CURRENT

EMERGENCY

STATE OF THE LIBRARY

Paula Kaufman

September 4, 2012

 

Thank you for joining me this morning at my last State of the Library address. This is the 14th time I’ve talked with you early in the fall semester to review the previous year’s challenges and achievements and to look forward to what we can expect to face together in the future. 

 

I know that some of you are here for the first time.  Please stand if you’ve joined the Library in the last year so we can welcome you properly.  (Individual intros)

 

The State of the Library talk has become an annual event.  It all started when the Executive Committee planned a surprise reception for me on my first day of work – September 7, 1999, the day after Labor Day.  When I was inadvertently copied on a message about the reception, I told the group that I’d attend if I could say a few words about my vision for the future.  I scribbled some notes on a small piece of paper and spoke for no more than 10 minutes.  And so a tradition was born.

 

Usually, these talks aren’t hard to write.  I know what I want to say and the words flow, unlike many of the other talks and papers I’ve written.  But, this year was different. Although I’m proud of what we accomplished last year as well as over the last 13 years, I’ll have other opportunities to reflect on those.  So, what I want to do today is to do what I did 13 years ago: lay out what I consider to be the major challenges and opportunities ahead of us and offer some ideas about how to tackle them.  I’ll talk for more than 10 minutes. Except for those first short remarks, when did you ever know me to be brief?  I know that I won’t cover all our challenges, but I’m confident that you’ll add to what I talk about today as we continue to transform this great library to be the best possible 21st century academic research library.

 

Last year, I showed you a short video of plate-spinning, an activity featured on the old Ed Sullivan Show.  For those of you too young to remember, entertainment columnist Ed Sullivan hosted a weekly TV variety show that aired on Sunday evenings from 1948 to 1971.  A plate spinner has the responsibility of keeping many plates spinning simultaneously on poles and tables, and I think that plate spinning is a good metaphor for what you do in the Library, carrying out many responsibilities simultaneously.

 

But, plate-spinners work alone, which really isn’t how we work. Most of what we do we do with others. Juggling many tasks among a team of colleagues can ease the burden on any one individual.  Take a look at this short video and see the intricate work carried out by teams of – what else? – jugglers, who work with seeming precision, at least most of the time. http://www.santabanta.com/video.asp?video=4378

 

Cool, isn’t it?  And I think it’s a pretty good metaphor for how we work together.

 

Now, on to some of our challenges, starting with some context.

 

Higher education is going through a time of changes and challenges of a magnitude not seen for more than a generation, and the next Presidential election could bring even more difficult ones.  Most notably, the gap between private and public universities continues to widen, bringing with it the threat of making us less competitive for faculty, students, grants, and contracts.  As a public university in a state whose economy has been battered badly, we’re vulnerable to all of the state’s vagaries.  State politics continue to create barriers to thoughtful solutions, exacerbated by federally-imposed spending mandates and over-reactive state policies that impose irrational constraints on such everyday business activities as purchasing and contracting. 

 

We also remain in a state of uncertainty about many state-related issues.  Pension contributions, retirement income, and health insurance carriers present only a few of the uncertainties that have become pretty constant for most of us. Some of this uncertainty isn’t new, but it seems to have intensified. We used to call ourselves “state-funded,” then “state assisted,” and now, well perhaps “state located” is a more appropriate description.  But, whatever we call ourselves, it’s clear that although most states recognize the strategic importance of a strong public system of higher education and especially the strategic importance of a major research-intensive university to the well-being of their citizens and to the strength of their economies, for reasons too complex to articulate and analyze here, most states, including Illinois, can’t or don’t choose to invest in their institutions of higher learning at levels that will either sustain or strengthen them. It’s unlikely that this situation will change anytime soon.

 

Congressional inability to deal with the country’s huge budget deficit and the continuing struggle with the economic downturn that started more than four years ago leaves higher education even more vulnerable.  Like other faculty at UIUC, Library faculty seek grants – often successfully -- from several federal agencies.  Looming reductions in federal support for research and student aid will put increasing pressures on the University and on the Library. The pending threat of sequestration – the requirement for automatic budget cuts if the federal budget deficit isn’t addressed by January 2013 that fell into place after the Congressional Supercommittee failed to find a compromise on budget deficit reductions – the threat of sequestration makes us all painfully aware of the slippery downward slope of federal funding.

 

The state and federal governments are not the only sources of contemporary challenges.  UIUC is an international university.  We’re privileged to host students from many countries, and we’re further fortunate to work with librarians from around the world, thanks in large part to the foresight and generosity of Walter and Gerda Mortenson more than two decades ago.  But the dynamics of our internationalism are changing. The difficulty of getting visas to study or stay in the US, new choices for places to study around the world, and local investments in higher education in formerly higher education-poor countries are just some of the factors that will change the makeup and interests of our student body and faculty in the future and thus change the character of our University.

