August 2015

Convergence: Planning, Budget Crises, and the Path Ahead

Although we’re in the summer doldrums, this feels like a good time to remind everyone of the value and importance of our planning efforts and the way that those efforts tie into the budget process. A short while ago, I sent out a note on our 2015-2016 hiring plan and a few words about the continuing budget uncertainty. It’s easy to feel like the looming cuts argue for putting everything on hold. How can we approve new positions when we’re also taking cuts? There are several answers to that question, and one is that because of our size, the churn of openings and funds to fill them means that we’ll be doing some hiring even in the direst circumstances.

The more important reason, however, is that the budget crisis itself calls for thoughtful consideration of what we do, of planning, of purposeful action, and of hiring in ways that continue to make us a vital part of campus. I have argued elsewhere (e.g., Meaning of the Library) that libraries have constantly reinvented themselves while paying attention to abiding elements of their identity. This attention to adapting to changing circumstances is a key part of our strength as a cultural institution. In the case of our Library, we have proven ourselves to be an organization the University depends on for its success, a key partner for our academic colleagues. The state budget pressures and the way that they transmit themselves through the University only means that we need to intensify our efforts: we need to ensure optimal impact with diminishing resources.

Our own planning efforts and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) Strategic Thinking + Design (ST+D) process are coming to critical junctures. You’ll have noticed the announcement about the August 26th Strategic Planning Deep Dive, this one focusing on the Research Library Ecosystem. Both of our guest speakers, Barb Allen and Jim Michalko, have considerable experience working across a range of institutions and with higher education more generally. Fall will be a fairly intensive period of bringing together the results of discussions and feedback to shape our plan. In ARL, after the October membership meeting, the ST+D process will move from a “design” phase to work by active committees. For the full ARL plan, see the ST+D website. I hope to see Illinois actively engaged in several elements of the System of Action, especially Collective Collections, the Scholarly Dissemination Engine, and the Innovation Lab. Our interests are represented in these activities, and I feel confident we can increase our impact and reduce our costs by collaborating with (and indeed leading) our peers in this work.

The state budget picture will have a significant impact on the University as a whole, and though the impact will be diminished in the Library, we won’t be exempt. Particularly as we face budget reductions, it’s time for us to give thought to those things of abiding importance, the ideas and principles that shape the Library and make it such an important part of campus. Our mission statement is a clear articulation of this, and I’d encourage everyone to remind themselves of the principles and ideas we find there:

The University Library is central to the intellectual life of the University. By providing and stewarding collections and content that comprise a current and retrospective record of human knowledge and by offering a wide array of services, it enhances the University’s activities in creating knowledge, preparing students for lives of impact, and addressing critical societal needs. The Library advances the University’s goals by ensuring unfettered access to information and by providing a network of expertise that ensures value, quality, and authenticity of information resources. The Library integrates and manages knowledge to enable learning and the creation of new knowledge.

Let’s work together this fall to find new and compelling ways to organize our work so that we can make the Library even better, to advance the interests of the institution, and remind our colleagues in the schools and colleges of the value of the Library as partner and leader. We’ll need to think creatively about ways that we can ensure the greatest impact with a smaller budget. I hope it’s clear that our planning process is key to doing that.

John Wilkin
The Juanita J. and Robert E. Simpson Dean of Libraries and University Librarian