September 2015

2015 State of the Library
(Based on notes from the Library Update given on August 27, 2015)

The recent controversies that have rocked our institution have been disappointing. Without a doubt, Phyllis Wise was a great chancellor who made important contributions to Illinois and helped us move forward from another set of challenges. To be clear, just as certainly, the way that Chancellor Wise conducted her work was wrong. We are a better institution and we can do better. I want to speak today about the state of the Library, and the state of the Library in the aftermath of these events.

The University of Illinois is more than the sum of our controversies. We transcend those controversies, and even a troublingly long period of problems. We will find our way: it’s just a matter of time. We are a remarkable institution with a commitment to making a difference in the lives of ordinary people. Our focus is not narrow or parochial. Rather, it is ambitious and pragmatic. We are not regional: our engagement is worldwide. Controversy continues to surround the role of the sciences at Illinois and their place in response to the controversies–wrongly, in my opinion. Yes, we are a comprehensive university, and yet science (and science that makes a difference in the world) is part of our identity. We have long committed ourselves to education for citizens who would be engaged in all endeavors, including and especially the sciences, serving ordinary people with extraordinary aspirations.

Some Remarks on Identity
The Library has always been loved by, and continues to be an important part of, the campus. I need to talk about “greatness” in a way that makes humble midwesterners uncomfortable. The Library has always been great.

  • Many of you know the history of the Library and the role it has played in the state. Our inception and initial funding was recognized in a foundational commitment from the state. We were conceived as our state’s library in a very real sense, and those early investments were made accordingly.
  • We have been influential in the way that we have organized the work of libraries: historically (departmental libraries were a model for deep engagement) and currently (strong research agenda, practice influenced by scholarship and research more than any other institution). I do not attend a meeting with other library directors without someone remarking on the way that we, more than any other library, represent an ideal form of engagement with research and practice.
  • Our collections are and have been influential: our breadth, specific foci like slavic, math and classics, and of course areas of distinction like Archives and RBML.

The literature on the history of our Library makes clear the way that these things converge to create an unparalleled institution. We see this daily in our work with the faculty and their deep appreciation of the Library. An example that highlights the strength of our collection is our recent work with Google, where they continue to find great pockets of public domain material here that they did not find elsewhere or were unable to digitize from others. Our collections are remarkable.

Budget Reduction
Greg Knott will provide the specifics of the budget reduction [click here to view Greg’s presentation], but I’d like to talk a bit about where we are and how we got there. First, the specifics: our operations budget will be reduced approximately $877,000, and this amount includes fees for campus programs. Our collection budget will remain flat. Our new budget is approximately $42m. There are several very positive things to say about this.

  • First, in the context of the planning we did this Spring, we have already absorbed this reduction. It is what we planned for and Library Finance has implemented these reductions. There are no surprises, and it does not represent a significant hardship. Let me be clear: these reductions are in place. This is not to say that things might not change if the university gets surprising news from the state, but we can move forward with a sense of relative certainty.
  • The bulk of these reductions comes from central sources: more than 70% comes from administration. It was my intention to buffer individual units as much as possible, and we’ve been able to accomplish that. Again, Greg will provide the details, and the AULs are here to answer any questions about specifics in their portfolios.
  • The Library materials budget remains strong. I’ve heard some express frustration that the collection budget is protected while the operations budget is reduced. Of course my preference would be that our budget not be reduced at all, but I am not disappointed that the materials budget remains strong. Keep in mind that many see us as and through our collections. A strong collection is key to our strength as a research university. Don’t underestimate my appreciation for our people: you’ve come to know me well enough that you know that I see you as our greatest asset. However, continuing to have a strong collection gives us a great vehicle for our work.

When I came here, I negotiated differential treatment for the Library’s budget in light of the different way we are funded. Unlike the schools and colleges, we do not have direct access to tuition funding, our grant funding will always be smaller than that of many colleges, and (despite the outstanding work of our advancement staff) donor funding is a smaller part of our budget. The point I recently made to the provost and the deans was that a 5% reduction of central funding for the Library’s budget is, in essence, a 5% reduction; in colleges like ACES and Engineering, a 5% reduction represents something closer to 1.5% of their funding.

I used 5% to illustrate my point in conversations with the provost and deans. I wasn’t prescient: it’s just that our sense of what would happen at the state level (and the relative portion of state funding the university receives) suggested that the reduction would be approximately 5%. So, coincidentally and in point of fact, the reductions each of the schools and colleges took was nearly 5% (4.9%, to be exact). To this were added contributions for central services such as IT, TOPS and facilities. The total reduction for the Library would have been nearly $3m.

The budget letter we initially received included a reduction of more than $1.5m for the Library’s budget, based on a reduction to operations and protecting the materials budget. Making the case to exempt the collection was relatively straightforward. Over the two weeks that followed, I worked to ensure that the campus remained true to its commitment to me, and we ultimately received a new budget letter with the current $877k reduction–which we’ll discuss more today.

