May 2019

2019 Budget Meeting

Our 2019 budget meeting with the provost was encouraging, with substantial and engaged questions, including some that suggest sympathy with (if not a promise of support) for Library initiatives. Before a recap of the meeting and inviting you to read the tea leaves along with me, I’d like to share some thoughts about the range of dynamics in these budget meetings.

The tone and engagement in annual budget meetings vary significantly depending on the personalities involved and the general circumstances, such as external budget pressures. In the six meetings I’ve had here, including one on the other side of the table as provost, and a similar number at Michigan, e.g., as interim director, the tone has ranged from indifference to interested engagement. There are occasions, e.g., during leadership turnover, where the meeting may be perfunctory, at best ensuring the school or college is attending to its bottom line. Needless to say, not all units make compelling arguments for resources or are effectively managing the resources allocated to them, and this can result in difficult conversations. In my experience, the rarest and most gratifying dynamic is one where the provost and the provost’s administration are genuinely interested in our work and engage in a conversation about issues of significance to the Library. This was certainly the case this year.

Each dean is asked to make an opening statement, typically emphasizing key points from the report. I used that opportunity to discuss our impact on the university, our strategies for funding new initiatives (and, by extension, our effective stewardship of resources), and the way that successive years of reductions have limited our ability to adapt and respond to new opportunities. I also asked them to keep in the mind the hybridity of collections: despite the way that our resources are increasingly devoted to electronic resources, the way that print continues to be heavily used and why it should continue to be used for some time to come. I discussed the importance of the campus commitment to building the Research Data Service. I concluded with a request to provide budgetary relief after the funding drought.

The provost and his staff began with questions about metrics. You may have noticed the emphasis on this in our report. They asked about the value of our metrics in light of the need to evaluate centrally-funded units. Could we include the metrics from this year’s annual report regularly? Should other units develop similar metrics? We discussed the value of developing metrics that show trends and evidence of value. In a very supportive way, the provost mused on the way that some people may take library services for granted in a world where technology suggests information resources may be free and readily available, and the need to provide evidence of meaningful impact and reach for our university’s teaching and research.

This naturally led to a discussion of rankings and our recent decline in the ARL Investment Index. I discussed my concerns about the value of the Investment Index, e.g., because of significant differences in what is measured at different institutions, but noted that our relative fall is significant and sends a message.

There was a general discussion of staffing involving several topics. The provost expressed an interest in reasons related to staff turnover we noted in the document, wanting to get a better understanding of the challenges we face in retaining excellent faculty and staff. We also discussed our strategy for staffing at the Carle-Illinois College of Medicine, and there was appreciation for our efficiency and impact. We discussed the composition of library staffing, including faculty, academic professionals, civil service, and students. This led to a discussion of our funding request to support increases in the minimum wage. There was an appreciation of the value of students to the Library enterprise (and the value of the Library employing students).

None of you will be surprised that we discussed the Library building project. The provost remarked that it will be important to convey a sense both of the necessity and the opportunity of the two efforts, a space for special collections and the changes to the Main Library building. The provost focused on the importance of providing an appropriate home for our special collections and the need to mitigate the threat the older stacks pose for our general collections. We discussed the opportunity presented by creating a showcase for special collections and by opening up spaces for users. Matthew Tomaszewski (associate provost for capital planning) encouraged us to use the campus committee to help advance these messages.

We concluded with a discussion about our funding requests. There were no questions about our request for inflationary support for collections. The provost expressed appreciation for the Illinois Distributed Museum and the need to ensure long-term support. There were questions about the campus-wide role a director of diversity, equity and inclusion could play, and interest in the contributions a Library-based data lead might make.

What does all of this mean for our future funding? Time will tell. We’ll learn more in the fall. I sensed a deep appreciation for what we do for the university, and that we have been excellent stewards of our resources. I’m hopeful we will see new support, not simply for collection inflation, but for some of our staffing needs. I also believe we will be buffered from the reductions we modeled.

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