Are we designing services with an expiration date?

Kristin Lee, Research Data Librarian
Tisch Library, Tufts University

In January of this year, I started a new job as the first Research Data Librarian at the Tisch Library at Tufts University. Librarians at Tisch have been providing research data services to the Schools of Arts & Science and Engineering, so one of my first jobs was to understand the services that have already been offered and where we might expand into new areas. As is the case in many libraries, a cornerstone of the data management services was providing consultations for researchers writing data management plans (DMPs) for grant applications to the US federal funding agencies like the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health. ‘Perfect,’ I thought, ‘I can work with this.’

Then came what felt a bit like a data librarian existential crisis – the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy memorandum calling for expanded public access to research data, among other things, had disappeared from the White House website. While this created a good excuse to go through my LibGuides and find all of the links to that memo, it also made me question everything I had been thinking about when it came to the services I was going to offer. So, as I created page after page of notes with titles like “Research Data Services”, “Data Management Services”, “Services for Researchers”, and a lot of other permutations of those few phrases, the rest of the words refused to materialize. How would I convince researchers that managing their data was in their best interest, and if I couldn’t figure out how to do that would I still have a job?

The disappearance of the memo from the White House website has not meant that the US funding agencies have gotten rid of the DMP requirements, so my job is safe and my move from Saskatchewan to Massachusetts was not for nothing – existential crisis averted. But it still made me wonder about the longevity of services designed as a reaction to specific external forces, and to think that it might be okay to plan services that might eventually have an expiration date.

Once I stopped thinking about the service list I was putting together as being written in stone I was able to start drafting some ideas.  I was able to center the researchers (who should have been my main concern in the first place) as the focus of my work instead of relying on the threat of funding agency mandates to make them seek me out.  I could think about what we would be able to do in order to actually help people make the most of their data in both their research and teaching. I reminded myself that data skills are important to students in their academic and personal lives and are transferable whether they continue to study or decide to work outside of higher education. We can give the next generation of researchers the background and tools they need to keep pushing the open science movement forward.

Considering that the shelf life of some of our services is going to be measured in years as opposed to decades, there are clear implications for the way we share our work with each other as practitioner-researchers. If it takes 3 or more years to collect data and a year between having a paper accepted and published in a peer-reviewed journal, how timely will the research be? One of my favorite sessions at the Research Data Access and Preservation Summit ( in Seattle this year was the Institutional Snapshots where we got a very brief picture of what is happening at a variety of institutions. From this session, I was able to identify institutions to reach out to get the gory details about what had worked for them and what hadn’t with respect to research data services.

I know that the services will change over time, so much so that they become unrecognizable in the future, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth offering them now and seeing what works. Finding venues to share what we are doing, not just our successes but also our failures and the things that keep us up at night will help us get through times of uncertainty and change. What started as a “the-sky-is-falling” moment for me has let me get back to why I love being a data librarian in the first place; we can help researchers at all levels get the skills they need to solve the world’s big problems, and we are doing it as a community.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Reflections on Change Leadership

by Jill Crawley-Low
Leslie and Irene Dubé Health Sciences Library and Veterinary Medicine Library, University of Saskatchewan

There have been opportunities to reflect on leadership, organizational culture and change management during the past months at the University of Saskatchewan. The campus community has been involved in the impacts from TransformUS, a project that has been described by President Barnhart as “… too big, moving too fast”. “We have been part of a crisis…” (the President’s description of events) with activities unfolding in fast paced succession and resulting in the departure of several members of the senior leadership team. This astonishing progression was followed by a lull over the summer months as a modified leadership team met to determine a way forward.

During that time, although leaders were busy gathering information and consulting with stakeholders, there was little communication which deepened the feeling of suspension on campus. On September 9th, the President and senior team held a town hall meeting for the campus community and outlined their priorities for action this year. The majority of employees, I think, began to breathe again. Those who had resisted this change felt vindicated.

Although in normal times we take organizational culture for granted, in a crisis, which is usually characterized by accelerated change and often unpredictable outcomes, we long for familiar touchstones. Culture once established is difficult to change because it encompasses our overt beliefs and behaviours as well as those that are unspoken. When fundamental or transformative change is the goal then a shift in culture must occur if the change is to stick. This is why there have to be compelling reasons to initiate complex change. The cost of maintaining the status quo has to be higher than the cost of the proposed change to justify going ahead. Often, the change process involving a large scale change takes longer than predicted, and encounters more hurdles than anticipated.

There is a vast literature on managing change with lots of advice on doing it well and cautionary tales for failing. Daryl Conner and John P. Kotter are two researchers who have written widely and their theories and advice are quite accessible. Conner, author of Managing at the Speed of Change, addresses roles in change management. He examines peoples’ psychological reactions to change, namely that we fear disruption of our expectations and seek control in our lives. Since employees have to “come along” for change to succeed, the most effective employees are those who are resilient, that is, they are adaptable in an ambiguous environment. Resilient employees look for some degree of direct or indirect control they can exert in the change process; they can assimilate the pace of change around them; they accept that there will be micro levels of change (will my desk move?) as well as macro changes at the organizational level. We all perceive things around us in our own way, so different frames of reference have to be taken into account when asking employees to participate in the change process.

Kotter developed 8 steps to transforming your organization in a 1996 article called Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail in HBR that is still cited. Firstly, Kotter advises creating a sense of urgency around the change process otherwise it’s business as usual. Other steps include forming a powerful guiding coalition, creating a vision to direct the change, communicating that vision, and empowering others to act on it.

Returning to the impacts of TransformUS on the campus community, in my opinion, senior leadership could have been more effective in communicating the vision surrounding TransformUS. As well, they failed to modify the change process to take into account feedback from stakeholders who wanted their leaders to slow the process and be more forthcoming about the financial reasons for the initiative. On the part of employees, we didn’t model resilient behaviour that would have positioned us to view the proposed changes through a more neutral lens acting for the benefit of the institution. In the fall of 2014, calmer times prevail, to be sure; I have to ask – have we settled for the comfort of the status quo and will we pay a bigger price sometime in the future?

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.