I want to emphasize a couple of things about this. First and perhaps most importantly, this is a substantial difference between the reduction the campus intended to make and what we’re taking. It represents a permanent savings of over $600k per year (i.e., over what was initially requested). In the state, our reduction is relatively small. At UIC, for example, the reduction is nearly the same, and their budget is half the size of ours. At other institutions like Wisconsin, reductions are larger. Getting the smaller reduction took a fight, but it was in fact possible to fight for that reduction. We are fortunate.

What Does All of This Mean?

  • It’s important to keep in mind the fact that a flat materials budget means a reduction: we are facing inflation of approximately 5%, so fund managers will need to find a way to reduce costs. The Collection Development Committee is already working on this.
  • We will not have layoffs. We will strive to avoid layoffs whenever we make reductions. Our first priority will be to shift staffing and resources to address critical needs rather than lay off individuals.
  • The impact on individual units during this round of reductions will be minimal, affecting primarily hourly budgets. I know the importance of hourly budgets for getting our work done, but I hope everyone appreciates how much easier it will be to absorb this.
  • We will of course be feeling this in other ways. We’ll soon send out mail on travel funding, for example. Individual allocations will be 5% smaller and the overall travel budget will be reduced by 10%. It’s worth taking a moment to consider how that math works: we have less discretionary support, but individual support remains robust. The AULs have an undiminished programmatic funding budget.

There are a couple of things related to the budget I’d also like to mention.

  • You’ll see a fair amount of building work in the next year. The campus was generous in the matching funds program, and that support won’t go away. Work will take place in the Main Library, the Undergraduate Library, Grainger and Oak Street. Programmatically, these efforts are very important. We continue moving forward.
  • Finally, we had some very good news on the hiring plan. Some key positions were approved despite word from Swanlund that few new positions would be supported. In all, we’ll have about six new positions in the coming year, including three key faculty positions. We will continue to grow and be well-positioned to address programmatic needs. Positions that were supported include:
    • Classics and Research and Information Services Librarian (15F1), Visiting Engineering Research Services Librarian (15F2), and Copyright Librarian (15F3).
    • Digital Reformatting Coordinator (15AP01), Visiting Metadata Services Specialist (15AP03), and Data Analyst (15AP05).

The Path Ahead
So what to do in these troubled times? We need to focus on doing Great Things. While the university and the campus administration have a need and responsibility to figure out how to conduct their work responsibly and in ways that are consistent with our greatness, our job is different: we should be focused on being a great library. It is no accident that our strategic planning, budget submission, and budget reduction processes converged: we prepared ourselves for the new budget and we continue to prepare ourselves for the work ahead. Our great faculty and staff and our great collections are resources that we will leverage in this work. We should always be actively thinking about where we need to invest, but now more than ever.

The last few days have been fascinating in terms of the vibrancy of our collective discussions, including the talks both by our AUL candidates and by our speakers at the Deep Dive. I know many of you attended these events and hope that the talks challenged you in terms of thinking about our future. It’s time to be strategic, to be thoughtful about where we invest. Our shrinking resources (shrinking less than might be the case, but still shrinking) are a reality, and so we need to work hard on figuring out how we accomplish our mission with a smaller set of resources. Our structures, including and especially our faculty governance and an engaged staff, contribute to our ability to do this effectively.

Where Next?
The responsibility of leadership–of me and of the entire leadership team–is to make informed, consultative choices. I want to say clearly that we cannot be all things to all people. I occasionally take the opportunity to point to areas where I want to see us excel and to lead. I do not want to suggest that the areas I identify preclude others or to suggest that these things are intrinsically more important than other choices we can make. I point to areas where I believe we are especially well-positioned to lead and where I believe our decisions will be more consequential.

Among the choices I believe we should make:

  • Leveraging our outstanding collections and Oak Street
    • where appropriate, making them a linchpin for collective action (e.g., not so much in print serials; more in print monographs)
    • giving attention to organization and management of collections, including preservation, conservation and digitization, as well as stacks management
    • leading regionally and nationally both in outstanding collections (including RBML and Archives) and in the way that we manage this great asset
  • Broad engagement with scholarly communication, including/especially
    • Research Data Service
    • new models of scholarly communication
    • publishing outside of the marketplace

Consider the focus on research at Illinois. In very few institutions would work in this area be more influential than it would be here.

Ultimately, though, this is about support for our mission: curation, support for instruction & research, the flow of scholarly information, and spaces. We have opportunities to innovate and excel. You have opportunities to define directions, to make the case that we should invest, innovate and lead in specific areas.

I want finally to bring our discussion back to the strategic planning process and our budget planning for next year. With our FY16 reductions, we shouldered the majority of the burden centrally, from administrative flexibility. We will not be able to do that again, or certainly not to that extent. While administration will participate along with everyone else and will look for ways to reduce costs, administration won’t be able to shoulder the majority of the burden.

We need to think about how we can arrange ourselves and our work to have the greatest possible impact in the areas that matter. The last budget process was too rushed: everything happened in a matter of about two months. This year, we have a head start working on what is likely to be the same level of reduction. We will start a process this Fall, probably in September or October. We have this opportunity to organize the work thoughtfully and in coordination with our strategic planning. Thank you.

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