By Stephanie Baltzer Kom
“In the 21st century, I think the heroes will be the people who will improve the quality of life, fight poverty and introduce more sustainability.” – Bertrand Piccard
The above quote perfectly addresses what libraries, archives, and museums (LAMs) strive to contribute to society. Piccard’s use of the word sustainability is directed more at environmental sustainability (that aspect will be addressed in this short essay), but sustainability has larger dimensions in the LAM sectors. There are challenges that reach across the sectors and sustainability is one such challenge. This theme was articulated by professionals from all three sectors as seen by our Collective Wisdom cohort’s attendance at their three national conferences. Another theme that was brought up repeatedly was that LAMs benefit greatly from the ability to work together. How can we bring those two themes together? Examining the aspects of sustainability and then giving an example of two projects that cross sectors can inform and promote future projects.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines sustainability as: the ability to last or continue for a long time. This is one of the goals of any LAM organization. A common definition of sustainability is concerned with the physical sustainability of buildings and operations. Many LAM organizations have been designing green buildings or making their buildings and operations more environmentally friendly for many years. This does indeed contribute to their sustainability by impacting the bottom line and improving community relations.
Although this is an important and possibly the best known aspect of sustainability, our conference attendance showed that the sectors are very much looking at other aspects of sustainability. They are concerned with organizational threats like succession planning and fair labor practices. In succession planning, one needs to transfer the knowledge base from one generation to the next —especially problematic with the beginning waves of Baby Boomer retirements. Many of those professionals have worked in their institutions for several years and hold a lot of institutional knowledge. It can create a number of issues when that knowledge doesn’t make it to the next generation of employees. That can have varying degrees of effect on the sustainability of the organization.
Fair labor practices also fall into the sustainability aspect. Many LAM organizations rely on unpaid internships and volunteer labor in order to function. The conferences showed that professionals are starting to bring the issues inherent in unpaid labor to the forefront with sessions that addressed the issue. This affects the sustainability of organizations since it is difficult to recruit and retain quality labor when there is no pay involved.
Perhaps one of the least addressed sustainability issues was continuing education (CE) and professional development (PD). There are many CE and PD opportunities in all 3 sectors, including a few that have the ability to cross sectors; however, they don’t get advertised effectively to cross-sector audiences. Often because a training is offered by the Library of Congress, other sectors will automatically think it is only geared towards librarians and no one else.
How can we move sustainability forward across the sectors? Here are two examples of how that is already happening:
- An excellent example of LAM organizations working together for the sustainability of their organizations is Nexus LAB: Leading Across Boundaries, led by the Educopia Institute. This project addresses some of the professional sustainability threats to LAM professionals. It brought together a broad range of LAM professionals to design a training curriculum that reaches across the boundaries of LAM institutions. The curriculum can be taken by professionals from across the sectors and used to increase leadership capacity in the respective professions.
- Another example of a project that crosses the sectors and addresses sustainability is the Digital Preservation Outreach and Education Train-the-Trainer This is a project of the Library of Congress, which addresses an issue important to all three sectors —digital preservation. The training curriculum isn’t designed for just one sector and has trainers from all three sectors.
Imagine the other areas of training curricula that could cross the sectors. Areas like collection organization and development, preservation topics, metadata, diversity and inclusion, etc. could all benefit from cross-sector collaboration on CE/PD opportunities. The conferences showed us that the same themes are being addressed in all 3 sectors, sustainability being one theme. If there was a concerted effort across the sectors to work together, amazing opportunities could arise for not only the professionals but also for the communities we serve.