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Introducing CDL’s Strategic Vision

When CDL set out to articulate a new strategy for our organization, we called the activity “strategic visioning,” not “strategic planning.” While a subtle distinction, it was a deliberate attempt to differentiate what we were doing from more traditional strategy approaches. We were not going to create a voluminous 5 year plan with specific milestones and goals, only to be quickly outpaced by reality. Instead, spurred on by Michael Edson’s cautionary tales of strategy gone wrong, CDL created a visioning activity that acknowledged change as the one constant we can count on. In the words of the resulting vision:

“We recognize that we live at a time of rapid and accelerating change, which leads us to de-emphasize rigid long-term planning and emphasize more agile behaviors. Through our strategic vision process, we enhance CDL’s ability to track new developments, assimilate them into our thinking, and continually adapt our day-to-day actions to changing realities.”

While the future can’t be captured and tamed with milestones and goals, we still needed to put ourselves in relationship to what’s coming. We found a powerful way to do so by articulating a set of trends as a catalyst for our visioning exercise. The vision emerged as we collectively imagined CDL thriving in a future dominated by those trends. It grew roots as we connected core CDL strengths from our past and present to this future.

From trend to vision, Act 1: Coalitions

“Universities, non-profits, private industry, government entities and NGOs will form partnerships to define and achieve goals, adjusting their local bureaucracies and incentive structures to actively cultivate cross-sectoral, cross-institutional engagement.”
Trend: Networks, Coalitions and Consortia

When we look at the world around us, we see that issues gain traction when all the right players come together. These deliberate coalitions are formed issue-by-issue, ensuring appropriate advocacy, buy-in and resourcing. For every issue we grapple with, we must ask ourselves the fundamental question: “Who do we need to bring together?” Therefore, our vision stipulates:

“While our endeavors are anchored in the teaching, research and public service mission of the University of California and its campus libraries, we continually strive to augment the University’s capacity through strategic partnerships with the broader library community and other collaborators.”

Building on core strengths: DMPTool

Already, some of our most important work is done in concert with partners near and far. One example: the DMPTool started as a conversation among the UC Libraries about how to help researchers with data management plans. The conversation quickly became national, and focused on developing a solution that worked for many institutions (currently, 230 across the US). Recently, the project hit another milestone by re-booting through an international collaboration with the UK’s Digital Curation Centre on a common consolidated platform applicable to any national context.

From trend to vision, Act 2: Impact

“The continued relevance of the academy will be measured by its ability to have a direct impact on solving real world problems in a rapidly changing environment.”
Trend: Institutional Priorities

As this 2015 Global Challenges Foundation report illustrates, the world faces no shortage of existential crises. Tackling these grand challenges is often couched in language that emphasizes innovation and progress in STEM fields. However, Heidi Bostic makes a compelling argument in the Chronicle of Higher Education that technology alone won’t save the day. In other words: we must marshall the expertise of the entire academy, including the social sciences, humanities, and professions. STEM breakthroughs may provide solutions, and at the same time, it requires a broader coalition to move solutions into any given cultural and historic context. The UCLA Grand Challenges are an example of a University embracing an approach that aims to mobilize academic capacity to address issues as distinct as LA’s long-term energy & water sustainability, and clinical depression. The recommendations of the Cancer Moonshot Task Force (particularly under their “Strategic Goal 2: Unleash the Power of Data”) illuminate how big progress on big issues relies on open publications and open data. CDL, and all libraries, enable scholars to go further faster when we act on our core value of openness:

“By recognizing the value of openness in all aspects of the scholarly enterprise, we respond to society’s need for unfettered information access to confront the critical problems of today and tomorrow.”

Building on core strengths: eScholarship

We already translate openness into reach and impact. For example, among the 70+ open access journals on eScholarship is the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, created by UC Irvine Emergency Medicine Chair Mark Langdorf. It makes the most up-to-date life saving information available to professionals working in emergency departments around the world. Had it been published as a traditional subscription journal, communities and populations without the means to subscribe would have simply hit a paywall, with literally life-threatening consequences for public health.

