February 2017

The following remarks were given at the Library-wide Retreat on January 13, 2017.

Retreat Remarks

Introduction: A Way of Acting
The theme of this year’s retreat is a Call to action: Connect — Communicate — Create. I want to set the stage by emphasizing the overarching Call to Action and the three elements of connecting, communicating and creating. In this, we’re talking about a way of engaging, and throughout the day, we want you to keep in mind the importance of this mode of engagement. The way that we engage with our challenges is particularly important and ties back to Provost Feser’s remarks. Throughout this process, I want to encourage you to engage individually. This is your Call to Action, and it requires connecting, communicating and creating.

Library as agent of continuous innovation
I want you to think of our Library as an agent of continuous innovation. Recently, it was my turn to host the Council of Deans meeting. At each COD meeting, a dean is the host and chairs the meeting. That dean also makes remarks about the challenges facing her or his school or college. Last week, when I hosted, there were many challenges I could talk about, and did: the way the state budget situation has introduced new challenges in hiring, the extraordinary pressures collection inflation puts on our ability to meet the “access” needs of the campus, the challenges our buildings present. These are all very real challenges, but there’s a limited amount our Library can do by itself to address things like collection inflation.

Not everything we face is primarily outside of our control, and as a case in point I noted the challenge we in libraries face of continually reinventing ourselves. This process of continuous transformation is largely up to us. At the heart of that process of continually reinventing ourselves is innovation, something our library is particularly adept at. As I noted for the deans, when one looks at the trends that get called out in reports like the New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report, Library Edition, our library has accomplished something in nearly every area. We are adept at reallocating, of shifting resources away from less relevant, less important activities and toward more relevant, more important activities. We’ve been particularly good at this reallocation and adaptation process, and you deserve considerable credit for your success in reinventing yourselves, our work, and the University’s Library.

What guides our innovation?
Our role on campus demands that we innovate, and we have responded. But what guides our innovation? The most important guide to our investments is our own planning. Last year, in talking about our reasons for coming together, I noted that:

We plan in order to communicate, to focus our energies, to coordinate our efforts, and often to raise the bar. Planning processes shouldn’t be abstract and divorced from practice. They shouldn’t be for a small, select part of the organization, divorced from the people who get the work done. It should be about the work ahead—the work ahead for all of us. And when we do raise the bar, it should be to remind us that we have aspirations, ideals, and that we need to knit them together with our practice. If today were full of surprises, of new and unfamiliar directions, that would say more about our failure to communicate and engage than anything else. Our mission is meaningful and relevant, so don’t be surprised if most things seem familiar and even occasionally ordinary: that’s a sign that we’ve been doing the right thing and that we’re all on the same page.

The set of efforts that has guided us in recent years—from the December 2011 strategic plan, which was a roadmap for the transition from Paula’s tenure, to the UnRetreat priorities, to the 2015-2018 Framework for Strategic Action—are the ways that we guide our efforts, our decisions where to invest, our sense of mission-aligned priorities.

Note the way that the Residency Program dovetails with these efforts to innovate. We created the Residency to give units an opportunity to explore new areas of work in the Library without the burden of justifying (or securing) permanent funding. The emphasis here is on innovation: what new areas of work do we see before us, and how can the addition of a Resident help us explore the array of issues implicit in that new area of work? While I believe that our unit heads will see the value of experimenting with the Residency Program with existing funding when positions come open, for now this seems like a smart bet to put the funds associated with my endowed deanship toward supporting the first round of positions. I’m confident that we’ll see some innovative new areas of work come forward and am looking forward to our first round of Residents.

You’ve heard enough about the ongoing budget crisis, but let me remind you that we’ve weathered the storm, that we’ve adapted (without layoffs). In my estimation, we’re stronger now than we were before the budget crisis if only because the ways that we have adapted have strengthened our ability to deliver services and get our work done.

The reality, however, is that we face a fairly certain future of limited funding and the need to adapt to those circumstances. In the last two years, we’ve created new positions by adapting existing funding, by identifying new priorities, and by discontinuing work that is no longer necessary. We have reallocated to support new priorities. We’ve done that in response to those new pressures. While we have done well, we need to establish a regular process where we build reallocation into our planning. We should assume flat or even declining resources and decide how to work within that environment. We have been particularly good at innovation, occasionally helped by the addition of new resources (e.g., RDS). Innovating without new resources will be the challenge, and I am confident that we can do that and do it well.

Think about the way that innovation happens: it’s not the work of our leaders, alone. So much of innovation depends on your work as individuals. So I’d like to sound one more theme: empowerment. Each of you contributes to our strength as an organization, and each of you can contribute to advancing the Library’s mission through attention to innovation and excellence. We need to work together to accomplish our goals, and just as certainly, I want you to know that I value your contributions as individuals, your sense of what can make this institution great, your ideas and instincts. Keep that in mind and remember that it’s okay to fail. Approximately 1-in-10 drugs fail to make it to market. The mantra of clinical trials is “fail fast” or “fail early, fail cheaply” because we know that some degree of failure is necessary if we’re going to have breakthrough innovation. It’s just as important to know what doesn’t work as it is to know what does. Finally, let me emphasize this point: we should not strive for innovation simply for the sake of innovation; instead, we should innovate to make a difference. Recall Provost Feser’s remarks about the importance of the role of higher education in society. We have an opportunity to shape the world outside the Library and outside the University.

With those things in mind—particularly the importance of empowerment and your role—today, I’m announcing a special funding opportunity: a Strategic Funding Initiative for 2017.

As a call to action, we will invest in our future by funding projects that may advance innovative ideas and services in support of the Framework of Strategic Action, 2015-2018 (http://go.illinois.edu/framework). We will offer two levels of funding: smaller projects up to $2,500 and larger projects up to $5,000. Approximately 4-6 smaller awards and 1-2 larger awards will be distributed.

All Library staff, APs, and faculty are encouraged to apply

The objective of this funding is to provide opportunities to be innovative and make original contributions to the ways in which the Library works in support of the Framework of Strategic Action, 2015-2018 (http://go.illinois.edu/framework). Cross-unit awards are encouraged.

January 13 — Call for SFI Awards distributed following the Library Retreat
Mid-Jan to Mid-Feb — SFI Proposal Development Clinics (see below)
February 28 — Project proposals due
March 20 — Winning SFI Awards announced
November 17 — SFI Award project reports due
December 1 — Selection of 1 – 4 SFI Awards as presentations for 2018 Library Retreat

Review Process
All proposals will be reviewed by a small group drawn from the Library’s Executive Committee and from the AULs, with recommendations advanced to the University Librarian.

Applications are due by email to ec@library.illinois.edu on February 28th. They should not exceed 5 pages in length and should include the following information:

  • The project idea
  • Objectives:
    • How will this advance a direction or principle in the Framework of Strategic Action, 2015-2018 (http://go.illinois.edu/framework)?
    • What audience is impacted and/or who the project will benefit, and how?
  • Estimated cost
  • Timeline
  • Demonstrate that you have consulted with other Library and/or University staff in units whose support is necessary for the project’s success.
  • If this project is intended to launch or pilot an ongoing activity, how will the project be sustained over time without new funds?
  • How will you measure the impact of the project and determine whether it has succeeded or failed?

All successful awardees are required to submit a short report at the end of the project’s specified timeline, on or before November 17, 2017.

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