Springboards for stategic planning

Early last Fall I had the opportunity to see two influential library personalities speak to the future of librarianship: Reva Basch and Clifford Lynch. In a time when change is the norm, describing the future of anything seems a bit ludicrous. Similarly, planning may seem to be a waste of time. You might say, "How can I make plans when I have no idea what is going to happen in the future?" It may seem ironic, but these are the exact times when planning, specifically strategic planning, is most beneficial.

Definitive articulations describing the purpose of strategic planning usually revolve around business models, but they all allude to a process of discovering "future opportunities and threats so as to make plans to exploit or avoid them..."[1] The processes of stragegic planning are a necessary part of managing libraries, any library. By listening to the presentations of Ms.Basch and Dr. Lynch, I have been able do a bit of personal strategic planning. Maybe you can use these presentations as a springboard for your own strategic planning processes.

Reva Basch

Reva Basch
Reva Basch

Reva Basch gave a talk at the Research Triangle Institute on September 17. Ms. Basch has been a proponent of online searching for more than a decade and considered to be one of the foremost experts in the field. Currently she operates her own business called Aubergine Information Services.

The title of her presentation was "Search Engines, The Web, and the Future of the Online Industry". In it she endorsed Web sites like Greg Notess' Search Engine Showdown [2] and Danny Sullivan's Search Engine Watch & Report [3] as an excellent sources for search engine metrics. She also listed a number of her favorite Internet search engines, but acknowledged that each had different strengths and weaknesses. Of note, she was intrigued by Ask Jeeves [4], a service, more than others, supporting natural language queries and uses its own internal knowledge base to find answers to queries. She did not dismiss the value of the meta-search engines either like Inference Find [5], Internet Sleuth [6], and Dogpile [7].

She remembered the good ol' days when 300 hits from a DIALOG search strategy was too many, and, like everybody else, she experiences thousands of hits returned from your basic Internet search engine. She believes the solution to this problem is a better understanding of the strengths and weakness of individual services as well as a knowledge of more focused search engines, specialty search engines. The word "aggregate" was mentioned more than once during her talk and she believes the future of Internet search engines lies in the aggregation of Internet sites and indexing those sites accordingly. To this end, she also endorsed the notion of "guru" sites, Web sites whose purpose was to collect and organize links of Internet resources surrounding specific subjects.

As a good librarian, and it was obvious she considered herself one, she also advocated traditional reference sources as well as traditional online search services for the location of information. This is nothing new, but its refreshing to hear from an acknowledged expert.

Finally, she stressed the importance of communicating with fellow information professionals for the purposes of learning about new tools and techniques. She paraphrased Pogo, a legendary comic strip character, and said "we are confronted with insurmountable opportunity." Considering all the changes in our profession and society's insatiable desire for information, she can't be very far from the truth.

Dr. Clifford Lynch

Dr. Clifford Lynch
Dr. Clifford Lynch

Four days later, on September 21, Clifford Lynch spoke at Duke University. Sponsored by the University's Librarians Assembly, Dr. Lynch's presentation was entitled "Current Issues in Networked Information and Scholarly Communication". As the Executive Director of the Coalition for Networked Information, Dr. Lynch's presentation was a bit grander is scope than Ms. Basch's.

Dr. Lynch began by stating the years 1997 and 1998 represent a "watershed" for scholarly communication, specifically electronic journals. While experiments investigating the means for electronic scholarly communication hav been taking place for at least decades, it wasn't until very recently when the electronic journal has come into its own and publishers have made commitments to making digital versions of their journals available.

In making these digital journals available and then licensing them to libraries new problems few people know how to solve have emerged. One such problem is access to the journals when an intermediary, say an Internet service provider, goes down and consequently limits access to the materials. Similarly, how are scholars suppose to site electronic serials? While a simple citation may be suffice, again, access to the cited material may be restricted since a reader of the citation may not be able to read the cited text in question. Another problem created by these licensed journals is readability. Few people seem to be comfortable reading these texts online and the entire process has essentially created the world's largest print queue since everybody is printing the articles.

Despite these shortcomings, Dr. Lynch did see one favorable thing in this situation. Ironically, that thing was copyright. At least in this model, the model where journals are licensed from publishers, a person knows where to seek copyright permissions. In the model proposed in the early part of this decade, where the author, college, or university owns the copyright, seeking copyright permissions would be much more labor intensive. On the other hand, the second model also had the underlying assumption that copyrighted materials were freely distributable as long as the materials were not distributed for a fee.

Lynch went on to predict the creation of new raw materials for scholarly investigation. Four in particular were the subject (aggregate) Web site, time limited events like the Olympics and business meetings, and political campaigns. Each of these things are dynamic and represent snapshots of perspectives and history. Given new computer technologies and faster network connections, these sorts of "collections" could be archived, evaluated, and indexed for future research. The most intriguing of these possible raw materials was the business meeting proposed by people at Xerox Parc. In such a scenario everybody would be equipped with electronic devices recording events in the meeting. There would be a clock in the "room" broadcasting time stamps to everybody's hardware and software. When the meeting was concluded, everybody could take their notes, reuse relevant parts for other purposes, and save the entire thing for future reference. Who would save it? Libraries of course.

In summary, Dr. Lynch wanted to impress upon the audience the dual nature of the networked environment we are presently experiencing. On one hand there is the traditional literature of the Internet. On the other hand there are new forms of communication and information being created because of developments in computer and networked technologies.

Plan for the future

Few, if any, people successfuly predict the future with 100% accuracy, but there are experts who have wider perpectives than the rest of us and consequently, are more apt to see what lies ahead. Libraries of the future will always be keep in one ear tuned to the experts and one ear tuned to their individual experiences. Use what you hear to plan your future. Try to see the forest from the trees and plan for the future. Your vision may not be the one everybody else sees, but at least it will provide a framework for future decision making and enable you and your library to evolve with our dynamic professional environment.


  1. George A. Steiner, Strategic Planning (Free Press: New York, 1997), pg. 20.
  2. http://www.imt.net/~notess/search/
  3. http://searchenginewatch.internet.com/
  4. http://www.askjeves.com/
  5. http://www.infind.com/
  6. http://www.isleuth.com/
  7. http://www.dogpile.com/

Creator: Eric Lease Morgan <eric_morgan@infomotions.com>
Source: This is pre-edited version of Morgan, Eric Lease. "Springboards for Strategic Planning," Computers in Libraries 19(1):32-33 (January 1999).
Date created: 1998-11-26
Date updated: 2004-11-14
Subject(s): Basch, Reva; Lynch, Clifford; strategic planning;
URL: http://infomotions.com/musings/strategic-planning/