty about the future persists, library staff may tend to cling to the familiar, resisting new approaches to the way they work.” Resist change? Surely not us academic librarians? When it comes to transformational times, we want to be there.