October 2016

State of the Library, FY17

I recently celebrated my third anniversary at Illinois. At three years, I have the feeling that I arrived only yesterday. And yet three years is a long time: you’ve grown to know me better, I have a much better sense of our library, and together we have accomplished some notable things. I’m extremely proud to be a part of this Library, proud of all you do, and extremely grateful for your commitment and support in accomplishing our goals.

The State of the Library address was a regular part of Paula Kaufman’s service as dean. It’s a very good tradition that provides us with an opportunity to take stock, to contemplate our accomplishments, and to get a sense of where we go next. It’s also helpful to deliver a State of the Library address in light of the state’s budget challenges.

In the midst of the state and institutional chaos, we are a beacon. I have talked to you often about the unique role of the Library as “constant” in an environment of continuous change. Our core principles and roles are constants, even as our work changes dramatically. That constancy lends something important to the entire UIUC enterprise. This is so because our colleagues on campus can depend on us, because of their appreciation for the Library, and because of the excellence of our work. And despite the fact that we do function as a constant and are so appreciated, we are not completely buffered from the impact of external issues. I’ll talk briefly about impact, but I do want to thank you for the way you’ve handled the pressures and contributed to the campus’s sense of well-being.

I have long appreciated the greatness of our library. It is hard to be a part of the profession and not have a deep admiration for the University of Illinois library. My appreciation has deepened since arriving. Yes, I am deeply appreciative of the extraordinary collections, something I will never take for granted. Our acquisitions program remains strong despite challenges: for example, we did not let difficulties stand in the way of experimentation and innovation, exploring things like JSTOR and Muse Ebook pilots, and an initial pilot project with Kanopy on streaming media. But there is so much more to our excellence than collections.

The remarkable knowledge and skill of our library faculty and staff contributes both to our effectiveness and to the respect our colleagues have for us. The education and experience of our civil service staff (many of you with advanced degrees) is a special asset for our Library. Our library faculty are true leaders in the profession, shaping the work of archives and libraries around the world. I hope our faculty and civil service staff will not begrudge my taking a moment to give special recognition to our APs. Our Academic Professionals are remarkable in the degree of deep knowledge and experience they bring to the library. In addition to their work in our Library, they are frequently leaders in the profession. Their contributions to our Library have been exceptional and I know that we all recognize that it’s time to find a way to acknowledge those contributions in more meaningful ways.

From the perspective of having worked in several libraries and having had extensive contact with many others, there are several special traits of our Library that I would like to call out. There is a remarkably collaborative spirit in all of our endeavors: the sense of territoriality I have frequently seen in other libraries is nearly absent. You all demonstrate a personal and professional “ownership” of our role and mission. The way that you pull together to address challenges, and the way that you shoulder great responsibilities is nothing short of remarkable.

Our leadership as an institution is unquestionable. It has always been so. We shape the literature of the profession, we excel in modeling the faculty librarian, our pioneering use of library technology has been distinctive, and we have contributed significantly to the ways our profession does its work. Recently, the leadership of our Library made it possible for the Illinois State Library and CARLI to become a DPLA Service Hub, which in turn made possible a significant grant. Grants, generally, are a good example of the role we play: in 2015, we helped secure more than $2m in grant funding, often by other schools and colleges, but in ways that would not have been possible without our contributions.

Here are two nearly random pieces of information that I’d like you to ponder. First, we have worked actively to reshape our libraries in ways that are responsive to the campus and in ways that have given us the flexibility to take on new responsibilities. Yet, even as we have contracted in the number of our locations, the number of people coming into the library has increased: over the last 10 years, visits to the library have doubled, from just under 2.5 million per year to almost 5 million per year, and they continue to rise steadily each year. The second point I’d like you to consider is our growth. In the midst of stark challenges to recruitment, we have filled more than 20 faculty and academic professional positions in the last year. Those of you who were at the retreat will recall my asking everyone who has joined us in the last three years to stand. Our transformation as an organization is remarkable. Your excellent work makes all of this possible. Simply put, the campus would not entrust us with more resources if we were not as successful as we are.

While I do want to acknowledge issues–issues that we saw, for example, in the ClimateQual review–I also want you to know how much I cherish the sense of community and collaboration I see in the Library every day.

