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I attended the 2013 LAUNC-CH Conference in Chapel Hill on March 11. This year’s theme was “True Collaborations: Creating New Structures, Services and Breakthroughs.” The session that most interested me the most was the keynote address by Rick Anderson, Interim Dean of the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah.
As is typical of Rick, his speech had a provocative approach, which was apparent in its title, “The Purpose of Collaboration Is Not to Collaborate.” By this, he means that there may be plenty of benefits to be gained by collaborating, but that you should never collaborate on something merely to collaborate. Here are his major points:

Ground Rules and First Principles:
–Patrons come first (a guiding concern here at ZSR)
–Waste nothing
–Fail often, fail early, write an article, move on
–Know what is sacred and what is instrumental
–Keep means and ends in proper relation

Means and Ends:
–The purpose of innovation is not to innovate…but to improve.
–The purpose of committees is not to meet…but to solve problems.
–The purpose of risk-taking is not to take risks…but to do new and better things.
–The purpose of collaboration is not to collaborate.

Reasons to Collaborate:
–To create leverage
•Economies of scale
•Increased impact
–To improve services
•Draw on more brains
•Include multiple perspective
–To build relationships
•On campus
•External to campus
–To bring complexity indoors

Bringing Complexity Indoors
–Good complexity and bad complexity (AKA Richness vs. Confusion). You want to bring bad complexity indoors, not make patrons have to suffer with whatever is problematic.
–Who is paying and who is paid?
•Patrons as “customers”
–What is our goal?
•Education vs. frustration
Opportunities to Collaborate
–Osmotic (by osmosis, Anderson means, if you have open library space, it will be filled. Make sure your library is filled with stuff you want in it.)
–Strategic (Institutional)
•To advance university goals
•To advance library goals
–Strategic (Political)
•To bank political capital
•To strengthen library’s brand

Collaborating Better
–Think outside the ghetto. Don’t just focus on the library world, other fields may have fruitful areas for collaboration. Anderson gave a wonderful example of this, describing the Pumps and Pipes Conference, an annual conference in Houston that brings together heart doctors and people from the oil industry. Both fields are concerned with pumping viscous fluid through tubes, and have much to teach each other.
–Work from ends to means (not vice versa).
–Listen promiscuously
–Ask this question up front: “How will we know when the task is accomplished?”
–If project is open-ended, assess regularly
–Evaluate outcomes, not processes.