Community and Collective Action

Thursday, September 5, 2019

In 2019, the CRL community marks a milestone in its history. Founded in 1949, the Center for Research Libraries has proven to be a successful and enduring framework for building community and facilitating collective action in and among the research library community. CRL’s seven decades of sustaining success is a testament to the creativity, commitment, and excellence of many, both past and present, including CRL staff, the many librarians and scholars who have served on the CRL Board of Directors and CRL committees, and to all of the librarians, archivists, funders, and strategic partners who have contributed to and sustained CRL programs and activities.

Last month, I joined CRL as its new president. Joining CRL during the year of its 70th anniversary has me contemplating more than I might on themes of continuity and change. It is no secret that the information ecosystems of which libraries are an essential part have for some time been experiencing waves of digital disruptions which constitute existential challenges, pose fundamental questions, and present extraordinary opportunity. My predecessor at CRL, Bernie Reilly, has described these changes as representing a “sea change.” Without doubt, the questions facing research libraries are many and important. From the challenges of ensuring equitable and sustainable access to reliable information in digital contexts, to questions on how best to advance values of diversity, equity, and inclusion to build community and foster the creation of knowledge, research libraries are rightfully engaging with and centering questions that speak to our core professional values.

Despite the seemingly omnipresent change in research libraries, there are continuities of which I am confident and in which I take heart. I am confident that some of the deepest first principles of academic librarianship—defense of intellectual freedom, celebration of diversity, advocacy of responsible stewardship, promotion of social responsibility and the social good—are not only still relevant, but are essential guides as we work to shape new ecosystems of knowledge generation and sharing. I have confidence in the continued power of community, and believe that research libraries, working together at scale as well as through partnerships with those who share our mission and values, among them scholarly societies and university presses, can achieve great things. And I take heart in the fact that for seven decades, the Center for Research Libraries has proven to be a successful model for community building, shared infrastructure, and collective action to promote the values of research libraries. From its original founding in 1949 by ten member libraries in the Midwestern United States, today CRL represents a partnership among over 200 voting member institutions across the United States and Canada. Recent expansions into Asia and Europe suggest that CRL’s founding premise—the power of community and collective action to address shared challenges and promote the values of research libraries—not only remains relevant, but is poised for growth.

I am unabashedly enthusiastic about the ongoing important work that research libraries must undertake in shaping the rapidly evolving ecosystem of information and knowledge generation, and excited about the opportunity to work with the diverse CRL community to collectively address the shared challenges facing research libraries. I look forward to our work.

Greg Eow
Center for Research Libraries