There is so much that’s positive, but I don’t want to sweep the problems under the carpet. Let’s talk briefly about the state and university budget situation and the way it has affected us:

  • The state budget situation remains uncertain, despite stop-gap support. We are unlikely to see resolution of the budget issues before the November elections. I’ll be frank: I believe the uncertainty is more damaging than the reduction in support.
  • We have experienced continuing “churn” in the administration of our university. Not to put too fine a point on it, changes at the top make it more difficult for us, as an institution, to move ahead. We have been in a holding pattern for too long.

I will add, though, that with Ed Feser and his team, we have had strong, decisive leadership and an emerging strategy, and that bodes well.

How has all of this affected us? First, we’ve gone two years without salary increases. While I’m not personally responsible for that, I do want to apologize to you personally: you deserve better. Second, we’ve taken reductions in our budget for two years: the operations budget has declined by nearly $2m, and our collection budget has been flat while we’ve grappled with 4-5% inflation. That’s tough.

And yet the truth is that, as an organization, we’ve excelled. We’ve absorbed the cuts without layoffs. We have continued to grow our services through reallocation and increased efficiencies. We have launched new services through that growth and through campus support, e.g., OVCR’s support for Illinois Research Connections. Our relationship with the provost and the respect we have on campus has positioned us well.

Throughout this period of challenges, YOU have been creative in your approaches to address pressing problems and WE have continued to move forward. Our facilities continue to improve with external support–thank you for your patience and support with the replacement of the floors in Main, the doors in Main and Undergrad, and the retrofitting of Hort. We reshape our services to be more cost-effective and stronger. And our productivity improves through consolidation and restructuring–I’d like to call out Kyle Rimkus and DCC as a good example. We have many successes in the face of diminished resources. And, I’ll note, donor support is still strong and we have received some notable gifts.

I hope that you feel as I do that the effect of the state and university chaos has been relatively modest. The impact on morale is something that concerns me, but I cheer myself by noting that we are at least as strong as we were before these problems hit. Incidentally, I hope you all saw the media coverage we received in the last month. Colleagues at ARL hailed the News-Gazette article saying our library is the sort of library we should all strive to be. The campus press release on the Research Data Service and Illinois Data Bank was wonderful. And the ARL profile of our scholarly support services demonstrated the breadth of our long-term commitment.

FY16 Accomplishments
It’s time for me to talk about our FY16 accomplishments. One of those accomplishments was the process that resulted in our Framework for Strategic Action. We adopted that Framework in December of 2015. I hope you’ll agree that the process was outstanding, particularly with regard to the way we thoughtfully and inclusively explored issues and collectively articulated a vision for focusing our work in the next several years. I want to thank Lisa Hinchliffe for her work in that effort.

Recall our mission. These key elements of content stewardship and services that enhance “the University’s activities in creating knowledge, preparing students for lives of impact, and addressing critical societal needs” are central to everything we do. I would like now to remind you of the four major areas of work we identified for that Framework, and encourage you to explore the more detailed four or five sub-bullets in each that you’ll find in the online version. I know that each of you will find yourselves in the elements of the plan:

  1. Strengthen the campus infrastructure to support scholarship and innovation.
  2. Ensure an integrated and coherent user experience of library services focused on user success in information retrieval and use.
  3. Maximize the use and impact of library services, collections and spaces.
  4. Capitalize on the University Library’s national and international leadership to strengthen the research library ecosystem.

The work we have done–the work that I will talk to you about today–advances each of these elements of the Framework. We can take pride in all of our accomplishments.

Organizational Growth
We continue to evolve organizationally. Many of you will recall our discussions around organizational restructuring, with these goals:

  1. Increase our impact and ensure better alignment of goals, resources and outcomes;
  2. Give the AULs more authority by moving work done in a matrix model into a formally-structured organization with better accountability in both directions;
  3. Complement a vigorous use of matrix models with a well-defined organizational structure;
  4. Sustain the collective sense of responsibility that shared governance brings while organizing work and reporting lines within areas of library scope.

Embarking on that process of changing the way we do our work is a commitment to continuous adjustment, finding ways to improve the organizational model and address issues. It was my hope that, through this kind of change, we could be more nimble, more intentional, and distribute responsibility for moving our organization forward. The organizational work continues. It will occasionally be manifested in specific ways, such as JoAnn Jacoby’s hiring as AUL for User Services, but also Beth Namachchivaya’s work in shaping the Research portfolio.

