Monday, July 11, 2005

Environmental Scanning, Pt 1.

When we do scanny presentations, we're often asked how we did the environmental scan by people who want to do one for their institutions, or who are just curious. I thought I had posted about this here, but it doesn't appear I have. So, I am going to do a few posts on this topic.

First the background.

Environmental scanning as a definable subject appears to have been around since the late 60s (references coming in a later post) but it doesn't seem to have gained a lot traction until the 80s to refer to the process of gathering and evaluating information from the external environment. But what became glaringly clear to me once I began researching in the summer of 2003 was that librarianship--at least according to the published record--had little awareness of the process and no application of scanning as a tool to drive strategic planning.

Looking for the subject heading "environmental scanning" in Library Literature yields articles on competitive intelligence almost all of which seemed to focus on librarians participating in CI in companies, or as a hot new area to exploit as part of the work of librarianship.

Now, I did find environmental scans issued by libraries and associations [pdf] on the web, but there's no body of literature within librarianship as there is for many other sectors. And it's not because this is work done only by for-profit entities. Lots of interesting organizations do scans.

I thought then and still do that the lack of environmental scanning done in libraryland is not good at all. How can libraries possibly make good plans for services, for populations, for the future without knowing (and I mean knowing in the empirical way....not "informed opinions") what demographic, political, economic, sociocultural, legal, technology trends suggest for our organizations?

At one presentation I gave, a librarian told me she initially wondered why a library organization would be concerned about trees. And however silly that seems, I certainly did not learn anything about strategic planning and the building blocks of the process at library school. I think I would have found that useful--perhaps more useful than the several "type of library" courses I took.

I became an environmental scanning evangelist only through the serendipity of being asked to anchor the project that resulted in our Environmental Scan. As Cathy, Lorcan and I looked at the hugeness of the topics we felt needed to be covered, I did a bit of ferreting around and decided that the structure of an environmental scan was the only way to corral the herd of information.

Next post: what is an environmental scan?


rochelle hartman said...

I'm so glad you're doing these posts! I was fixin' to do some sleuthing myself, so I could make sense of "scanblog." Thanks!--rochelle

Katie said...

Having graduated from UIUC in December, I can say that I was indeed introduced to environmental scanning in my MLIS courses. The required courses, Library Buildings, Collection Development, and Management courses covered the importance of knowing your community and performing environmental scans to assist in decision-making. I do not recall which literature we used to examine the process, but it was presented.