On May 24, 2011, a group of volunteers met to begin planning the Year of Public Conversations.
We’ve posted the notes from that meeting and now we want to hear from the broader Harvard community.
Click here or on the “Read More” link to read notes from the meeting and post anonymously (you should also feel free to add your name if you like). Users can also vote “up” or “down” on all posted comments.
Year of Public Conversations
Initial meeting, May 24, 2011, 12-1:30 pm
Harvard Law School Library
Attendees: Priscilla Anderson, Dorothy Barr, Hal Bloom, Michael Bradford, Wendy Brown, Laura Farwell Blake, Krista Ferrante, Lisa Junghahn, Jonathan Kennedy, Mary Lee Kennedy, Sue Kriegsman, Rhea Lesage, Thomas Ma, David Osterbur, John Palfrey, Joshua Parker, Pam Peifer, Kenneth Peterson, Steven Riel, Kathy Rutter, Donna Viscuglia, Susan von Salis, David Weinberger, Marilyn Wood
Minutes taken by Kathy Rutter
Volunteers to participate in the planning of the Year of Public Conversations, an effort to support the Harvard Library Transition, introduced themselves. There was representation from many Harvard libraries, as well as the Berkman Center, HUAM, and OIS. John Palfrey described his role in the process, which would be to facilitate fundraising and to provide coordination (light-handedly).
The basic idea of the Conversations is to have the community meet to discuss both our library and what other libraries are doing, thereby engaging a broad cross section of library staff, faculty, students, and researchers, as well as people outside of Harvard. Over the course of a year, we would sponsor different events in different modes, from informal lunches to large presentations in venues such as Sanders Theater. We plan on one big kick-off program in September, with a few small forums over the summer. During the year a mixture of large and small events would take place on a regular basis. In addition to panels and single speaker forums, we propose such ideas as Oxford-style debates where issues could be discussed in both fun and serious ways. The group of volunteers to arrange these meetings and the many suggestions already received show diversity, at once broad, variegated and engaging.
During open discussion about the process, attendees expressed approval of having a variety of types of gatherings, but also recognition that for these events to help us gain insight we need to keep a record of each meeting.
For each event we recommend:
- Note taker, with every effort made to record presentations for later distribution
- Action items resulting from the program
- Inform the community of results of the discussion, in order to reach those people who cannot meet
Other ideas to stimulate thought during the year included a blog, with voting up and down as has been done on the Doing Things Differently Strategy Group model.
Questions which came up related to a definition of community:
- Is the outcome of this year to build our one community? We agree that people on the transition teams need guidance and input from faculty, students and frontline staff to create personal buy-in for these stake-holders.
- What is the “public”? All events will be open to everyone. Some of the topics suggested are limited to Harvard concerns, while others are international in scope.
- What is the process for selecting topics? The suggestions will be grouped to see which ones related closely and might be combined in one forum. This could also be a way to meld local practice with what goes on in the outside world.
- Should we exclude outside speakers or have a mixture of Harvard and outside speakers? The urgency of the transition makes it important to inform the process by gathering information from the greater world of libraries, museums and archives.
- Knowing that staff anxiety exists, how do we address this within Harvard?
Other comments included:
- A mix of public and private conversations will be important to get some energy and talk going.
- This is an opportunity to grow a new neural network, to provide comfort and trust-building, to restate everything to create a psychic infrastructure.
- This is new to us, so we can grow both new and existing thought and practice.
- Cataloging Discussion Group provides a model for informing one group of staff, but by regularly inviting speakers who are non-catalogers.
- We need to bring in more of our stake-holders: faculty, students and researchers. Meaningful continuous assessment is lacking. It has been hard to get these folk engaged. We should address how to involve them in future. Suggestions include sending invitations out broadly to other Harvard listservs besides HULINFO. We need to target those who do not use our resources (libraries, museums, archives).
John Palfrey’s list of objectives
Roughly it included
- Engagement of faculty, staff and students
- Serious fun topics
- Broaden mindset with external and internal perspectives
- Create forum of different issues
- Create a dialogue about innovation
- Development and training of staff
- Showcase the Harvard Library to the outside world
- Develop a simple assessment tool.
- Use this data at the end of the year to track which changes, outcomes, new neural networks have emerged.
- Encourage more discussion after presentations, either immediately after a presentation or even another day with or without the speaker present.
- Provide talking points. Large meetings lately have not provoked much public discussion. Is this due to time constraints or a culture shift? The space used for many meetings does not suit conversation. Other conferences and meetings, even at Harvard, have a more energetic and interactive format. The Berkman Center has successful un-conferences on a regular basis.
- Create a small meeting calendar.
- Style a big meeting after a conference format.
- Require name tags at all events.
- Be aware of the pitfalls of frequently scheduled events and conferences. Acknowledge the risk of fragmentation due to the fatigue of doing too much.
And more questions:
- Is once a week too much?
- What are the conversations we absolutely have to have this year?
- If we lock in six events, should we create a sub-tier of other sessions arranged for smaller groups? We could report out about the smaller meetings at the larger ones.
- Where are there good meeting spaces at Harvard in addition to Law, Lamont and Baker?
- How do we seek out minority voices?
Action items from this meeting are to look at the Berkman Question Tool, solicit more topics and distribute minutes from this meeting on HULINFO, sort the suggested topics by affinity and open a site hosted by the Office for Scholarly Communication to post minutes for comment.
Final thoughts of the meeting included some broad questions from the group, such as, are we as an organization more devoted to technology than books and place? How does this differ from library to library, faculty to faculty? We need to address the human element and recognize that people want to start learning new things now. This will address anxiety about technical and research issues that will arise with time. In addition to professional development but related to anxiety is to address the perception that decisions made about the future of the library are based on financial decisions. What do we lose by making consolidation decision based on financial probity? On the other hand, we can’t undo what has already been decided. When you lose expertise, how do you mitigate that?
Hearing from stakeholders will be both fun and rewarding, but we need to get buy-in from the administration and managers that staff will be given release time to attend events. This is crucial to the process.