ARC 2018: Changing the game for libraries with vision, courage, and persistence

Helene Blowers

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In October, I had the privilege of joining around 220 members and colleagues at the OCLC Americas Regional Council Conference in Chicago, Illinois, USA. Our theme, “Change the Game,” was developed with input from the OCLC Global Council, who were integral to driving the agenda as well as participating in the event.

Despite all the unique institutions and situations among attendees, we found that many of our challenges—and many of our responses—had a lot of overlap. When “changing the game” is difficult, the support and confirmation of your peers can make all the difference.

Great ideas: in focus

Our speakers’ ideas fit very well into the framework we developed for the event. That context helped add specific focus to our strategic “game-changing” themes.

Spaces and resources—from collections to connections: Redefining your library’s delivery. Rolf Hapel of the University of Washington iSchool talked about the creation of Dokk1, the new public library in Aarhus, Denmark, as an example of developing services and structures in close cooperation with users, stakeholders, experts, and researchers. Dr. Louise Bernard, Director of the Museum of the Obama Presidential Center, told us about how her institution is designing collections across the entire media continuum. That way, people can engage at any age, in whatever ways are most compelling to them.

Technology and innovation—from evolution to revolution: Charting a dramatically different course. One of my favorite moments related to this theme came from Phyllis Lockett, Founder and CEO of LEAP Innovations, a Chicago-based organization focused on transforming how students learn. She emphasized how new technology itself isn’t a goal, but rather a tool we use to create a revolution. For her organization, that results in more personalized learning. And Lorcan Dempsey, OCLC’s Vice President for Membership and Research, and Chief Strategist, reminded us that institutions can use technology like linked data as an instrument to help scale innovation, learning, influence, and capacity.

Analytics and data—from what we count to what counts: Measuring outcomes versus activity. Elaine Westbrooks, Vice Provost for University Libraries, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, provided us with insights about how a cultural shift toward diversity and inclusion can have a large impact on student success. Her presentation was a great reminder about the importance of finding ways to quantify our results.

Public purpose—from allies to advocates: Becoming indispensable to your community. Brian Bannon, Commissioner and CEO of the Chicago Public Library, really reinforced this idea when he spoke about CPL’s commitment to working with community partners. Brian talked about “creative collisions” between the library, the community, and local businesses. These helped shape his building program and led to more than $275 million in funds for new buildings and services—all without a bond referendum.

As I reflected on many of these insights and listened to our other speakers in the terrific break-out sessions—I realized something important. Not one speaker in a single session suggested that libraries don’t need to change the game. The universal assumption was that, yes: it’s time. Now let’s figure out how.

Making it personal: one word

At the end of the event, we applied what we learned in an interesting exercise: “In one word, what does ‘Game Changer’ mean to you?”

Our individual replies obviously depended on where we are in our own leadership journeys. This was emphasized by OCLC President and CEO Skip Prichard, who started the conference with a powerful talk on how every person needs to change themselves before leading change. Depending on your own situation, he said, this may involve a change in your frame of reference, culture, mindset, or personal narrative.

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For many—as you can see from our tag cloud—that meant having vision and courage. Those are great words, and clearly relate to a game-changing mindset. But the word that kept coming back to me, personally, during the conference was “persistence.” All of our keynote speakers shared examples of persistence in their own fields and libraries. From my perspective, Rolf Hapel, visionary for Dokk1, exemplified this trait best. He shared that it took 17 years to bring his vision of a new public library to life.

Library users rely on our passion and commitment. Events like the Americas Regional Council Conference are a great chance to remind each other of how much we have in common, and to take courage from each other as we move forward to change the game.

My personal thanks to all of our members, delegates, staff, and presenters who made the event such a terrific success. See you next year in Phoenix!


We have made select presentations and videos from the 2018 OCLC Americas Regional Council Conference available for viewing from the agenda page of the conference website. ARC18 featured leaders from within and adjacent to the library community. View these presentations for ideas and insights on how to change the game for your library and your community.