 

Locally, the University has nearly completed its transition to stable leadership. Bob Easter will be President for the next two years, Phyllis Wise is off to a strong start as our Chancellor, and two new leaders -- Ilesanmi Adeshida – Ade - and Peter Schiffer just began their appointments as Provost and Vice Chancellor for Research respectively.  The search for a new Vice Chancellor for Institutional Advancement is nearing its final stages, and soon all of our top leadership slots should be filled.  I’m very grateful for both Bob Easter’s and Dick Wheeler’s willingness to step in for extended periods to bring strong and bold interim leadership during some very tough times.   At the collegiate level, I anticipate that many deanships will turn over in the next few years, giving our new leaders opportunities to build the next generation of deans, who will be key to the University’s future course.

 

Chancellor Wise has spent the last year listening and learning.  She’s heard a lot and learned a lot, and as a result she’s identified these four goals for the current year:

 

 

The Library is an important component in helping meet these goals. Innovative methods to deliver education to students will have an equally profound effect on the University and the Library.  Increasing numbers of online and hybrid courses will impact how we support both specific courses and learning in general. Many of you are already engaged in developing and delivering an array of services and tools for UIUC students and faculty who do their learning and teaching off-campus, typically far outside the Champaign-Urbana area.

 

But now there’s a disruptive development.  Just this spring we’ve seen the emergence of MOOCs, massive open online courses.  The University joined Coursera this summer, in a splendid display of agility that we haven’t seen for ages, and as of this writing we’re offering up to 10 courses for anyone to take for free – that’s anyone in the world.  Today’s reports that 31,500 people have enrolled in Professor Jonathan Tomkin’s course Introduction to Sustainability.   These emerging developments challenge us to think much more deeply not just about traditional service delivery and library instruction, but about how we communicate with our students and faculty so as to strengthen our integration with teaching and learning for the UIUC community and perhaps for the Coursera UIUC community as well. 

 

Expanding the University’s research portfolio will have equally profound implications for the Library.  University faculty and students continue to turn out increasing amounts of data that must be managed.  Some federal agencies require data management plans as part of grant proposal submissions; undoubtedly, others soon will do the same.  It’s clear that we must step up our activities internally and with our campus partners to develop and implement programs to manage these data so that they can be discovered and used by their creators and others.  I have family who live in Virginia Beach and every time I think about the data we’re not managing, it evokes an image of their local Mt. Trashmore. http://www.flickr.com/photos/47047485@N00/336218745/

 

Although the Library budget’s bottom line looks pretty healthy, remember that looks can be deceiving.  Our budget increased a bit this year, allowing us to avoid serial cancellations and layoffs and to distribute modest salary increases.  The one-time funds that have helped support many important projects have now been recalled permanently by the University and are no longer available to us. Budgets over the last decade have been challenging, but we’ve managed to remain deficit-free. The New Service Models program, although its first goal is to improve service, positioned us to cope with the downward economic situation that was exacerbated by two recent waves of retirements.  Of course, I recognize that you have really stepped in to take up the slack, and I know that some things aren’t being done as they were in the past  -- or aren’t even being done at all – and whether that’s good or bad, it’s stressful.  But on the whole, thanks to your willingness to pull together – to juggle things together – our services and collections have never been stronger.

 

As you know, the budget we get from the University is not our only source of funding.  Library faculty continue to garner grants and contracts from federal agencies, private foundations, and the corporate sector, and endowment funds left to the Library in the past continue to generate funds that support many important projects and ongoing activities.  It’s critically important that we continue to build our endowments and supplement our budget with annual gifts.  Most of you know that the University system-wide Brilliant Futures Campaign ended in December 2011; we surpassed the two goals set for us by raising more than $50 million.  However, if you think that our Advancement team is content to rest on its laurels now that the Campaign has formally ended, well, you don’t know them – or me – very well.  Later this month we’ll formally celebrate our 13th million volume and we anticipate celebrating another major gift later this year.  My calendar is filling up with fund-raising visits and events and we’re all ready to bring in as much new money as we can, for it’s an increasingly important key to our future success. 

 

As hard as we try, we need more money than we’re likely to raise from private individuals any time soon to deal with the challenges of our physical facilities or to implement our master plan fully.  Know anyone with a hundred million dollars or more to donate?  We’ve got two buildings with special “naming” opportunities – the Main Library, officially called “Library,” and the Undergraduate Library. Of particular challenge is the Main Library Building; although we’ve made some notable improvements it still requires extensive work to make it secure from weather, kind to materials and people, and adaptable to the needs of current and future faculty and students.  Our other library facilities also need considerable ongoing work if they’re to remain relevant to 21st-century learning, study, and research.

 

We continue to add to our collections by acquiring or providing access to content in all formats.  You know as well as I, however, that unless our users can discover and access this content, it does little more than take up space on shelves or in boxes or in drawers or on disks or anywhere else.  Since the start of the twenty-first century, we’ve invested a lot of money and considerable knowledge, energy, and time to reducing traditional backlogs, to creating metadata, to developing discovery tools such as Easy Search, and to improving our Gateway and related pages.  Backlogs must never again be allowed to amass to the point they reached not so many years ago.

