The Coalition for Networked Information held Working Together: A Planning Retreat for Library and Information Technology Professionals on October 5-7, 1994, in Washington, DC. The retreat provided an opportunity for a small number of institutional teams of librarians and information technologists to develop techniques to increase the effectiveness of collaborative efforts and to begin a planning process for specific collaborative projects.
The retreat attendees found much common ground and benefited from shared perspectives. Early in the retreat, after the participants had been introduced and their job functions and the critical issues they faced had been described, one individual commented, “If I didn’t listen carefully during the introduction, I couldn’t always tell whether the person was a librarian or an information technologist.” Common themes identified by all institutions were that their organizations were in transition, and they were struggling to marshall resources to provide the best services to their users.
One of the goals of the Coalition is to integrate efforts to support the overall information resources and services mission of the entire academic institution. By providing opportunities for senior administrators of libraries and senior administrators of information technologies in higher education institutions to work together in a common enterprise directed toward a shared future, the Coalition hopes to advance progress in this area. Many of the Coalition’s member institutions have institutional programs in which teams of individuals from the library and computing center are working collaboratively to develop and/or deliver campus information services. Those institutions who do not have such collaborative relationships often would like to develop them. This workshop offered an intensive, participant-oriented environment, using case studies and a variety of participative techniques to help foster collaborative projects.
This was the first time that this workshop was offered, and it was targeted to reach senior administrators of libraries and computing centers in larger universities. Most institutions sent teams of four individuals. Participating teams met in advance of the workshop to identify their current and potential areas of collaboration. While prior experience with collaboration was not required, all attendees at the retreat had experience in collaborating on their campuses and were interested in building on those experiences.
The workshop content was developed by Susan Jurow, Director, Office of Management Services, Association of Research Libraries and Gerry Bernbom, Assistant Director and Senior Information Technology Architect, Office of Information Technology, Indiana University, who also served as facilitators of the workshop. They worked with a planning group composed of the leaders of the Coalition’s Working Group on Management and Professional Development: Meredith Butler, State University of New York at Albany and Martha Fields, State University System of Florida; and with Susan Perry, Mount Holyoke College; Julia Rudy, CAUSE; and Joan Lippincott, Coalition for Networked Information. Sheila Creth, University of Iowa, a former leader of the Management Working Group, was also involved in the early stages of the project.
The two-day retreat had the following objectives:
- to assist intitutional teams in working together as partners;
- to provide teams an opportunity to begin or build on existing joint efforts; and,
- to provide participants an opportunity to share experiences and learn from one another.
In their introduction, the facilitators noted that they had four primary assumptions when they prepared for this workshop:
- that ultimately, the participants are collaborating for the good of their users and institutions;
- that collaboration is inherently good and that jointly developing solutions to problems is effective and allows groups to share risks;
- that librarians and information technologists have overlapping areas of work; and,
- that we can get better at collaboration with the assistance of some systematic training.
Attendees participated in a variety of activities to increase their understanding of the factors that lead to successful or unsuccessful collaboration. These included an environmental scanning exercise in which they identified major trends affecting technology and/or higher education, force field analysis, which provides a framework for understanding what moves people toward a goal and what mitigates against achieving a goal, analysis of case studies, and planning exercises.
As a product of the force field analysis, participants identified the following factors as motivating them to collaborate: common goals, clients, and tools; leveraging economic and staff resources; assisting with attracting outside grants; growing interdependence; providing better, integrated services; and management pressures.
Forces hindering collaboration included: different attitudes towards change; different levels of technology awareness; desire to control one’s own resources; the need to support the core services of one’s unit; governance; budgeting process; not understanding the other organization; not understanding the expertise of the other area; and lack of appreciation for the skills of counterparts. There was concensus among the participants that the forces motivating collaboration were more powerful than the forces hindering collaboration.
Some of the kinds of projects that participants identified as current or future types of collaboration included: training and user support, developing an electronic reference desk, organizing resources using WWW, developing campus wide information services (CWIS), joint outreach to faculty, electronic publishing, establishing assessment measures for services, joint publications, educating the university’s administration, attracting external funding, designing user interfaces, library automation, joint planning, and CD-ROM implementation.
Each institutional team examined environmental forces, reviewed their partnership potential, analyzed the range of partnership possibilities, and mapped a course of action. They used the analytical techniques suggested by the facilitators to provide insight in order to develop a framework for future action. A snapshot of the team reports revealed some of the insights the participants gained from the retreat process. One institution’s participants felt that the retreat gave them an opportunity to analyze what they had been doing, and they found they have been on the right track. They planned to return to their institution and involve people at all levels. They reaffirmed that both library and computing units are serving the same user community and are both providing information and information services to their community. They agreed to broaden the focus of their future projects.
Participants from another campus found that the culture of their two units is different, particularly in the areas of decision-making and communication. They had an increased understanding of those variables and how to manage them in collaborative processes.
Some common themes were the need for better communication and communication deeper in the organizations, the need to address larger planning and budget issues, and the need for commitment of resources from upper level management. One participant commented that the entire environment is changing, and just a small group working on these issues within the organization is not enough. There is a need to develop collaborative skills into a much larger number of existing staff. Another participant commented that it is important to use a process to focus on a range of issues affecting libraries and computing centers and not just focus on single projects.
The facilitators emphasized that while a brief retreat would focus attention on partnership opportunities, success entails supporting collaborations over time. They suggested focusing attention on developing appropriate skills, focusing on effective communication, interpreting efforts to staff at all levels and to the university administration, and integrating the project into the organizational structure.
The Coalition has sponsored a number of projects that have involved collaborative teams. These include:
- University Presses in the Networked Information Environment
- The New Learning Communities Conference
- Exemplary Uses of Networks and Networked Information in Teaching and Learning
The Coalition anticipates offering a Working Together retreat in the spring of 1995, focusing on small colleges. In addition, the Coalition will consider requests to offer the retreat for a campus or a regional group of campuses.