Library Journal: COVID-era scenarios for Reading, Pennsylvania

“It was clear we should not wait out COVID-19. We needed a vision for where our services were headed, even if we couldn’t fully see what lay in store.”

In Library Journal, Bronwen Gamble of the Reading Public Library in Pennyslvania writes with me about our experience developing COVID-era scenarios to inform strategy for one of the United States’ oldest public libraries.

You can read our piece “Change the Scene” at the Library Journal website.

Scripturient: Information and Exformation

For years you think talking means finding, discovering, understanding, understanding at last, being illuminated by the truth. But no: when it takes place, all you know is that it is taking place; it’s there, you’re talking, you’re writing: talking is only talking, simply talking, writing is only writing, making the shapes of letters on a blank piece of paper.

– Georges Perec

How do you talk about a thing without talking about it? What is concealed by our efforts to make ourselves understood?

The latest Scripturient column for Information Professional is an experiment with “exformation” – the negative space of information.

Islands in the Sky at RLUK22

Last year, I worked with a team at the UK’s Open University to develop Islands in the Sky, a planning tool to help the university’s Learner & Discovery Services team navigate the challenges of the pandemic and design their future hybrid working environment.

At this year’s RLUK22 conference, “Mapping the New Open for Research Libraries”, the Open University’s Anne Gambles and the Bodleian Libraries’ Ruth Mallalieu will run an “Islands in the Sky” session to support participants in navigating these turbulent times.

Find out more at the RLUK22 website, and there’s more on Islands in the Sky from my original presentation of it with Monika Flakowska at the IA21 Information Architecture conference, here.

“Que sera, sera?” — anticipating change in a time of uncertainty

For the “One Thing” library thought leadership series convened by my colleague Brendan Fitzgerald, I wrote a piece on how libraries & information institutions can use scenario planning to address conditions that are turbulent, ambiguous, novel, or unpredictably uncertain.

Albert Bierstadt, A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie

“Libraries are an institution with a long and storied global history, but their context is transforming too. Our societies’ relationships to fundamental notions of information and trust are subject to change. The social, economic, and political orders within which libraries have survived or thrived are not set in stone.

Library leaders seeking to make sound judgments need to be able to anticipate futures beyond those currently expected or predicted. By stretching our sense of what awaits, we can gain insights from the future before it arrives – rather than having to “learn the hard way” from the brutal audit of real crises and changes.”

Read more from my piece here.

New strategic plan for Reading Public Library, Pennsylvania

The new strategic plan for Reading Public Library, Pennsylvania has just been published.

I supported the Reading team through the early months of this year to devise a set of scenarios for the library’s future operating context, and use these scenarios to inform a new strategy. You can read about the process in my paper for the New Librarianship Symposium, “Mapping the Future: Scenario Planning for the Post-Pandemic Library“.

Reading is a fascinating library service which has a proud tradition of negotiating complex strategic circumstances; there’s a reason why the 1971 chronicle of its existence is called The Library That Would Not Die: The Turbulent History of the Reading Public Library. The challenges of COVID-19 and Pennsylvania’s hotly contested politics were only the latest to be faced in its 250-year history. It was my privilege to support the current team in planning for the next four years.

Reading Public Library’s Executive Director, Bronwen Gamble, writes:

“Creating a new strategic plan for RPL was overdue. Our 2013-2018 plan was modified for two years but the process for creating a new one met several obstacles. Enter the COVID-19 pandemic and virtual meetings. I attended the Pennsylvania Bureau of Library Development’s series of workshops facilitated by Matt Finch and was introduced to his Scenario & Foresight Planning process. Our Board of Trustees and library staff feel very fortunate we were able to engage Matt to lead us through our own library’s scenario and foresight planning with Matt in London and the library team in Reading, PA.

Using a mural app, and Zoom sessions, Matt facilitated our conversations around the collaborations, services, and transactions, which shape our work at every level. Matt acted as a guide, making suggestions and providing alternatives rather than telling us what to do or how to proceed. Our team members were enthusiastic and active participants. Imagination was encouraged and everyone had buy-in. Matt’s scenario & foresight planning process is much different than the usual SWOT analysis, and number crunching. We had fun and lively sessions!

Looking back, I believe it is a good thing our old strategic plan was allowed to languish.  The changes brought about by the pandemic would have made a strategic plan created in 2019 obsolete in 2020.  Our team has ownership of the Reading Public Library’s Scenario & Foresight Planning to Strategic Plan 2021-2025. We looked into the future, found three plausible outcomes, and crafted a plan that works for today and is flexible to accommodate whatever happens in the next five years. Thank you, Matt, for giving us the tools to move forward with confidence!”

Scripturient: Sanchita Balachandran on Conservation through Generations

In the latest instalment of Information Professional‘s ‘Scripturient‘ column, guest writer Sanchita Balachandran tells the story of meeting her late maternal grandfather for the first time among the collections of a colonial archive.

Born in Nagercoil, South India and trained in forest management at the University of Edinburgh in the early 1930s, her grandfather’s journey is part of a wider network of relationships spanning the generations, and stretching from the Indian state of Travancore to Baltimore and beyond.

In her column, Sanchita explores the resonances between her grandfather’s work as a conservator of forests and her own role as Associate Director of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum; she reflects on the necessary, mundane, often invisible work of cultural heritage professionals; and she considers the complex emotions experienced when “harm and recovery, disconnection and reunion” are entangled in our experience of the colonial archive.

What do we owe to the families and loved ones of the long deceased? How do objects bear witness to our lives, and how is that act of witnessing complicated by questions of power, justice, and belonging?

You can read ‘Conservation through Generations’ (PDF download) here.

New Librarianship Symposium: Scenarios for the COVID-affected world?

On November 18th, I’ll be joining the fourth of the New Librarianship Symposia convened by leading information professionals to explore key issues and new agendas for the COVID-affected world.

The symposia mark ten years since the publication of R. David Lankes’ Atlas of New Librarianship, and offer an opportunity to reinvigorate institutions’ approach to the ever-changing information environment.

In the panel on “Re-imagining the future”, I’ll be presenting a paper on “Mapping the future: scenario planning for the post-pandemic library” (PDF download), drawing on a case study of public library planning in the context of the coronavirus pandemic and America’s widening political rifts.

The paper explores both the use of scenarios, and the benefits of attending to value co-creation, in devising library strategy.

My contribution will be in dialogue with thought provoking papers from Seattle Pacific University’s Michael Paulus and a team at the OCLC library cooperative. We’ll consider what might await for information institutions and the communities they serve; how best to move forward in times characterised by turbulence, uncertainty, novelty, and ambiguity; and what it means to practice strategy at different levels, from the global to the deeply local.

Do join us for the fourth of the New Librarianship Symposia on November 18th, 2021.

Circulating Ideas: Scenario Planning With Reading Public Library

Bronwen Gamble, Executive Director of Pennsylvania’s Reading Public Library, appeared with me on the American library podcast Circulating Ideas to share our experiences of scenario planning during a pandemic.

Reading Public Library, PA – Image Courtesy of Berks County Public Libraries

You can listen to the show, or check out a transcript, over at the Circulating Ideas website.

Informatics of the Oppressed? Interview with Rodrigo Ochigame

For the latest edition of Information Professional magazine, I interviewed MIT’s Rodrigo Ochigame about researching and building alternative systems to search, index, and filter the information we want, need, or require.

From social media protests over Brazilian land rights disputes to liberation theology, information technology in socialist Cuba and contemporary attempts to produce “alternative metadata”, you can read about Rodrigo’s work in the latest edition of my column “Scripturient”, here.