May 2015

Budget Reductions

Given the current state budget news, it will come as no surprise to any of you that the University will likely experience a reduction in its operating budget for FY16. The cut, whatever percentage it is overall, will not be applied uniformly across the University or the Library. I believe that the Provost will do his utmost to protect our Collections budget, and the campus administration has always been a good friend to the Library. But I also have no doubt that we will be expected to share in the fiscal pain.

I am asking that each of the AULs begin a planning exercise describing how the work conducted in their areas of responsibility would handle cuts of 1%, 3%, or 5%. I have asked the Library Business Office to provide budget information about their units that will allow them to shape our response to this request. Although much of the work will be done by the AULs in collaboration with relevant divisions and units, be assured that every area of the Library’s budget will receive the same attention and will model the same level of cuts. The AULs will strive to conclude conversations with divisions and units in their areas by the end of May.

It is my opinion that the biggest danger with budget cutting exercises is that the effort to protect what we do becomes so consuming that we forget to focus on what is most important. I am asking that the AULs approach this budget exercise by determining what they would most like to accomplish in the coming years, informed by our overarching sense of Library priorities and strategic planning. We must include new initiatives as well as existing activities. This planning will be valuable no matter what the size of our budget overall.

The AULs will consult with faculty and staff in order to develop the required information; many of you will be consulted and everyone will have an opportunity to provide input. All of these efforts will be coordinated with the Library’s Executive Committee. As we engage in serious discussion about budgetary matters it is likely that there will be rumors about what sorts of cuts are being considered. I urge you all to remember that we are framing this work as a planning exercise, that much depends on the requirements we will ultimately receive from the campus, and that many factors will be in play as we come to final conclusions. It is essential that we be prepared to use University and Library resources wisely. By identifying our most important work, we will be well situated to accomplish that work. We will also be prepared for reductions that the campus asks us to take when that time comes.

Finally, I would like to share with you a number of principles and guidelines that we will use in our process:

  • Prioritize activities of strategic importance to the campus mission.
  • Avoid layoffs as far as possible while addressing strategic goals.
  • Everything is important, but not everything is of equal importance.

Moreover, units should be guided by these strategies:

  • Partner with areas of the Library that provide similar services to identify areas where we can take reductions while still maintaining effective services or accomplishing critical processing support.
  • Consider reducing or eliminating an activity if it is duplicated elsewhere and is not core to the unit’s services or the Library’s mission.
  • Be forward-thinking: We will consider proposals for the way combining service or processing activities might achieve savings, even if it requires a one-time investment.
  • Support your recommendations with evidence: if you are recommending the elimination or protection of an activity, explain, for example, the priority you believe it has to the user community, how often it is used, how much effort it takes to provide it, whether it can be gotten elsewhere.

Our people are certainly our most important asset, and you should know that I have a very strong aversion to hiring freezes and spending freezes; in my experience of managing budget challenges I have never employed either one. We will do our utmost to avoid layoffs, but shifts in staffing should be considered as a key part of our strategy. As always, thank you all for your hard work and care in making us successful, even in the face of adversity.

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