Scholarly Communication

Catalyzing organizational change

Strategies and tools to implement your scholarly communication agenda

Lauren Pressley is 2018–19 ACRL president, associate dean at the University of Washington (UW) Libraries, and director of the UW Tacoma Library, email: pressley@uw.edu

As ACRL President, I spend much of my time thinking about the priorities we have identified as part of our Plan for Excellence: our new signature initiative focused on equity, diversity, and inclusion; the value of academic libraries, student learning; research and the scholarly environment; and new roles and changing landscapes.1 Though this plan has designated areas of focus, I’m sure we all have had experiences that demonstrate that these themes intersect with each other. Thinking systemically across these themes, we can enable the evolution of academic libraries in ways that support our core mission across multiple domains of service.

Scholarly communication is a pillar within all of these areas. One theme within equity and inclusion is the need for an equitable research environment. The Value of Academic Libraries project speaks to helping students understand scholarly communication as a process, and student learning enables this work. The changes in research and scholarly communication have lead to academic libraries considering new roles. Scholarly communication is woven throughout the Plan for Excellence and the work that ACRL does.

The lens I bring to this work, from my experience working with four distinct libraries, is an organizational change approach. In this article I will put forward an approach to a localized scholarly communication agenda encompassing projects, programs, and mindsets within your own community.

My own work is heavily influenced by a number of thinkers. Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal’s Structural, Human Resource, Political, and Symbolic frames are important lenses in thinking about scholarly communication and the role of the library in that work.2 John P. Kotter provides a roadmap of eight steps for moving a group through change, catalyzed by a sense of urgency.3 William Bridges speaks to transition and considers the people involved in change through a humanistic lens.4 Peter M. Senge’s work on learning organizations provides a vision of an adaptable team that can respond to changes in the environment.5

This article will explore the first several steps of Kotter’s model. You’ll see foundations built from the theorists listed above, along with a healthy dose of systems thinking.6

Kotter’s general approach to organizational change

Environmental scan. Before beginning a change management project, it’s necessary to build an accurate understanding of the current environment. What does research look like at your institution? What is recognized in the tenure process? How do different disciplines use the library in their work? Who is interested in evolving their process, and what is their motivation? To build an understanding of how to pace your change, it is necessary to take stock of where your institution is, where your library is, and where your potential collaborators are with regard to scholarly communication.

Taking time to do this work will give you a sense of what appetite people have (or don’t have) for change and what visions exist within the organization. You will also develop a better sense of what capacity exists for change.

Develop a sense of urgency. Coupling knowledge of your organization’s capacity for change with an understanding of trends in the field and higher education will enable you develop a sense of urgency that makes sense for your context. A claim of urgency often has a symbolic aspect that draws people to the cause. During this phase, note what reactions exist within your community—from enthusiasm to nervousness—and begin to build a compelling case for change that is responsive to these reactions.

Build coalitions. From this urgency, you can begin to build coalitions. Coalitions can be built from shared passion and drawing in those with specific expertise. In addition to these natural allies, it is also important to engage with people across your institution who might not be as interested in your approach. Their critique can help develop a stronger vision and proposal, and if they buy into the change vision, they can be powerful advocates for change.

Develop a strategic vision. These coalitions are natural teams to collaboratively build strategic vision and create initiatives that move the vision forward. A strong vision is valuable symbolically and provides a mechanism for having conversations with stakeholders across campus. Initiatives can provide opportunities for people to engage as they have time and interest. They can provide symbolic opportunities to demonstrate the value of the new service or resource for campus, and they can create political will to attempt something more transformative as the vision moves forward.

Find your volunteer army. With urgency, stakeholder support and partnership, and a clear vision, you are well positioned to act. Action gives participants a stake in the project and a way to feel like they are contributing to the change. Working with people who are doing this work enables you to provide feedback on how the implementation is going so that people can see the effect of their work.

Remove barriers. As you move forward with your change agenda, it’s worth asking whether there are policies and procedures that are slowing or blocking change, and identifying ways to make it easier for stakeholders to move the change forward. This requires communicating that you are available to help and listening to collaborators as they describe challenges in the process. There may be roadblocks in people’s thinking, and even acknowledging that small projects are moving forward, that a particular conversation went well, or that you can see progress can help can improve morale through this process.

Short term wins. Another method for boosting morale and demonstrating the change is to identify and celebrate short- term wins. It is through short term wins that people can see “new beginnings” and build a better mental model for the new world that they are operating within.

