Seventeenth Annual International Conference of Research Library Directors focuses on transforming business, technology and libraries

DUBLIN, Ohio, April 16, 1999--Library leaders from 120 research universities and institutions in 23 countries met at OCLC on March 15-16 for the 17th Annual International Conference of Research Library Directors to discuss dramatic changes in business and technology and the impact those changes have had on libraries.

With the theme, "Transforming the Enterprise," conference speakers included:

  • Patricia Aburdene, internationally recognized speaker and best-selling author, with John Naisbitt, of the Megatrends series and Re-inventing the Corporation
  • Peter Likins, president of the University of Arizona
  • Evgeny Kuzmin, director, Department of Libraries and Information, Ministry of Culture of Russia, and Yakov Shraiberg, first deputy director, National Public Library for Science and Technology, and president of the International Library Information and Analytical Center, Moscow.

The conference, sponsored by the Research Libraries Advisory Committee (RLAC) and OCLC, also featured a panel discussion on "Publishing, Partnerships and Libraries" with presentations by Michael J. Jensen, director of Publishing Technology, National Academy Press; Vincent L. Yannuzzi, managing principal, IBM Corporation; and William A. Gosling, director of libraries, University of Michigan.

Ms. Aburdene spoke about business trends she has explored in her new book, Natural Born Companies: Your ten-part plan for the new digital economy, to be published later this year. "In the new economy, nature is the model, the Internet is the metaphor and chaos is the strategy," said Ms. Aburdene. "By chaos I mean the willingness to release control, experiment with several different approaches, allow forces to converge and just see what happens. Perfectionism is dead. It's not about getting it right anymore; it's about getting it going. Good-bye strategic planning, hello making it up as you go along."

Ms. Aburdene refers to natural-born companies as those that sprang to life in this new economy, "walking a tight-rope between chaos and order."

Ms. Aburdene suggested that librarians should be more active in promoting their roles in developing new information tools.

"How do we reinvent libraries to thrive in this new economy? We recognize that in addition to talking to each other, libraries must begin a dialog to increase their connections with the media, with business and with the Internet community," she said.

"Librarianship has a long and commendable position of resisting commercial reward for your work," Ms. Aburdene, who holds a master's degree in library science, concluded. "My advice on that: get over it. Sell your services to those who can afford it-specifically to businesses-to underwrite some of the free services we give to other deserving library patrons. You don't have to sell your soul to thrive in the 21st century, but you may have to sell your brain-and that is totally ethical."

Dr. Likins spoke about "Transforming the University, an American Perspective." He described his efforts to transform Lehigh University from what he called "a white-male-dominated engineering school" into a more diverse, expansive and respected institution during his 15 years as president. He was named president of the University of Arizona in 1997.

Dr. Likins described some of the many changes he led at Lehigh. In 1984, when engineering enrollments across the nation peaked, the Lehigh Board of Trustees accepted a plan that shifted emphasis to the arts and sciences, and to graduate and research activities. In the summer of 1985, Lehigh put a personal computer on every professor's desk. By 1986, the university had "the most pervasive network on any college campus, reaching into every room of every building-academic, residential and administrative," he said. Campus size doubled to 1,600 acres. A new stadium, a new hall for the College of Business and Economics and a performing arts center were built. And women now make up about 40 percent of the student body.

"This is a very changed institution," he said. "But it was rough. It was difficult. Transformation is a painful process."

Dr. Likins said among the keys to successful transformation in an institution are communication and a clear vision.

"Over the years I've come to think of transformational change with a mental image I consciously conjure up as I implement change," said Dr. Likins. "I think of the organization as a fabric that I'm trying to stretch into a desired shape. I know that if I stretch it too rapidly, it will break and then you can't put it back together again. If you don't stretch it rapidly enough, the external pressures for change would eventually overwhelm you.

"So the trick is to listen carefully for the minute sounds of incipient rip in the fabric and to control the pace of change. Usually it's the direction of change that's easy. It's the pace of change that's hard. You can control the pace of change by listening to see if the fabric is about to rip. And with patience and persistent effort, you can shape that fabric almost any way you desire."

Dr. Kuzmin described the tremendous transformations in Russia since the break-up of the Soviet Union, and since the economic collapse in the summer of 1998.

"Russia is a land of greater contrasts than any other country," said Dr. Kuzmin. "It is a developed and developing country at once; a country of absolute democracy where totalitarian survivals are reigning; an affluent country of abject poverty; a backward country of high technologies… Similar contrasts meet us as we refer to Russian libraries."

