May 2018

Associate University Librarian (AUL) Roles

Those of you who attended the March and April faculty meetings heard me talk about retooling the way that we appoint our Associate University Librarians (AULs). In the faculty meetings, as well as in Executive Committee and Cabinet discussions, I’ve explained that my interest lies in improving what we do in the Library. Our current AULsTom and Cherie’—have done an outstanding job in helping advance our collective interests, and I intend to adjust practices going forward while retaining them and their expertise. I’ve been grateful for the feedback everyone has provided, and I hope both faculty and others in the Library will continue to provide feedback.

Our AULs are also associate deans and, like the associate deans in other schools and colleges, our AULs hold faculty appointments and assume responsibility for a portion of the organization’s administrative functions. In this way, we are like other schools and colleges. However, associate dean appointments in other schools and colleges are term appointments made from within the college. Our appointments are open-ended and, while we may appoint our AULs from within, we typically arrive at that conclusion after a national search for an individual with a distinctive background.

As I’ve considered these differences and the role the Library plays on campus, I’ve concluded that adopting the model used in other schools and colleges will benefit us in a number of ways. AULs appointed from outside of the university will first need to get to know people and processes that are often unique to Illinois; one of the benefits of appointing from within the library is that the individuals we appoint (like Tom and Cherie’) bring a deep knowledge of our institution. When we appoint from within the Library, our colleagues outside the Library are also more likely to come to know and appreciate our administrators (e.g., as they serve on campus committees) and we’re more likely to build connections across campus.

Another way that I intend to diverge from the traditional model of AUL appointments is in the way that our associate deans represent areas of library work. In seeking AULs, libraries look for super-specialists, people who have risen to a certain level within the profession because of their success in a specific domain, and who are hired to represent that domain within the Library. The role of the AUL or associate dean should be to ensure effective resource allocation and management of functions, not to serve a partisan role for the domain they represent and where they made their mark. An effective AUL will understand the value of all of our functions and should be able to effectively represent many areas of library work.

The term nature of these appointments for our AULs can also be beneficial. As these individuals move out of their current roles and assume administrative responsibilities, we can backfill appointments. After a typical term of five years, the breadth of experience these individuals will have gained can be brought to bear in ways that help the Library or the university address needs; we will have helped develop depth in the organization and the institution more generally. By doing this, we’ll increase the number of people within the Library and the institution as a whole with administrative experience.

It’s also the case that the individuals appointed to associate dean positions in other schools and colleges tend to be full professors. We know well that administrative responsibilities can seriously impede a faculty member’s progress with their research agenda. Having reached a more advanced point in their career, individuals can more easily return to that research agenda once an appointment ends as well as make occasional contributions while serving as AUL.

These early thoughts can help shape a strategy even as we acknowledge that, in doing this, we’ll need to figure out many things. Questions like what work the AUL does after the appointment ends or the nature of the backfill will depend on the context and the individual. The areas of responsibility we assign to each AUL, the number of AULs we need and can afford are questions that we will answer in the coming months. In any case, I believe this strategy will strengthen the Library and strengthen our ties to campus. I see this strategy contributing to our having a meaningful place in programs like the appointment of Provost Fellows and the BTAA Academic Leadership Program.

I appreciate the fact that we will have many questions to address as we move in this direction. For this strategy to work, it’s incumbent on all of us to attend to promotion of our faculty, to ensure our Library faculty leaders have exposure to a broad range of functions, and to get outside perspectives by hiring early career and department head librarians who bring a diverse set of experiences. I feel confident, however, that our rich library culture and engagement with the university will aid us in making this approach beneficial. I look forward to more discussions as the spring progresses.

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