Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Digital Library Federation Forum

The Digital Library Federation Forum held Nov. 11-12 in Long Beach represented a radical change in format from the previous meetings. The resignation of the previous executive director prompted a re-evaluation of the goals of the organization. This edition of the forum, planned and led by our own Sayeed Choudhury, comprised an opening day of invited speakers and a second day of discussion and planning by two interest groups and by the forum as a whole. I have attended DLF for several years, but this was the most exciting one by far. I will report on one of the first day speakers and on the discussion of the Project Management Group.

Brad Wheeler, CIO and VP for IT at Indiana University, gave one of the most interesting and challenging talks about collaboration that I've seen in a while. He opened by stating his view of the two core challenges facing DLF:
  • Will the behaviors of DLF participants yield solutions that matter for higher education as well as our own campuses?
  • Will DLF members collaborate, cooperate, or pontificate? (we aren't going to win the latter--there are many others in higher education with much more experience)
Most universities and university libraries have tended to work on optimizing local services rather than develop services that matter across higher education. There are many services that could be better provided by outside entities or one institution serving as the provider for a consortium. Several major universities, including Indiana, are allowing Google to provide email and calendar services at no cost! There is still plenty of work to be done locally (like special collections), but we have to focus on working collaboratively. In an article in the EDUCAUSE Review from 2006, Charles Vest talks about the emergence of a "meta-university" that is made possible by our communication infrastructure and the open-access movement. The notion of the meta-university will not replace residential campuses, but it will "bring cost-efficiencies to institutions through the shared development of educational materials." Wheeler cited the Hathi Trust, Sakai, and Kuali as good examples of these types of meta-university collaborations.

Wheeler reported that libraries "talk a good game" about collaboration, but that we have not stepped up as we should. You cannot engage in collaboration as a dabbling option--you have to really commit to it. He listed the following as collaboration essentials:
  • goal alignment (you need to date before you get married)
  • values alignment (commit to having the same outcome)
  • temporal alignment (if you need something NOW, your collaborators have to agree)
  • talent alignment
  • governance clarity
  • problem solving alignment
  • elastic community
The Project Management Group met on the second morning to discuss the notion of "innovation in libraries" from the project manager's perspective. There were lightening talks by Delphine Khanna of Penn and Jennifer Vinopal of NYU, followed by a discussion of the main obstacles to innovation and what DLF could do to help libraries be more innovative. Some of the obstacles were pretty straightforward (lack of time and resources, lack of knowledge of best practices in project development), but the obstacle that received the most discussion was "organizational culture and structure". Some of the examples of organizational culture inhibiting innovation were:
  • lack of institutional support for innovation
  • lock of goal alignment within the organization
  • barriers to cross-departmental and cross-institutional collaboration
  • organization focusing on solving yesterday's problems
  • inability to prioritize
  • hiatus between "digital library" and "traditional library services"
During the discussion of what DLF could do to help innovation, the notion of helping develop best practices for project management and software development emerged as the biggest need. Project management in libraries is usually not done with any formal program or following developed standards. DLF could support training, consultation from outside the library world, and perhaps, the development of a set of best practices that could be applied to different types of projects. We are not advocating a single project management approach, but the idea of a more formal set of options than we are currently using was appealing to many participants.

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