University Libraries and Transformational Change: It Is Time

Title: University Libraries and Transformational Change: It Is Time
Author: Michelle Dunaway, ULS Committee on the Future of University Libraries
In his article titled “Damn the Recession, Full Speed Ahead”, Dr. Rush Miller, Director of the University Library System at the University of Pittsburgh, argues that change and progress in academic libraries cannot continue to be incremental. What university libraries need, Miller argues, is transformational change.
“We tend to see change as evolutionary, or incremental, and the library’s role as reactive,” Miller writes. “We are, at best, engaged in viewing our future as purely a linear extension of our past with no fundamental change to our mission, our vision, our values, and our principles. I would suggest that the changes we must make to remain relevant in the future are not incremental, but fundamental and transformative. And therefore, they are going to be very difficult for us to accept.”
How, then, can we bring about change that is truly transformational?
“The first thing we must have is articulate leadership with vision and a proclivity to change as a way of life,” Miller writes. “Effective library management today is change management; effective leadership is visionary leadership.”

Clearly, libraries have to be led by change agents to be successful in the future. But, as Miller points out, fundamental change is not easily embraced.

“No organization is filled with change agents ready to rethink basic assumptions about practice or question time honored values upon which they believe that practice is based,” Miller writes. “We cannot expect [change] to occur as a consensus, but from bold and determined leaders and change agents.” Noting that numerous transformational changes made to the University of Pittsburgh Library System were initially led by a small group of change agents and resisted strongly by the majority of staff, Miller reiterates Carla Stoffle’s wise words: “At some point, the train (of change) had to leave the station. Those who were on board went along, but some, who were not yet on board, had to be left behind.”

In spite of budgetary constraints, and despite resistance to change, university libraries must re-imagine and re-invent their roles and services. “We must question old assumptions, even values-based ones that we have not questioned in the past, and push hard toward our vision of the future role and mission of the library.” After all, as Dr. Miller rightly argues, the change needed in libraries is not evolutionary, but revolutionary.

Miller, R. (2012). Damn the recession, full speed ahead. Journal of Library Administration, 52(1), 3—17.

Loretta Wallace

Business, Economics, Hotel & Restaurant Management Librarian University of Houston

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