“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.

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.

Was there ever really one normal? Discussion with Murray Cook and Brendan Fitzgerald

Today’s blog features a discussion between two colleagues, Murray Cook and Brendan Fitzgerald.

Murray helps organisations and leaders in the use of scenario planning to explore the future and its impacts upon current strategy.  He works on understanding disruption, detecting early signals of the emerging future, and developing responses to the changing environment.  Alongside his consulting work, Murray also works in executive education, most recently at Saïd Business School, and has previously led large, complex transformation programmes.

Brendan, director of 641 DI, works to build capacity for the library, government, and not-for-profit sectors in Australia and New Zealand. Formerly Manager of Digital Inclusion at Infoxchange, his focus is digital & social inclusion, its ability to reduce social isolation and loneliness in community. Working with clients across Australia and New Zealand including Hitnet, Grow Hope Foundation, State Library of New South Wales, LIANZA, City of Newcastle Libraries, and the Victorian Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, 641 DI delivers research and project evaluation services, digital inclusion planning and practice, as well as strategic consultation.

Last month, Murray & Brendan got together for a wide ranging discussion covering foresight, localism, their experiences in different sectors on opposite sides of the world, and even the nature of change itself.

Murray: 

Some topics we might discuss: How things are changing, how change itself has changed, and how we might use scenarios to attend to things we haven’t looked at before. There are never any facts in the future – but that’s more apparent than ever now, isn’t it?

Brendan:

I think it’s also important to look back; to consider those things in the past that you bring with you into the present – or leave behind. One of the things I know we’ve both been pondering: was there actually a “normal” in the first place?

Read more

Interview with Betty Sue Flowers, Part 3: Libraries, Little Voices, and the Hidden Common Ground

This is the final instalment of a three-part interview with Betty Sue Flowers – you can find the first part here, and read the whole piece as a PDF download here.

Betty Sue Flowers, Ph.D., is a writer, editor, and international business consultant, Emeritus Professor at the University of Texas, and former Director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum.

She has been a consultant for NASA and the CIA, Visiting Advisor to the Secretary of the Navy, Public Director of the American Institute of Architects, and editor of scenarios for organisations including Shell International, the OECD, the University of Oxford, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

She has written scholarly works on Robert Browning, Adrienne Rich, and Christina Rossetti among others, as well as serving as a consultant to television series including PBS’s Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth. You can see more of her work and her extensive publication history here.

In September 2020, I talked with Betty Sue about her career, her accomplishments, and her understanding of the diverse fields she’s worked in, from foresight and healthcare to poetry, literary studies, and library leadership.

Your work on a television tie-in book with Joseph Campbell led, indirectly to you working on scenarios at Shell. How did that come to pass?

After I’d written the Campbell tie-in, people were calling me all the time for help with their books, and I turned them all down except for one person, Joseph Jaworski.

He was writing a book on leadership, Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership, and though I’d never met him, I decided to say yes to his proposal.

I’ve always gone by this little voice inside that says “Yes”, and if it says “Yes”, I never go against it. It’s gotten me into a lot of trouble – good trouble. I didn’t have time, I was running the honours program at UT, I was a professor, I had a small child, and I wasn’t interested in his topic either – he wanted to write a book about the American Leadership Forum.

Read more

Interview with Betty Sue Flowers, Part 2: From “Fire Alarm Time” to Generations of Love

This is part two of a three-part interview with Betty Sue Flowers – you can catch up on the first part here, and read the whole piece as a PDF download here.

Betty Sue Flowers, Ph.D., is a writer, editor, and international business consultant, Emeritus Professor at the University of Texas, and former Director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum.

She has been a consultant for NASA and the CIA, Visiting Advisor to the Secretary of the Navy, Public Director of the American Institute of Architects, and editor of scenarios for organisations including Shell International, the OECD, the University of Oxford, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

She has written scholarly works on Robert Browning, Adrienne Rich, and Christina Rossetti among others, as well as serving as a consultant to television series including PBS’s Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth. You can see more of her work and her extensive publication history here.

In September 2020, I talked with Betty Sue about her career, her accomplishments, and her understanding of the diverse fields she’s worked in, from foresight and healthcare to poetry, literary studies, and library leadership.

Just thinking of your own writing for a moment, with your early poems, with your teenage plays, did you have an ideal audience, or a specific reader in mind?

I wrote plays for my cousins to perform at Christmas, but actually as a teenager, a play I wrote was performed on television in my home town of Waco, Texas. It was a satire on the Kennedy administration. It was put on TV, and I thought it was quite funny, and obviously it was a political play, intended to be of relevance to the world; they were going to rebroadcast it, and then the assassination happened, and that was the end of it.

That shocking, moving event changed my sense of where I was heading. But my first published poem, which I wrote as a Brownie scout, was about meeting a beggar selling pencils on the street in Abilene, Texas. I was in my uniform, and I thought the appropriate thing to do was to give him the Brownie salute: to stop and acknowledge his humanity. I did this, and he saluted me back, and that was an interaction I wrote about. The little girl and the beggar. The point of the poem was to establish a human connection which overcame the way people were treating him on the street. Insofar as my writing has had an implicit purpose, it was something about opening eyes.

Can you talk a bit more about your process when you’re writing your own poetry?

Read more

Interview with Betty Sue Flowers, Part 1: From Rhythmic Systems to Scenarios as Theatre

Betty Sue Flowers, Ph.D., is a writer, editor, and international business consultant, Emeritus Professor at the University of Texas, and former Director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum.

Betty Sue Flowers

She has been a consultant for NASA and the CIA, Visiting Advisor to the Secretary of the Navy, Public Director of the American Institute of Architects, and editor of scenarios for organisations including Shell International, the OECD, the University of Oxford, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

She has written scholarly works on Robert Browning, Adrienne Rich, and Christina Rossetti among others, as well as serving as a consultant to television series including PBS’s Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth. You can see more of her work and her extensive publication history here.

In September 2020, I talked with Betty Sue about her career, her accomplishments, and her understanding of the diverse fields she’s worked in, from foresight and healthcare to poetry, literary studies, and library leadership.

The interview will run in three parts on this blog, but you can also read the full transcript now as a PDF download.

You’ve had such a varied and accomplished career, it’s hard to know where to start. Then I saw one of the earliest and most curious entries on your CV: you were a lab assistant at something called the Rhythmic Systems Laboratory?

I started life off as a scientist. I put my way through college working in a zoology lab. I’m still in touch with my mentor, who went on to the University of Virginia. My love of poetry took me away from that path – I just kept following it in another direction.

Read more

Fandom & Information Literacy: Discussion with Ludi Price

Sometimes – often – the most interesting ideas comes from the margins. The status quo is best challenged from the borderlands and fringes, the shadows, anywhere that is overlooked.

In our digitalised world, new ways to create, manage, and share information are emerging all the time. The most innovative and rewarding approaches might not come from the institutions that are longest established, have the best trained staff, or the most substantial budget.

They might come from places where people are driven by passion to experiment with something new.

I recently sat down for a chat with Dr. Ludi Price, China & Inner Asia Librarian at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, and an Honorary Visiting Fellow at City University’s School of Library & Information Science. Her research has focussed on fan information behaviour: the ways in which communities of people with a shared passion for pop culture have managed, organised, and distributed information relating to their fandom.

What can information professionals, the institutions and communities they serve, learn from the way that fans deal with the same challenges and opportunities faced by those who deal with information for a living? Ludi has some answers.