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Penn Libraries Digital Strategy, 2022-2024

Libraries of the future must pioneer change rather than merely manage it.

A person wearing a face mask turns the page in a manuscript while streaming on a laptop

This document provides an overarching strategy that is a conduit between the 2020-2025 Libraries’ Strategic Plan, Penn’s strategic priorities and the Libraries’ digital services and systems. It assumes full alignment with the mission and values of the Libraries’ Strategic Plan, and the University’s Compact “to pioneer change rather than merely manage it.” It provides more detail of the “how” the Libraries will implement the digitally-focused goals of the Strategic Plan. It draws attention to the often-invisible digital infrastructure and skills that contribute to all of the functions and services in the libraries today, with a goal of ensuring sustainability and scalability for services new and old.

The implementation of the Digital Strategy will enable Penn Libraries to rapidly plan for and support digital initiatives, from the everyday to the experimental. It will embed assessment into planning and promote continuous adaptation and learning by detailing what is required to create a dynamically-staffed, learning organization. The goals of the Digital Strategy are to achieve resilient systems, increase our agility and capacity for growth, manage change and evolutions in services, and thereby foster innovation. The Digital Strategy will enable Penn Libraries’ users to understand the breadth and depth of the information, materials, and services offered; incorporate those services seamlessly into their preferred manner of work; and associate the library with the creation, production, and preservation of knowledge and information.


Plan, implement, scale, and sustain digital technologies and practices that enable Penn students, researchers, scholars, and their collaborators to function skillfully and competitively in a digital world.

In our strategy, we will:

  1. Design & develop with a HUMAN-CENTERED FOCUS: Understand the Penn environment and design services conform to users’ needs and workflows.
    1. Ensure the relevance of our digital services and systems to Penn’s academic pursuits and programs.
    2. Emphasize and adopt research and assessment techniques to ensure that we understand Penn users’ needs.
    3. Align our digital development with teaching and research practices, collaborative needs and users work styles.
    4. Ensure the usability and accessibility of all Penn Libraries digital services and collections, including through the application of standards and use of testing protocols.
  2. Create & sustain FUTURE-CENTERED INFRASTRUCTURE: Assemble a scalable digital infrastructure that propels Penn’s preservation of, creation of, and access to knowledge.
    1. Rationalize the Libraries' software and platforms stack to ensure technical sustainability, modularity and cost-effectiveness.
    2. Understand and manage technology costs and forecast expertise and resources needed.
    3. When making technology investment, consider architectural and organizational context and dependencies, and choose architectures that involve strategic collaborations.
  3. Inspire & empower EXCELLENCE IN DIGITAL LEADERSHIP: Establish and share repeatable digital governance principles, processes, and best practices to enable and steer innovations and global collaboration.
    1. Develop the digital literacies and technology skills of Penn Libraries staff that align with the Libraries’ strategic priorities, effectively conduct their work, and improve services to end-users.
    2. Develop and communicate strategic priorities that advance innovation, and support and maintain the work of the Libraries.
    3. Conduct active environmental scanning and foresight analysis.
    4. Establish and follow principles to guide our decision-making about how we invest our resources in technologies and skills.

Digital Governance Principles

  1. Require evidence before investment
    New services emerge from proof (not speculation) of need and projected use.
    Greater/wider needs are prioritized over narrower needs.
  2. Be user-informed
    All new digital projects should include input from service end-users.
  3. Design for continuous improvement
    New services should always include a means of monitoring and reporting on usage.
  4. Build elegantly
    Support scalability, and superior functionality by creating modular, integrative, adaptable systems.
  5. Design for self-service and/or automation
    Automate when staff workflows can be improved or maintained while reducing cost.
    Enable self-service for end-users whenever possible.
  6. Assess cost-efficiency
    When reviewing applications, assess sources for cost-efficiency.
  7. Be standards-based
    Utilize established standards in the development or acquisition of new systems, to enable interoperability and collaboration within the Penn community and beyond.
  8. Review and document trade-offs
    Weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the following considerations when making decisions about developing or purchasing technology solutions.
    1. Buy vs. Build
      Buy off-the-shelf solutions whenever appropriate and consider solutions from ISC when they are available.
    2. Open Source vs. Proprietary
      Develop using open-source code when appropriate.
    3. Open Access vs. Restricted Access
      Develop or purchase solutions that enable open access when appropriate.
    4. Mobile-friendly
      Develop or purchase solutions that are mobile-friendly when appropriate to users’ needs.
    5. Local vs. Cloud
      Consider the total costs, including hardware, staffing, scaling storage, transaction processing, when assessing hosting solutions.
    6. Ethical, Secure, and Lawful practices
      Consider whether any product or code respects the privacy, intellectual property, and accessibility needs of its users.