CLIR as a College

By Charles Henry posted

Reading CLIR's Annual Report for 2013, I was struck by the wide reach of our programs, and the number of grants, fellowships, and contracts we gave back to our constituencies. The post doc program continued to grow with additional data curation fellowships; another round of fellows were selected for writing dissertations using original sources; another stimulated cohort graduated from the Leading Change Institute; the Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives program awarded a variety of institutions—public and private, small and large—support for revealing materials of essential scholarly significance. The Digital Library Federation sustained its remarkable invigoration with record attendance at the Forum and a steep rise in membership. This was by all measures a very good year.

Organizations naturally tend to account for their success in quantitative terms, but CLIR has a unique opportunity to interpret the substance of this activity from a new perspective: to draw a different kind of boundary around its programs and projects that focuses on the quality of the extraordinary participants we engage with. A salient, unifying goal of nearly all of our programs is to advance CLIR's mission by identifying and extending communities of practice through situating or “seeding” new leaders throughout the academy. These programs bring together senior administrators—library directors and provosts; mid-level leaders who often combine skills in library and computing areas; the most forward-looking information technology leaders; young scholars working on some of the most innovative and creative dissertation topics; new kinds of “hybrid” scholar/librarians, who are increasingly taking faculty jobs as well as library and information technology positions; the legion of graduate students who, for example, will work on revealing hidden collections of great scholarly import, as well as the graduate students who have recently conducted original research of the highest caliber. Taken together, these groups of leaders constitute a unique amalgam whose interests are integral to the successful evolution of scholarly communication. 

To date, more than 800 individuals have taken part in these programs. It is a flourishing of multiple perspectives: in essence, a core cohort that is able to collectively identify most of the transformational aspects of the early 21st century. In this light, the many-faceted programs within CLIR could be re-described as similar to a college curriculum that produces a socially cohesive community built on shared codes of conduct, intellectual rigor, and a commitment to experimentation and testing of ideas, with a mission to contribute substantively to our culture heritage. While virtual, such a college can provide the intellectual framework and organizational models to bring a greater coherence and constructive focus to evolve libraries and higher education in general. Our past participants and graduates are thus a most distinguished association of alumnae/i.

In 2014, CLIR will begin to organize and manage its accomplished alums and those currently in its programs as a college in support of its students and graduates, all of whom comprise a vibrant community of shared interests and experience. CLIR's work in strengthening communication with and facilitating career choices for this community will go well beyond providing a social network. Our alums represent an enviable pool of unique, critically needed talent—people who could be brought together in groups and cross-sectional teams to address some of the more vexing challenges facing higher education today. In this respect we aspire to create and nurture an alumni association that continues to exchange ideas and insight but also can be focused on specific, concrete challenges as consultants, researchers, and strategic participants.

A more concerted and tightly managed “campus” could assist in bringing into sharper, practical purpose this talented cohort in ways that apply their collective experience and knowledge to real world, practical opportunities and generate new research that will help inform higher education as it addresses some of the most daunting transformational challenges of recent times. It should be a very good year.