Supporting research and learning invisibly

The (admirably brief!) Macquarie University Library strategic plan states:

Over the next three years we will be designing and implementing a new technical architecture to underpin all our activities. In this new electronic environment we aim to become “invisible” – by making our services and resources available in a seamless fashion within research, teaching and learning workflows. [pdf]

This is a significant ambition. It aligns with ongoing discussion elsewhere about reaching out into research and learning behaviors (see discussion at the recent CIC Library conference for example).
The library wants to match its ambition to the University’s. The library mission is to ‘provide information services and resources that will enable Macquarie to be among the top eight research universities in Australia and the top 200 in the world‘. The University aims to achieve these goals by 2014 when the University is fifty years old [pdf].
Echoing one of ‘true success’ factors suggested in the NYU report I mentioned the other day, they aim to communicate the ‘value of the Library in attracting staff and students to the University’. I was also interested to read that the library would improve the image of the University by “showcasing University research, cultural collections and unique library resources”. The objective is interesting itself, but so is the way in which research outputs and special collections are collocated. It brings together the (typically new) unique research outputs of the university and the (often old) unique materials assembled in the library. I think that the correspondences between the various repository initiatives in libraries – for research and learning materials and for cultural materials – will be of growing interest, alongside the introduction of viable approaches to digital asset management across this range.
I thought that this library document stated with interesting clarity the goals of the library:

  • To improve research performance at Macquarie by: …
  • To improve teaching at Macquarie by: …
  • To improve the image of the University by: …
  • To improve management efficiency and effectiveness by: …

One of the ways in which the last goal will be achieved is by “evaluating and benchmarking the Library’s activities”. It would be interesting to know what sort of metrics one would use to evaluate achievement of some of these goals. One wants the value the library creates to be visible, while a larger part of its services become invisible.
I went to look at these documents after hearing Maxine Brodie and Meredith Martinelli talk about organizational and strategy development at Macquarie at the recent conference The academic librarian: dinosaur or phoenix.
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2 thoughts on “Supporting research and learning invisibly”

  1. Interesting to compare the stated aim of becoming “Invisible” compares to the “Researchers’ use of academic libraries and their service” report which you mention in a previous post – to quote from the executive summary:
    “libraries need to proclaim their value so that researchers properly understand and acknowledge what the library is bringing to their working lives, and most particularly to their desktops.
    At present, many do not, perceiving only that these resources are delivered by the institution in some general guise. The successful research library of the future needs to forge a stronger brand identity within the institution.”
    I feel that this is a bit of a dilemma for research libraries at the moment – we want our services to be invisible, but need to ensure that this doesn’t make the library invisible.

  2. I personally think that what we need to provide is an interface that people can get their services without even noticing how much work is done behind.
    Just take as an example. All we need to know is that when we click on the “one-click purchase” button a transactions is performed. How it operates and how many gateways behind the scene is irrelevant to the user. This kind of ease and seamless fashion of service makes the organisation invisible to clients but the brand name itself ( in this case) isn’t affected. When did we last time ask “how many programmers worked together to make this page or that function works?”
    For Library services, a similar approach could help increase client satisfaction and bring clients back to us. So the Library is well alive and recognised but at the same time it is “invisible”. The two elements don’t necessarily contradict each other at all. I remember my boss once told me the plumber and piping analogy. How many of us would ask the plumber how does the piping work if we just need them to fix the piping itself?
    A lot of time we are not interested in how a service is shaped before it is delivered. Did we ever ask how did Google create its first search engine? But where is Google now?
    One may wonder whether this could be an end of the library professionalism if things become so handy, easy and point-to-service / “invisible” to our clients. The question then should be when did you see programmers losing their jobs simply because they built a marvelous site and they don’t need to sit at help desk to answer questions so that clients know they are there?
    I believe nowadays, to create a brand name in the service industry (including the library industry) means providing services without pounding clients with jargons, intimidating expert grid interfaces and six hundred eighty thousand four hundred and twenty three rules (I spelled this number out just to show how annoying to have everything spelled out lol). Clients will come back if the service is easy to use and they can get what they need. A brand name is thus created slowly and at the end of the day, it will be “may the most invisible service wins” :)

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