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Susan, Mary Beth, Kyle, Molly and I started our day at a breakfast sponsored by ProQuest where Steven Bell, (current ACRL President among many, many other things) was the keynote. The title of his talk was “Unbundled and Rebooted: Library Leadership for Disrupted Higher Education” and it was very good. I will summarize here as best I can (while it is still fresh in my cold-muddled mind) so that others who blog later can add the parts that most resonated with them!

He started by showing a video clip from a series of articles done by the NY Times on Graduating into Debt. In the clip, students who had graduated were commenting on how their college degrees were not worth the price they paid for them. He then went on to say that recently, and for the first time, Moody’s gave Higher Education a negative rating. Students and parents are beginning to question the cost, value and necessity of traditional higher ed. Convenience, career potential and cost are now high on the consideration list as students evaluate what to do after high school.

The traditional model of academia has been very linear and stable from beginning to graduation. 4-5 years. But students these days are not seeing their educational path in this way. They may start in a Community College then move to traditional OR they may start traditional and then perhaps ‘reversetransfer” back to community college for cost reasons or because CC degrees can be more practical in terms of finding a job. They may stop and work for a while or go part-time – they may add in a MOOC for remedial content or to gain new knowledge that their school doesn’t have or that they can’t afford to take. An interesting analogy he used was the ‘unbundling’ of courses from the institution in the way the music industry has had to unbundle songs from the album. Why shouldn’t students be able to get the content they want in the bits they want it?

The question for libraries then becomes how and where do we reach these students in all these varying iterations of what being a ‘student’ now means?? He gave some interesting examples of how we can reconsider our traditional models of librarianship and library services in order to begin to think about the new ways that will be necessary to reach our students. I won’t comment in depth on all of these as I’m sure others who were there will have more to say about them.

Design Thinking – a la IDEO Deep Dive video – start with REALLY REALLY understanding what the problem is – then think of as many ways as you can to solve it.

Be a Gate Opener – instead of our traditional roles of gate keeper – think about how libraries can continue to open gates to information for our students wherever they are.

Non-Commissioned Worker – Dan Pink notes that artists do better work when they work on noncommissioned work projects – so try to find time for your employees to do this kind of work.

Salesperson – don’t be ashamed to tell people what we do and WHY we do it. People who don’t understand why you do something are not as loyal or interested in your products.

Functionally Free Thinking – (which grammatically might also say Functionality Free Thinking) – but stop trying to look just at our own fields – look outside librarianship for ideas that work and think about how they could apply to your library. Look for new uses for old thinsg.Read literature from your outside interests or your subject disciplines.

Value Driven – define what the value is that we deliver to our students and to our institutions

Grassroots leaders – work from the ground up to affect change.

Start with ‘Why’ – Showed a clip of Simon Sinek’s very popular Ted Talk on how starting with the ‘Why you do what you do’ question is the common characteristic of great movements, thoughts and even companies. Sinek makes the point that people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.

Lead the Change – find out what is not being done on your campus – where there is a need, and figure out how to do that. He gave the example of how Temple University (his institution) provided small grants to faculty to stop using traditional textbooks and create free/open ones. They started with the why of saving students money and got great buy in and products from faculty. (MB, Susan and I are already scheming about doing this at WFU – don’t worry). He also discussed an easy project they did by giving all their employees small notebooks to record thought, ideas, every time they tell someone no, frustrations they encounter, etc. and used those to spark some new services, etc. for patrons (MB and I are all over this one, too).

Bell ended the conversation by giving an acronymn that can help libraries think about leading that change:

T – Trust (we need for our students and our institutions to trust us)
W – Why (why do we do what we do)
E – Emotional Connection (connecting that why to our patrons with sticky messages)
E – Empower Staff (to think outside the box, to not fear failure)
P – Persist (sometimes todays idea is the answer to tomorrows problem so keep the ideas coming and don’t get discouraged).

There is a reason Steven Bell is a thought leader in libraries – he’s compelling, pragmatic and exceptionally well versed in the conversations going on around higher ed, broader cultural shifts and libraries as well. He does not expect radical immediate change. He encourages libraries to start small and keep working to find answers to our questions. Much food for thought from a rainy, dreary Seattle this morning!