Partnering in the Research and Learning Ecosystem: An Interview with Mary Lee Kennedy

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The new executive director of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) discusses the association's future vision and its plans for collaboration with partners to ensure meaningful contributions to higher education, research, and learning.

Partnering in the Research and Learning Ecosystem: An Interview with Mary Lee Kennedy

Mary Lee Kennedy

Mary Lee Kennedy began her appointment as executive director of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) on April 1, 2018. ARL is a nonprofit organization of 125 research libraries in the United States and Canada. ARL's mission is to influence the changing environment of scholarly communication and the public policies that affect research libraries and the diverse communities they serve. ARL pursues this mission by advancing the goals of its member research libraries, providing leadership in public and information policy to the scholarly and higher education communities, fostering the exchange of ideas and expertise, facilitating the emergence of new roles for research libraries, and shaping a future environment that leverages its interests with those of allied organizations.

Kennedy came to ARL from her position as principal of the Kennedy Group, where she partnered with organizations to empower local and global communities to create and use knowledge that enhances lives. She has a wealth of experience in academic research libraries and knowledge corporations, most recently at New York Public Library (NYPL), where she held the position of chief library officer (2013–2016). Before going to NYPL, she served at Harvard University as senior associate provost for the Harvard Library (2011–2013) and as executive director of Knowledge and Library Services, Harvard Business School (2004–2011). Prior to her roles at Harvard, she was director of the Knowledge Network Group at Microsoft (1998–2004).

Recently EDUCAUSE President and CEO John O'Brien had a brief chat with Kennedy about what lies ahead for ARL.

Is a vision taking shape as you think of the next few years for ARL?

ARL's 2033 vision is to be a collaborative partner within a broader ecosystem of higher education. Research libraries will be even more intimately engaged in supporting the full life cycle and activity range of knowledge discovery, use, and preservation, as well as in curating and sharing knowledge in the diverse contexts of the university's mission and of society more broadly. ARL, as an organization, will enable and catalyze research libraries to leverage and mobilize individual assets toward the collective advancement of learning, research, and societal impact.

We are reviewing our progress toward this vision. Our review is focused on our work in advocacy and public policy; research library leadership; diversity, equity, and inclusion; cultures of innovation; an efficient, effective, equitable, and enduring research and learning ecosystem; research and analytics; and the ARL member experience. Once we complete the review, we will establish our strategic priorities for the next few years. More to come.

Expanded Partnerships and Collaboration is one of three strategic priorities for EDUCAUSE.  What about ARL? What partnerships with EDUCAUSE are you proud of?

Scholars and students depend on easy access to the expertise, services, and information needed to conduct research and to learn. Meeting their needs requires collaboration with a variety of research and learning staff. Research librarians' roles have evolved from being focused on collections to encompassing collections, services, and scholarly communications. Those roles continue to evolve with responsibilities in publishing, digital scholarship, learning centers, research data management, and museums.

Given the digital focus of research today and the rate of technological innovation, much of our work—both in our member libraries and collectively as an association—depends on strong relationships with our IT peers. ARL's joint support with EDUCAUSE of the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) since its founding stands out as an example of what we can accomplish together. We also partner with EDUCAUSE on public policy, such as net neutrality, and on working toward standards and practices to create efficient and effective means to discover, manage, share, and preserve information on local, national, and international levels. I look forward to building on our successful partnership and to creating new opportunities in the future.

What does the library community struggle with most when it comes to technology integration? How can EDUCAUSE help?

Great question. Scholars and students want an easy way to get the research and learning support they need. They want to be sure of their abilities, and they want to be confident that the information and tools they use are relevant and trustworthy. They want to be able to focus on the research and the learning, not the process. Decision-makers (e.g., funders, senior administrators, national bodies) want to know that the investments they make in research and learning support systems have a significant positive impact. They want to be confident that their organizational teams work efficiently and effectively. Together, ARL and EDUCAUSE can find even more successful ways for research libraries and IT organizations to improve the research and learning process and experience for all of their stakeholders locally, nationally, and internationally.

What exciting innovations are ahead at ARL?

As you know, innovations are difficult to predict. Our members innovate in many ways, as do our partners in the research and learning enterprise. ARL's focus is on creating the means by which ideas can lead to broad adoption in the most impactful ways—by informing, shaping, and as appropriate, stewarding the innovations. Given the significant changes in education, research, and learning, I believe we'll see innovations throughout the process of discovering, learning, creating, and disseminating new knowledge. Examples include new standards, practices, and policies to connect dispersed and fluid forms of information—in trustworthy, equitable, and enduring ways. This is particularly urgent for research data but is needed for other forms of information as well, such as rich media. ARL is committed to equitable access, and we will build on our successes with open-access monographs, in the digital humanities and more broadly, by exploring new forms of publishing and by encouraging diversity and inclusion in how we develop and describe our digital collections. We are shifting our research and analytical programs to focus on research libraries' impact on higher education, research, and learning outcomes—a shift that could lead to opportunities for innovation. And as research librarians' roles evolve, we will create innovative programs in collaboration with partners to ensure that, together, we can contribute in meaningful ways to higher education, research, and learning.

Of course, innovations are always emerging, and I'm excited about what we may discover as we talk with our partners and move through our priority-setting work.

Mary Lee Kennedy is Executive Director of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL).

John O'Brien is President and CEO of EDUCAUSE.

© 2018 Mary Lee Kennedy and John O'Brien. The text of this article is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.