CLIR’s New Informatics, Cultural Networks, and Knowledge Systems Division: Three Questions

This spring, CLIR established a new Informatics, Cultural Networks, and Knowledge Systems division. Chief Operating Officer Amy Lucko discusses the thinking behind the division’s creation and its role within CLIR.

  

What sparked the idea to create the Informatics, Cultural Networks, and Knowledge Systems division?

In many respects the formal creation of this division serves to clarify an already-existing structure. Our organizational mission calls for us to enhance research, teaching, and learning environments; to transform the information landscape to support the advancement of knowledge; and to promote forward-looking collaborative solutions in service of the public good. CLIR has always sought to create strong communities that collectively work on practical solutions to common problems, so the formation of a division dedicated to networks and knowledge systems followed almost naturally.

Some background: we’ve expanded our reach dramatically over the past decade or so. One might look to the creation of the Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives: Building a New Research Environment program we designed in collaboration with The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 2008 as the beginning of a new phase for CLIR. The program, which has since evolved to encompass digitization, was deliberately designed on a massive scale, with millions of dollars invested in projects led by a range of grantees, from small historical societies all the way up to national collaborations. In 2009 the Digital Library Federation (DLF), which had been incubated in CLIR before becoming a standalone nonprofit, elected to return as a CLIR program.  As part of this re-incorporation, the DLF implemented a new, open membership model, which led to its rapid growth. In 2012, CLIR and Vanderbilt University partnered to create the Committee on Coherence at Scale to foster strategic thinking across higher education. Conversations evolving from that initiative have since resulted in development of projects on a global level, such as the Digital Library of the Middle East and the nascent Pangia. We’ve affiliated with several community-based networks, including the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA), the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF), and the International Internet Preservation Consortium (IIPC). In 2019 we created a new position, Director of Global Strategic Initiatives; in this role, incumbent Nicole Ferraiolo leads our efforts to identify new, and strengthen existing, opportunities for strategic international collaboration with a particular focus on climate change and human rights. 

All this has been accomplished with a small, nimble, and immensely talented staff. And we are small; when I joined CLIR in 2003 we numbered only a dozen, and even today with our much-expanded portfolio there are only 20 of us. But then, to grow from 12 to 20 is not insignificant, and as we approached some important milestones– DLF’s 25th anniversary and the associated program review, the Leading Change Institute’s 20th cohort—the time seemed right to analyze our internal organizational structure vis-à-vis our wide range of existing and planned initiatives in service of CLIR’s mission over the next decade or more. It was as part of this deliberative process that we envisioned the creation of the new division with the specific directive to support networks, knowledge systems, and informatics.

How will the new structure facilitate CLIR’s growth? 

In his recent Rebuilding blog post, our president Charles Henry writes, “For over 60 years CLIR’s programs have received wide support because they bring coherence, predictability, and stability to the working environment of higher education and cultural institutions. CLIR has accomplished this by building communities of practice and encouraging interdependence, by funding practical strategies and systemic thinking for new challenges, and by promoting the development of thoughtful, ethical policies that encourage the respectful acknowledgement of many voices.” The new division is an innate fit for CLIR, embodying all these guiding principles. The DLF program and other initiatives situated within the division collectively represent networks that address grand challenges by developing systems that enable humanity to preserve and make heard all of our voices, knowledge, and memory. 

CLIR is itself part of many networks comprising institutions, communities, and, at heart, individuals. The new division acknowledges this reality and our appreciation of its importance to everything we do. For some of these networks we can serve the community by acting as a core, providing the foundation that enables a network to grow, thrive, and make additional connections, and that role is at the crux of this division’s creation. We have been inspired particularly by the DLF program and community; its grassroots working groups, inclusive and vibrant annual Forum, and support for numerous important collaborative efforts such as the D-CRAFT project provide the best model one could ask for. 

We expect the creation of this division, under the leadership of Chief Information Officer and Director of Informatics, Cultural Networks and Knowledge Systems Wayne Graham, will help us understand how we can better encourage and support collaboration and goodwill in and among our communities, and to design and implement new initiatives accordingly. That knowledge will then inform the development of CLIR’s short- and long-term strategic plans. 

The Digital Library Federation is now situated in this division. What other programs fall within it, and how do you see them working together?

chart
To view chart in larger format, click here.

In addition to the DLF program, our Digital Library of the Middle East and Pangia initiatives are in this division, as is our CIOs of Liberal Arts Colleges network and the HBCU Library Alliance Partnership. By aligning these programs in a single organizational unit, we are better able to provide a holistic view of the various projects that are undertaken by each. The new division will leverage this expertise to develop a common language across its programs that allow consistent, honest feedback on approaches and lessons learned, as well ensuring the right people in the room to work on problems that transcend a single institution. Our affiliates, while they don’t fall “under” the division since they have their own individual governance structures entirely separate from CLIR’s, are natural partners for the division’s work. 

One final comment: the term “division,” and the two-dimensional outline shown on our organizational chart, can be somewhat misleading. Our programs, projects, and initiatives are intertwined in ways that aren’t readily converted to a chart, and our staff work closely together on initiatives across the organization. Program officers on our grants team are in regular communication with those working on the DLF program, for instance, and our communications, outreach, and engagement staff are embedded in all our activities. The battle against silos is a constant for us as it is for everyone else, but we keep at it!