Kotter goes on to include two additional steps: sustaining acceleration and instituting the change. In thinking about your own institution’s scholarly communication needs and change, you can apply this framework to develop its scholarly communication program, and once your organization is regularly achieving short-term wins, you can use Kotter’s model to solidify the change within your institution.

Case 1: Introducing digital scholarship through pedagogy

The scholarly communication environment encompasses a number of movements. One case that I am deeply familiar with is the introduction of digital scholarship practices. Working as an instructional design librarian at a mid-sized institution at the cusp of Web 2.0, I was fortunate to be positioned as part of the introduction of the methodology to campus.

Faculty themselves had a sense of urgency, as they were genuinely curious about what students were doing with emerging social media platforms. As an instructional designer, I found that a number of our faculty felt the world shifting around them and wanted to think about potential implications for their work with students.

Through consulting with faculty interested in adopting active learning practices that made use of new tools, I inadvertently built a coalition of interested faculty who were open-minded about scholarly practices. Through one-on-one conversations with these colleagues, we developed a vision for what students’ scholarly work might look like in a class that made use of new tools and technologies. We built on information literacy principles and pushed at assumptions about what student research could be. Some faculty began to see the potential for their own work, and were energized in thinking about what they might be able to do. Many of my library colleagues began doing this work with their subject-area faculty as well, using assignment design and information literacy sessions as a way to start conversations about pedagogy.

At that point, in working with the library’s technology department, we tried to find ways to make it easier for faculty to engage in this work: we offered WordPress hosting, toolkits, training, among other initiatives. We removed barriers through instruction sessions to students so that faculty could focus on content, but students still had the tools needed to succeed with new types of assignments.

Ultimately, a large portion of the library staff and many faculty across disciplines became engaged with this process, and found demonstrable short-term wins: a successful class, a faculty member publishing on pedagogy in this new information environment, and digital scholarship output by faculty, to name a few. These short-term wins rolled into sustained change reflected in the liaison program, the organizational chart of the library, and the way the library positions its work on campus.

Case 2: Creating structures to support emerging scholarly communication practices

My current institution is also thinking about our scholarly communication agenda, through the lenses of digital scholarship and open access. Our catalyst moment was due to new leadership—in the library, in academic affairs, and in a new chancellor for the campus. This transition gave us a moment in which to pause, create a new strategic plan, and reorient ourselves to the current reality.

As a result, the librarians pulled together and collaboratively redefined what it meant to be a subject liaison. This process meant selecting areas we could automate, devote less attention to, or streamline. It also meant identifying areas that needed more attention and focus. Supporting scholarly communication rose to the top of list of services that needed additional focus. With this shared understanding among the liaisons, we began developing a vision, which we continue to refine in light of new variables in our environment. We restructured staff lines to support this vision: positioning one of our librarians as head of our Digital Scholarship Program, repurposing a vacant line to be an instructional design librarian who would work with faculty in ways that support emerging practices, and planning to repurpose another line to be a data and digital scholarship librarian.

With this shift in our understanding of liaising and with new colleagues that have jobs built around emergent areas of expertise, we have created an army of librarians able to build on the ad hoc work we have done for our campus in a more programmatic way. In this case, we are progressing through the change, but we have begun to see initial changes and early wins that are building momentum for our new scholarly communication agenda.


  1. “ACRL Board to Establish New Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Initiative,” ACRL Insider, accessed August 18, 2018, https://www.acrl.ala.org/acrlinsider/archives/15380. See also “ACRL Plan for Excellence,” ACRL, www.ala.org/acrl/aboutacrl/strategicplan/stratplan, accessed August 18, 2018.
  2. Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal, Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership (Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass, 2017), and Lee G. Bolman and Joan V. Gallon, Reframing Academic Leadership (Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass, 2011).
  3. John P. Kotter, Leading Change (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2012).
  4. William Bridges, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes (Boston: Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2004).
  5. Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (New York: Doubleday, 2006).
  6. Peter Senge, “Navigating Webs of Interdependence,” YouTube video, 5:16, posted by “Social Media,” September 13, 2011, https://youtu.be/HOPfVVMCwYg.
  7. “SPARC/ACRL Forum,” SPARC, www.sparc.arl.org/event/sparc-acrl-forum-emerging-issues-scholarly-communication, accessed August 18, 2018, .
  8. “Search Results for research agenda,” ACRL Insider, https://www.acrl.ala.org/acrlinsider/?s=research+agenda, accessed August 18, 2018.
Copyright Lauren Pressley

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