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Dean’s Update: Building Comfort with Striving for Possibilities

December 6, 2019

This past month I have been contemplating how to increase comfort with striving for possibilities.

More specifically, I wonder what is needed for an organization with library staff who are excellent in their roles as service providers who support building information literacy skills, but may be less comfortable applying their unique professional expertise and insights about various information “ecosystems” to strengthen their community’s connections to scholarship. Such connections go beyond building student skills to enable faculty to raise scholarly productivity and improve institutional infrastructure to steward and disseminate research output. 

It’s not a new question for seasoned library leadership or for administrators wondering about investing in a library when information seems easily available through Google. But it is certainly a timely one in light of the many challenges in higher education to serve as an effective, modern organization responsible to society for creating and disseminating new knowledge, stewarding the sources of knowledge for future inquiry, and preparing life-long learners who are grounded in the pursuit of truth and commitments to freedom of information.  

Three practical conditions emerged for success in addressing this challenge to increase staff comfort with what may be required to successfully transform a “traditional” library to a modern, effective partner in a competitive research university. These aren’t proposed recommendations you might find on an advice website. My personal reflections offered here were recently triggered by reactions from members of the Drexel community (including Libraries staff, supportive faculty, and academic colleagues) to my attempts to push an agenda to improve the position and capacity of the Drexel Libraries to help advance the University’s rising ambitions to become a comprehensive research institution.

The first condition may be recognition that change is characteristic of successful learning. It affects service and organizational improvement and enables staff to grow professionally. Change almost always calls for a quest to explore the unknown, to step “out of your comfort” zone, and to go beyond what is familiar and predictable. Everyone has a different level of tolerance, let alone attraction, to engage with change. A successful organizational environment that enables change must provide some degree of shared comfort to offset fear of risks. Some people will not risk engaging with change for fear of failure or job loss. The emotions associated with discomfort may hinder even thinking about how to plan for change or developing a quest for learning. Bottom line: not everyone is inspired equally by opportunities for innovation and growth.     

A second condition relates to alignment of a library’s ambitions with those of the university. To achieve a productive fit, others on campus need to understand the library business and let go of outdated assumptions that peg a library as a building to house both books and people for studying.    

The third condition is to apply active communication to help position a library within the fabric of higher education, not just as a utility that provides services, but also as a partner that shapes the university’s directions and strengthens its infrastructure. We need to communicate the great things library staff know can be done in support of teaching and research and engage our different stakeholders to not only understand the business of libraries and how our resources and services align with their own ambitions, but also that librarians and other diverse library staff experts are often change agents.

In this issue of In Circulation, readers can learn about ways change occurs at the Drexel Libraries.  An interview with our relatively new technology manager illustrates the variety of ways to approach technological changes and desire for efficient integration of resources. The introduction of a faculty seminar series illustrates a way to address a potentially major impact of budget reductions by aligning a better understanding of what a library does to help its clients. Finally, a highlight of the first Library Advisory Group meeting of the academic year offers insights about the Libraries’ value to the University as expressed in different ways by faculty embarking on their appointed advisory roles.    

We end the year poised to continue to expand and improve the Libraries’ contributions to the University, with particular attention to enabling those asked to join the transitions to trust that stepping beyond comfort is a requirement for success.

Happy holidays!

Danuta A. Nitecki, PhD
Dean of Libraries