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Systems thinking is many things to many people. We, the authors of this article, each describe it in a different way: Lorri Zipperer sees systems thinking as a way to see interconnectedness through understanding how actions affect one another in both the short- and long-term. Sara Tompson sees it as a set of methods for long-term problem solving. And Rebecca Corliss uses systems thinking as a way to see the big picture. Our goal here is to demonstrate the relevance of this multifaceted philosophy to librarians and information professionals.
At its core, systems thinking is a way to view the world, including organizations, from a broad perspective that includes structure, pattern, and events, rather than just the events themselves. In other words, to perceive the whole, the elements of which continually affect each other over time and operate toward a common purpose. Systems thinking includes watching for and identifying leverage points and recognizing feedback from the system to mitigate failure and build on success.
Systems thinking enables individuals and organizations to study and understand interaction between entities, that is, individuals, departments, or businesses within an organization. These entities, in turn, produce behaviors that feed back into the overall output and processes of the organization. With systems thinking, the views of those who embrace it are expanded to take into account increasing numbers of interactions as an issue is being studied. This breakdown of parts can result in strikingly different conclusions from those generated by traditional forms of analysis, especially when what is being studied is dynamically complex or garners a great deal of feedback from other sources, whether internal or external. Systems thinking can help position information professionals to exert a more effective impact and to …