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Square Peg, Round Hole: Big Picture Planning and the Opportunities and Limits of Design Thinking

By Ashley Roach-Freiman
Research and Instruction Librarian
University of Memphis

Introduction

Strategic planning is an important issue in academic libraries, and a practice that doesn’t often come easily. Recent literature shows that academic libraries suffer the consequences of poor planning by struggling with low morale, personnel turnover, and burnout (Kendrick, 2017). In an effort to combat and prevent such situations, one Instructional Services department at a large Southern urban graduate-degree granting university library sought ways to plan for the future. As a department, we were in a unique position, having recently acquired several new faculty members, replacing others who had retired or otherwise left. The incoming librarians included a hire new to the university, a Department Head who had served recently as Interim Dean of Libraries, the former Dean of Libraries returning to the faculty,  and myself, a librarian formerly in a visiting position with this department who had left the university for a period of months before being rehired in a tenure-track position.  We needed an opportunity to both get to know one another as colleagues and determine the department’s vision at a crucial stage of growth. To help the department heal from the effects of high turnover, we planned for a two-day departmental retreat to take place during the university’s Fall Break. Inspired by recent trends in library planning, we decided to incorporate design thinking methods into the retreat’s structure. After discovering the open-access IDEO toolkit Design Thinking for Libraries, we created an agenda that led us through brainstorming, ideation, and goal-creation.

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