I hope you also appreciate the way that the restructuring contributes to the strategic planning process and even to the work we did restructuring CAPT. Especially with regard to Strategic planning, you’ll have already begun to notice a stronger role for the AULs, and you should soon see from them a document that will build on our work over the last year to shape the next retreat.

There are a number of ways that we attended to how we get our work done.

  • The creation of the Business and Human Resources Service Center is one; while Greg Knott would be the first to say that it’s a work in progress, we now have much tighter integration between budgeting and HR issues, and have benefited from that in terms of the efficiency of our processes.
  • This last year, we completed analysis of the ClimateQual data, and have begun an effort to give continuous attention to the lessons learned. The most recent formal steps included focus groups this summer, where the group we contracted with to run the focus groups noted the passionate engagement of our faculty and staff and a sense our faculty and staff have of the Library as “one community.” They also helped us identify communication deficiencies and their review reinforced the sense of friction between different types of positions within the Library, something I believe we all want to address.
  • We have launched an effort to create a promotional framework for our Academic Professionals. I will note again how critically important it is to our organizational health to succeed in this and related AP endeavors. That promotional framework will complement the collective bargaining done on the behalf of civil service staff and the promotion and tenure framework for our faculty.
  • A number of Task Forces completed work that refine our processes or give us organizational tools. I’d like to call out two:
    • The work of our task force on Reproduction and Use Rights should streamline workflows, bring us into compliance in the way that we handle funds, and make it easier for scholars to use our digital resources. This is very important philosophical positioning: for too long, we have made the public and the campus pay to use public domain content. We can’t afford to give away our labor, but we must open our collections to the world.
    • The task force on the Residency Program has given us a path for hiring early career faculty in visiting roles that may strengthen our organization and contribute to the profession.

I would like to take a moment to acknowledge Carissa Phillips, Kirstin Dougan, Travis McDade and Sarah Williams for stepping up to serve as interim heads of libraries.

Facilities and Infrastructure
For the last several decades, our spaces have been particularly challenging. There have been notable accomplishments like building the Oak Street Library Facility, the construction of the RBML vault, and the creation of outstanding libraries like Grainger and Funk ACES. Nonetheless, the Main Library and our environments for rare and archival materials continue to need attention. While the proposed Master Plan was intended to address these issues, I cannot help but conclude that the concept is sound but the plan is flawed. Others in the Library and on campus have echoed this perspective. Our best hope is to aggressively address immediate concerns and capitalize on opportunities that present themselves.

I appreciate the patience you have all shown as, for example, we undertook work to replace the floors in the Main Library, but this is an excellent example of capitalizing on an opportunity and where the campus gave us special attention in its prioritization of project funding. I’ve included a slide here of the many projects that we undertook in the last year,

  • Architecture & Art Library – 6 floor electrical outlets to the reading tables.
  • Communications Library – Furniture, Equipment and Flooring.
  • Grainger Engineering Library & Information Center – IDEA Lab – New collaboration project between the College of Engineering and Grainger Engineering Library Current proposal re envision the west end of the basement level
  • Grainger Engineering Library & Information Center – Coffee Shop
  • Horticulture Field Laboratory – University Archives NEH Grant Remodeling
  • Main Library – Corridor flooring replacement and stair renovation
  • Main Library and Undergraduate Library – Exterior door replacement and hardware upgrade
  • Main Library – Room 200 & 225 Rearrangement   
  • Main Library – North Basement Sidewalk Replacement
  • Main Library – Exterior Railings installed at the north retaining wall set of stairs and the south entry granite stoop.
  • Main Library – West Basement Entry Ramp Revisions
  • Main Library – Parking Lot E3 Steam Tunnel Rehabilitation
  • Main Library – Grand Stairs, Oak paneling and trim cleaned and oiled.
  • Main Library – 1st Floor Restroom Renovation.
  • Main Library – Preservation 425, 425A, 425B, 425C, 427, 429, 437 and 439.
  • Main Library – Parking Lot E3 Drainage Project
  • Music and Performing Arts Library – Reconfigured Circulation and Reference Desk
  • Music Building Wayfinding and Life Safety Improvements
  • Oak Street Library Facility Vault III north compartment – mobile shelving installation.
  • Rare Book & Manuscript Library – Processing Area Furniture.
  • UGL – Technology Services ICS Lab
  • UGL – Media Commons – staff relocation
  • UGL – Exhibit space on the upper level adjacent to main entry

but will call out a few:

