Nancy Kranich: Public Innovator Pick

This edition of The Harwood Institute’s newsletter features Nancy Kranich, Special Projects Librarian at Rutgers University Libraries and Lecturer at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information. From 2000-2001, she served as president of the American Library Association (ALA), focusing on the role of libraries in democracies. In addition to her myriad achievements, Nancy was instrumental in launching ALA’s partnership with The Harwood Institute. She has been a pioneer among academic libraries’ use of the Institute’s approach of “turning outward” – making communities and the people in them the reference points for taking action. Nancy recently co-authored an article about her work in this area, The promise of academic libraries: Turning outward to transform campus communities.

In the following Q&A, Nancy talks about her longtime work with The Harwood Institute and how it has changed her work and approach. Read the Q&A with Nancy. Click here to get the free Harwood tools Nancy describes in the Q&A.

The Harwood Institute: How – and when - did you first come into contact with The Harwood Institute? Nancy Kranich: I first met Rich in 2001 when I was President of the American Library Association. At the time I was in Washington, D.C. attending the Kettering Foundation Public Voice program at the National Press Club where Rich was a panelist. His ideas really resonated with me. Afterward, we discussed opportunities for working with libraries, and continued to pursue them over the years. I also invited Rich to address several library groups when we met in Washington. Although a 2010 IMLS grant proposal we submitted together to train librarians in the Harwood approach in partnership with the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers was not funded, it opened the door to future collaboration. As a member of the planning committee for ALA President Molly Raphael 3 years ago, I recommended Rich as a keynote speaker. He wowed the audience, and was embraced by the two subsequent presidents as well. Together, we were instrumental in forging a partnership between ALA and The Harwood Institute, leading to several successful grant projects and a longer-term commitment to innovation in the library community.

THI: Why did you decide to use the Harwood approach in your work? NK: Several years ago, I facilitated a dialogue at Rutgers University Libraries to help re-imagine our roles as liaisons to the campus community. We mapped new routes toward engaging faculty and students and embedding services in the teaching, learning, and research processes. A follow-up team identified engagement-centered themes -  “getting in the flow of users” - as vital to shaping our work. Although we hoped to leverage opportunities for greater impact and engage more authentically, we struggled to identify ways to begin.  After I participated in the 2011 Harwood Institute Public Innovator’s Lab, I decided to test the Harwood tools as a way to open a series of conversations on campus intended to strengthen our relationships and align our work more closely with the aspirations and concerns of the Rutgers community. This authentic dialogue opened new possibilities for librarians to engage more actively with colleagues across the campus, and led to numerous changes that have made our work more relevant and significant.

THI: What are some of the most helpful tools you’ve learned from the Institute, and how have you applied them to your work? NK: As the moderator of most of our community conversations, I really treasure the tools for hosting these events. Particularly encouraging is the reaction of participants who are eager to let us know how much they enjoyed and appreciated the conversations. They relished the opportunity to share ideas and build community; some continued their conversations for hours afterward. One said he found it eye-opening. Another said, “I enjoyed the discussion today—or, better, I enjoyed hearing the people you assembled to talk.” A third commented, “I heard so many good things about the undergraduate education forum. I only came one day, but it seems to have been quite a cast of luminaries over the entire "series." Many of my colleagues were speaking about it. Plot away...”

I also like to deploy the Aspirations Triangle for a quick way to bring people into a conversation.  I’ve used it as an ice-breaker, planning tool, and abbreviated conversation guide. Another valued tool is The Turn Quiz that I use to introduce the work to new audiences as well as contrast the inward versus outward inclinations of staff. Finally, I consider the Community Rhythms tool as unique in its capacity to calibrate the best approaches for particular communities to move forward together.

THI: What are some tangible changes you’ve made using the Harwood approach? NK:  We have made progress toward delivering more engaged undergraduate programs and services such as:

  • Building a strong Innovation Team to plan and manage conversations and participate in Innovation Space meetings;
  • Positioning librarians to engage more actively with the Honors Program, study abroad, distance learning, digital humanities, and other programs;
  • Strengthening on-campus partnerships including closer collaboration with the Zimmerli Art Museum and with Student Life that brought this year’s graduation ball, Club Alex, into the Rutgers Alexander Library—tweeted as “AWESOME” by one student attending the dance;
  • Launching teams focused on the undergraduate experience and global activities;
  • Recruiting librarians into redesigned roles that reflect changing community needs, including new Instructional Design and Undergraduate Experience positions;

We are now focusing on graduate students and global engagement/internationalization experiences at Rutgers. So far, these initiatives are underway:

  • Repurposing library spaces for more engaged involvement by graduate students
  • Planning, hosting, co-sponsoring and promoting graduate symposia and other interdisciplinary events;
  • Engaging more actively with Teaching Assistant training;
  • Closer collaboration with the Rutgers Graduate School.

THI: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment using the information you’ve learned through the Institute? NK:  When we inspire administrators and colleagues to support our efforts to turn outward, either at Rutgers or ALA, we have accomplished a great deal. And, when we recruit new librarians committed to community engagement, strengthen relationships, build new partnerships, and gain public knowledge about our community, we make real progress. In short, when we gain a better sense of people’s aspirations and concerns - confirmed by our colleagues and partners - we position our organizations to play a more active and meaningful role in the life of our community. At Rutgers, I knew we were on the right track when we shared our findings and recommendations from our graduate conversations with the Dean of the Graduate School, who responded: “Sign me up! This is what I think the grad school ought to be doing.”