From trend to vision, Act 3: Resources

“As traditional institutions (universities, governments, etc.) are weighed down by decreased public funding and the difficulty of responding in an agile manner to new challenges, non-traditional players will have an opening to offer game-changing solutions.”
Trend: Funding Shifts

In 1990, the state funded 78% of the total cost of education for a UC student. Today, it only funds 38%. (Enough said.) In a resource-strapped environment, it is prudent to plan on making real progress within our current means. The stakes couldn’t be higher: for starters, we need to create sustainable pathways to Open Access, restoring faculty control over the research publications coming out of our institutions. At the same time, we need to ensure that research data become FAIR and first class research products that won’t need to be rescued from commercial interests in the future. When there’s so much meaningful work to be done, and ever fewer resources in any single institution to invest, we need to build partnerships that allow us to move forward. This brings us full circle and back to coalitions:

“In an environment of finite resources and rapid change, the collectives we form empower CDL and the UC Libraries to accelerate and fuel an expansive sense of what we can achieve.”

Building on core strengths: Towards a collaborative statewide service network

Thanks to generous LSTA funding from the California State Library, CDL has spent the past few years harvesting digitized collections from libraries, archives and museums (LAMs) across the state and making those materials available on Calisphere as well as DPLA. However, many LAMs still can not participate because they lack the capacity and resources to build and manage digital collections. Enter DPLA, with funding to help us get a collaborative statewide service network off the ground. This nascent network, which is planning to launch in 2018 with a small group of major public libraries and academic institutions in California (Los Angeles Public Library, San Francisco Public Library, University of California Merced Library, and University of Southern California Library – with CDL functioning as the DPLA Service Hub) seeks to fill this gap by providing, collectively, end-to-end services for these LAMs – from digitization and metadata creation to preservation, and access. Though still a fledgling effort, the good will and eager coalition forming around this initiative promises a level of service that not one of its members could achieve alone.

What emerges: The Power of Interdependence

Interdependence emerges as a natural result of our desire to make a big Impact with steady-state Resources through deliberate Coalitions. Interdependence means being in a relationship of mutual reliance – as both parties make decisions, they understand the consequences for the other party, and therefore find arrangements that allow everybody to thrive.

The Power of Interdependence, Take 1

“The eleven UC Libraries are a coalition that makes shared choices based on the benefit to each organization and to the system as a whole. As a result of these choices, the UC Libraries have become increasingly interdependent: in areas of shared effort or common concern, decisions taken by any single library may affect any or all of its peers and need to be considered in that context.”

Some of the UC Libraries’ most remarkable successes, such as our shared licensing of systemwide content, are based on relationships of mutual reliance. Every time we strike a systemwide licensing deal, we need a coalition of 10 campus libraries (plus CDL) ready to shoulder their share. If local budgetary circumstances force a library to drop out, the cost for the remaining 9 libraries goes up. Local decisions, systemwide consequences. We’re all willing to enter into this interdependence because the pay-off is reaping $4.50 worth of content for every $1 we spend together.

The Power of Interdependence, Take 2

“In some instances, CDL may adopt, extend, or collaborate on maturing collective infrastructure; in others, CDL may be uniquely positioned to contribute added-value network level-services to the digital library community, and shape the emerging ecosystem of these services.”

In other words: sometimes, the best way for us to serve UC is to serve the nation. And when others depend on us, they’re also willing to invest in us. That investment can materialize through grant support; or attracting a developer community to commit code; or simply gaining mind-share, commitments to adopt and promote, and other forms of intellectual engagement. And it goes the other way around as well: sometimes, the best way for us to serve UC is to rely on others. When we do, we invest in and leverage the success of services developed elsewhere that we’d otherwise have to develop ourselves at the cost of time, resources, and lost opportunities to progress on other priorities. Making smart choices about where services can best be sustained will help CDL create the biggest benefit for UC. While it’s more challenging to forge these kinds of interdependent relationships in a context beyond UC, many of our UC ambitions can be realized only through broader coalitions.


I am elated to be leading an organization that has contributed such tremendous value to the University of California over the last 20 years. Our new vision positions CDL to continue on that path, advancing the broader UC mission of teaching, research and public service. CDL has wholeheartedly committed itself to this new vision. In the spirit of embracing unending change, we’ve also wholeheartedly committed ourselves to adapting our plans, goals, and methods when there’s compelling evidence that they do not serve us well under circumstances we may not have foreseen. First and foremost, this vision is an invitation. Please join us. And please ask us to join you whenever we can advance library values and solutions together.
P.S.: A shout out and big thank you to Grace Boda (Center for Vital Partnership), as well as Leigh Marz (Marz Consulting), for the support they’ve provided us throughout the process.

Read the CDL Strategic Vision

To learn more about what CDL wants to create and how we plan to get there, we encourage you to explore the California Digital Library Strategic Vision.