  • Two of our facilities, Horticultural Field Lab and Oak Street, are less visible to most of us, but critical for us in our ability to get work done. With NEH support and Library funds, we were able to improve the environment for archival materials at Hort, including climate control and fire suppression. At Oak Street, we not only built out the third storage module, but also outfitted space for the CMS unit, which will move to Oak Street. Our ability to manage our tremendous collections depends on state of the art facilities, and the changes at both locations are important. I’ll note that we have also begun an effort to rationalize holdings in light of a more comprehensive storage strategy, e.g., playing a larger role in the Big Ten Academic Alliance.
  • Obviously, we replaced the floors in Main Library. Soon, we’ll have the doors in both Undergrad and Main replaced. You may have noticed that the Undergrad doors received an honorable mention in the Daily Illini’s competition for nicknames for Lovie Smith’s new defense. They wrote: that “one reader sent in, ‘The UGL Doors.’ He added, ‘Nothing stops people in their tracks like poorly designed, heavy doors, and that’s how our defense should operate.’”
  • And we’ve undertaken other efforts to improve our service orientation, from the creation of the IDEA Lab in Grainger, to the imminent move of CAM to what I hope will be more ergonomic space in Room 1, to the consolidation of services points in Classics and Lang/Lit and the transformation of the Vet Med Library. We have used opportunities to adapt our spaces and services to contemporary user needs.

I would be remiss in not highlighting the work of Library IT and colleagues throughout the Library in attending to that other form of infrastructure, our technology. Library IT migrated over 100 production virtual servers from Library-owned hardware to the Technology Services’ managed virtual power plant. This has resulted in substantial cost savings for the Library, as well as improved up-time. Similarly, the work of Library IT with a cross-library team has launched a new Digital Library application that will simplify the way we manage our digital images, allow us to retire ContentDM, and make our digital collection building more usable, more scalable and more cost-effective.

I want to highlight a few of the outstanding services we launched or enhanced in the last year.

  • As I noted earlier, our partnership with the Vice Chancellor for Research has been a boon to us in launching new services. The launch of Illinois Research Connections took place last year, thanks to support from Peter Schiffer and the hard work of Rebecca Bryant and others. Also by virtue of the advocacy of OVCR, the Research Data Service became a presence on the campus, and we launched the Illinois Data Bank, one of the most impressive data repositories in the country.
  • We revamped and consolidated service points, including the creation of a single service point for Classics and Literatures and Languages on the 2nd floor of the Main Library. Soon, Vet Med will leverage a transformed space to offer a model of embedded librarianship.
  • We grew our scholarly communications efforts, including establishing a publishing program in support of a partnership with Historically Black Colleges and University’s (HBCUs) and IPRH’s Humanities Without Walls grant. The addition of a Copyright Librarian will help us build further capacity in this area.
  • We rolled out a free document delivery service for faculty, graduates students and staff. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is, helping to shape a more tightly integrated perception of “discovery to delivery.”
  • Assessment, which influences how we understand and shape the work we do, is critically important. In the last year we:
    • Launched a learning analytics projects, lead by Jen Yu, with the goal to map the Library’s impact on student success and retention.
    • With funding from the Assessment in Action project at ACRL, we conducted an in-depth study of English as a Second Language Instruction and applied the results to improve student learning and retention.
    • And we completed the Ithaka Graduate Student Survey, in partnership with the Grad College, giving us better data to improve services.

While this success is due to the work of all of you, we occasionally have the opportunity to acknowledge individuals for their contributions and leadership. I’d like to note the award of two endowed professorships this year, the Andrew Turyn professorship to Chris Prom for his work in digital archiving, and the Berthold Family Professorship to Bill Mischo for his work in discovery. And sometimes it’s the small things that warm my heart: I appreciate having the budgetary capacity and campus support to be able to convert the visiting appointments of a few of you–Miriam Centeno, Dan Tracy and Bethany Anderson–to permanent appointments.  

As I conclude, I’d like to reflect on a few of the hopes I had when I arrived in 2013. There were several ways I wanted to help us move forward. These were goals I felt were reflective of our organizational and institutional strengths. They were also goals that I believed would help advance both our mission and the mission of research libraries more generally.

