April 2024

Happy spring! I hope everyone is hanging in there as we sprint through the last month of the semester. Spring is also the time when we will pivot to revising our strategic plan and (at least parts of) our leadership structure. As many of you know, Sara Holder and David Ward will conclude their terms of service as Directors this August. Serving in an interim administrative role is often a challenging and thankless job, and even more so through a dean transition. David and Sara have been wonderful colleagues and have advanced our work meaningfully during a time of extreme ambiguity, and I am very grateful to them both. I look forward to formally thanking and recognizing them this summer.

As they prepare to step down, the inevitable question, “What next?” arises. As we ponder and plan for this organizational change, we also have a chance to work with the Provost’s office on our new strategic plan, aligning it with the forthcoming new campus strategic plan. This is a golden opportunity to take a breath, to think about the values we uphold as a university and how they translate to our library environment, to ask challenging questions about our roles as information professionals and library workers. I have been keeping a list of big questions as I have engaged in conversations with all of you, and I hope we will each bring these and other ‘sparks’ into our planning.

I’ll just throw one out that Victor Jones Jr. and I were discussing earlier this week as we pondered the fish, lake, and groundwater problems* that exist within racial justice and broader DEIA work: what would it look like to center our work around accessibility? To truly lead with an expectation of universal design, and not from an accommodation mindset? Another one that I am sure is on everyone’s mind to some extent is: what is our computational future? What role will advanced technologies, be they generative AI or analytic AI or massive data repositories or digital humanities tools, have on our core programs and services? Where are we uniquely positioned to be actors in solving information problems, and how can we effectively engage with our scholarly community to do this? And perhaps the biggest and most challenging question: how do we define our core and foundational commitments and work, and how do we manage limited financial resources to sustain our core while advancing in newer or developing arenas?

While I do not know the answers to these questions, I do know that continuing to work on a positive, strengths-oriented culture in our Library will give us the best possible chance to be successful. Part of that work includes commitments that I have to keep before me as dean. Here are a few of them: I promise that I will work to make this and future planning processes as transparent and inclusive as possible. I commit to providing clarity about ultimate decisions to the greatest extent possible. I care deeply about a co-designed process, and believe we will be at our best if we bring many voices into conversation. I will do my best to remember to lead with: what do we value about [X]? and what are we concerned with preserving and sustaining in [Y]? Change is inevitable, but it is the way we meet change, and how we celebrate and appreciate what is good about each other that will help us truly thrive.

See you in the planning room!

*The Groundwater Approach is a metaphor and framework used by the Racial Equity Institute (REI). The BTAA Libraries collectively have invested in REI training for our faculty and staff. If you haven’t attended and are interested, please reach out to Victor!

Claire Stewart
The Juanita J. and Robert E. Simpson Dean of Libraries and University Librarian