An Introduction to Systems Thinking for Librarians

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Abstract

According to environmental scientist and educator Donella Meadows, a system is a “set of things –people, cells, molecules, or whatever—interconnected in such a way that they produce their own pattern of behavior over time” (Meadows, 2008, p. 2). She further defines the system as being organized in such a way that it achieves an overall function or purpose. It is composed of interrelated elements which work together and never work independently of the whole. Every action of an individual system element has an impact on other system elements and on the behavior of the larger system in which it exists and operates.<br><br> Based on Meadows’ general description it is not difficult to envision the academic library and its various components as a system. Thinking more expansively, we can understand the library as a component of the larger system that is the college or university. In this essay I will introduce systems thinking generally and then discuss the ideas of systems thinker Barry Oshry. Oshry focuses specifically on the roles and responsibilities of individuals within the system. His thoughts are straightforward and pragmatic, and the points he makes about life in a system and his suggestions for improving it should be relatable to all.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAmerican Library Association
Volume36
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 3 2022

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