  1. Whether we call it “scholarly communication” or “publishing,” I believe libraries should play a leading role. The way that academic scholarship is produced and disseminated must change to be financially viable and to reach the intended audience. The University of Illinois is uniquely situated to have significant impact on this problem. The faculty in our schools and colleges give more weight to the value of research in their work than faculty do at most other institutions, and they produce more of it than their peers do. Our library faculty have a closer relationship to them. Changes here could be very influential. Our partnership with IPRH and African American Studies, as well as the i-School, and the generous support of the Mellon Foundation, has helped us raise the profile and scale of our efforts.
  2. Soon after I arrived, it struck me that our organizational model did not let us maximize our impact, and yet the role of faculty governance was critically important to the health of the Library. Together, we have strengthened organizational decision-making in such a way that it complements faculty governance. Although we must continue to refine that organizational model, I am proud of the work we have done together and believe it contributes to our ability to navigate the budget situation.
  3. As I looked at our work in digitization, particularly with Google, I was puzzled by the relatively small output from our great Library. In 2013, despite having one of the finest collections in the country as well as a commitment to work with Google, there were only roughly 100,000 volumes in HathiTrust from our collection. We trailed many of our lesser Big Ten colleagues. Over these three years, we revitalized the conversation with Google and now we have well over 500,000 volumes in HathiTrust. We will soon pass all but the largest Google digitization partners. This is not just a numbers game: the cost savings for us are in the tens of millions of dollars, and our very rich collections have enhanced the collective collection, both in terms of historical contributions but also with Illinois state documents. There are important opportunities ahead if we can leverage materials like our RBOS materials. I will only add to this a note of caution: the window of opportunity with Google digitization won’t remain open much longer.
  4. I hoped that we would lead in shared curation, both in the shared management of print and in shared curation of digital data of all sorts. We are making some important strides in some of these areas, and have laid the groundwork for future successes.
    1. In the Big Ten, we played an important role in the first phase of the Shared Print Repository effort by contributing a significant number of volumes. We are hard at work on a plan to assume primary responsibility for the second phase of the SPR.
    2. Shared data curation continues to elude the library community. However, I feel hopeful that our successful launch of the Illinois Data Bank (IDB) and the role of the Research Data Service in national, collaborative efforts will position us to play a leading role. Time will tell.
    3. Related to this, the strength and growth of Medusa, our digital repository, gives us a tool for leading in digital repository efforts because our solution is effective, scalable, flexible, and cost-effective.
    4. On the home front, thanks in part to Tom Teper’s leadership, we have intensified our efforts in providing more coherent collection management. Those efforts include the contribution of more than 40,000 volumes to the SPR, which I mentioned moments ago, as well as deduplication of other volumes. I hope that our more intentional print management will position us well when other shared print opportunities emerge.

I want to emphasize how critical these efforts are, and yet how very challenging it has been to move the needle. Our success as libraries will depend on the ability of research libraries to find scale and efficiency opportunities. If research libraries are able to preserve the cultural record more effectively and in ways that drive down our collective cost, they will better serve their users and they can reallocate funds to improved services. Progress in the digital arena has been too slow and our community has been resistant to change. The University of Illinois is a leader in print and data curation, and showing leadership in the community by creating options and smoothing paths to these shared strategies can change the landscape.

There was more. For example, I hoped we might have a dramatic reshaping of our web technology. Overnight, of course. We have made progress here, as well.

Thank you for allowing me to spend a moment at the end sharing thoughts about my hopes and dreams. These have all been important areas of work, and you have been a part of trying to move the needle, even where the needle is essentially stuck. I hope that you all feel you can take pride in the successes of the last year, in the way that we have contributed to the health and success of our campus during a period of turmoil, and in the very important ways that we have advanced the interests of libraries everywhere.

In ending, I want to do two things. First, I want to challenge all of you. We are a unique library: we are without peer in the way that we bring together extraordinary research capacity, operational excellence, outstanding collections, and a strong partnership with our faculty in the schools and colleges. I’d like you all to give some thought to the challenges facing our universities and our libraries, and consider ways that the University of Illinois Library can make a difference. We have the capacity to change the world in both small and big ways. And, finally, let me again thank all of you. Our efforts as a library are always collective efforts, and your good-spirited hard work has made everything possible.

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