Dr. Kuzmin pointed out that the number of libraries in Russia decreased by 10 percent in the last seven years, while usage is up 15 percent. He said a librarian's average monthly wage is $25 compared to $100 before the financial crisis of last summer. And up to 80 percent of books just published never find their way to Russian library shelves because of the recent economic crisis.

Despite difficult obstacles, Dr. Kuzmin is hopeful that libraries in Russia will progress.

"Russia has acquired an overwhelming majority of the most fruitful and daring ideas of Western librarianship," he said. "Our librarians are imaginatively developing them and will implement them whenever they have the money.

"Is this possible, you may ask, after the financial crisis? This is possible in Russia, a country where ideas have tremendous power, and some of them are implemented even when they run counter to economic expediency."

Dr. Shraiberg spoke specifically about library automation in Russia.

"According to our estimates, about 5,000 libraries apply automated technologies today," said Dr. Shraiberg. "The total number of libraries that have bought hardware and software to solve separate tasks of their everyday library practice is much greater-15,000 to 20,000. The transfer to the automated technologies is restricted largely due to financial reasons."

Telecommunications has also posed challenges for Russian libraries.

"Despite all the difficulties we encounter in the field of Internet resources development, the situation has been gradually improving here," said Dr. Shraiberg. "Today, many libraries small and large use the Internet, not only as users but as host centers. In the near future, the Internet channels will undoubtedly become not only the means that enable access to global information resources but will also provide a communication environment for domestic library information networks."

During the panel discussion on Publishing, Partnerships and Libraries, Mr. Jensen discussed changes in publishing. As director of Publishing Technology at the National Academy Press, Mr. Jensen said dissemination of information has become the top priority in publishing for the National Academy Press and cost-recovery a close second, when just a few years ago it was the other way around.

"That small shift changes some of the directives that I give myself in terms of what is being prioritized in the development process," said Mr. Jensen. "If something is available for free it means that a great deal more resources can be plowed into the quality of dissemination rather than trying to improve the marketability of the product. Scholarship is more than just presenting information; it should be enriching the content, making it easy to use. Now my job is to make access to the information as easy as possible."

Mr. Yannuzzi spoke about the Vatican Library Accessible Worldwide project, a partnership between the Vatican and IBM to scan and digitize books from the more than 30 miles of shelves in the Vatican Library stacks and make them accessible over the Internet to scholars worldwide.

Mr. Yannuzzi said IBM is a hardware, software, consulting and services business and is not in the business of electronic content distribution. "But we wanted a partnership so that we could learn with one of the premier cultural repositories in the world and then be able to guide other clients in the years ahead," he said.

"We learned the technology is here," Mr. Yannuzzi said. "We learned that intellectual property rights were manageable. But we also learned that we did the Vatican project backwards."

Once all the technological pieces were in place, and many of the pages had been digitized, "nobody knew what to do with the information gathered," he said. The key to a successful digitizing project is to decide what to do with the digitized information first, and proceed from there, according to Mr. Yannuzzi.

Dr. Gosling spoke about transforming the university library in this era of technological change.

"Academic libraries are especially challenged to realize transformation of the organization to meet the changing campus environment we see before us today," said Dr. Gosling. "The challenge of academic libraries is compounded as we incorporate changes for newer services, while continuing the need to sustain many of our older services because they still have significant value to a large segment of the user population."

Jay Jordan, OCLC president and chief executive officer, reviewed OCLC's plans and activities. He also discussed some OCLC projects that illustrate how the organization has transformed its objectives as technology changes.

"OCLC's Cooperative Online Resource Catalog (CORC) project explores using automated cataloging tools and library cooperation to create a database of Web resources much the same way OCLC and member libraries created WorldCat (the OCLC Online Union Catalog)," said Mr. Jordan. "Through the CORC project, librarians will apply the traditional practices and principles of librarianship to the Web-extending the WorldCat shared cataloging model to the new electronic resources."

Terry Noreault, vice president, OCLC Office of Research, discussed the CORC project in greater detail.

Sharon J. Rogers, chair, OCLC Board of Trustees, and a library consultant, greeted participants and conveyed the board's wishes for a successful conference.

"In your research libraries, you are helping to change the way that faculty, students and administrators around the world exchange information and communicate with each other," said Dr. Rogers. "We seek your input. We value your counsel."

Kenneth Frazier, vice chair, OCLC Research Libraries Advisory Committee, and director of libraries, University of Wisconsin, Madison, welcomed conference participants and presided over the conference activities.

Linda Arnold, OCLC library member relations program manager, coordinated planning for the event.