 

2012 is the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, the landmark legislation that created land grant universities.  At this summer’s Board of Trustees retreat, Chancellor Wise reminded the group of what we’re all about – the land-grant mission as interpreted today:  “We are still a place where young people come to imagine a better world and ultimately create a better society. In a few short weeks our campuses will once again be filled with the energy and idealism of these precious young women and men. Let us never forget that their futures, and the future of our nation, depend on the decisions we make today. We cannot and we will not fail them.”

 

We, too, cannot and will not fail our students or our faculty.  So let’s look at how we might meet the challenges and seize the opportunities that we’ll face in the years ahead.

 

It all starts with people, with us and with those who will join us.  There’s nothing more important than hiring the very best people we can. Many of you are working very hard to recruit stars and rising stars to fill our vacancies, for it takes hard work to seek out and ultimately hire outstanding librarians and staff who have the skills, the potential, the collaborative spirit, the collegiality, the flexibility, and the willingness to continuously learn and change that we must have to remain relevant and great.  The Library has never been and it can’t ever be satisfied with less than the best.

 

Our collection also presents us with challenges and opportunities.  Once one of our biggest assets – and now both a huge asset and a liability – our collection is characterized by many fabulous treasures and strengths as well as by many duplicate copies and decaying objects.  Now that the University acknowledges that our Library’s volume-based ranking is not as important as managing our space and staff resources efficiently and effectively, management and preservation of our general print collections remain an imperative. 

 

So does attention to our special collections, the materials held only by us or only by us and a few other institutions. Although materials in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library vault are now held in a more friendly environment, the materials and user spaces of some of our other special collections are not.  The University Archives, inclusive of its spaces in the Main Library building, the Hort Field Lab, and the Harding Band Building, needs major upgrading, as does the Map Library.  Long-term, the designation of the facility now occupied by the Undergraduate Library for special collections will offer us an excellent opportunity to protect our collections while making access to and services of the libraries responsible for them more integrated and robust.  All we need is the money.  And we’re working on that.

 

Just as we can’t ever be satisfied with less than the best people, we can’t ever be satisfied with a collection that’s less than the best for our users. Developing the best collection includes acquiring and providing access to new materials and content, digitizing as much as we can, and conserving and preserving objects and contents of enduring value, including creating and improving the environments in which they’re kept.  This year, construction of the third module of the Oak Street Library Facility was completed.  Because it’s unlikely that the University will fund either building a small fourth module or another storage facility until it builds the planned automated storage and retrieval box on the west side of the Main Library, and thanks to new regional and national shared print repositories, we have the opportunity to manage the space at Oak Street even more efficiently. We plan to hire a consultant this year to help us develop a process to identify duplicate holdings – true duplicate holdings – with the aim of withdrawing many of them from the Oak Street facility.  This is just the start of an unprecedented opportunity to manage better the storage of our general collections. 

 

People and collections are our most important assets.  But we can neither protect them nor provide the best conditions for productive work if the physical facilities in which they’re housed, and in which our users do much of their work, are subpar. And so I want to return to the challenge of our physical facilities. Those of you who work in the Main Library – or who visit it – know just how much work continues to be done to improve its physical facility.  Exterior and interior work has displaced some of you as well as our staff lounge, and the noise and dirt makes it hard to work at times; it also causes our users to enter under various makeshift shelters.  But, it sure is time, isn’t it?  And it’s only the start of what must be done.  We’re not alone in the Main Library, though. The folks in the Communications Library have endured the same disruptions this summer, with the added burden of dealing with the dirt that’s settled on the collection as Gregory Hall undergoes renovation to add air conditioning.  At the same time, SSHEL’s physical facilities are being readied, and other libraries have seen some updating and upgrading.  

 

The development of several regional shared print journal repositories – the CIC’s, the Five-College Library Depository in Massachusetts, WEST, and others – is just the beginning of the development of a national distributed print repository system.  The CIC is now starting to talk about extending shared storage beyond journals to large sets and at its first Constitutional Convention last October, the HathiTrust was charged to develop a national distributed print monograph repository system.  Now that the HathiTrust’s new Governing Board is in place, I expect that this process will be underway soon. Developing a plan for ensuring access to print journals is much less complex than developing one to ensure access to print monographs. Our Library will have the opportunity to play an important role both in the creation of these systems and as a node in the distributed monograph structure.  I hope we seize this opportunity, just as we have seized opportunities to transform many of our services and operations.

 

The New Service Models program truly has transformed the Library, positioning us to develop and deliver services that meet contemporaneous needs and demands while making the most efficient use of our resources.  The process taught us many things that should guide future work, not the least of which is involving the impacted communities in designing and implementing new models.  Now that our assessment program is coming of age with permanent leadership, we have the opportunity to assess the efficacy of our services models on a regular basis and to make changes as needed. 

 

While there are some obvious take-aways from our New Service Models program experience, it’s the more subtle lessons that also should guide us towards and into the future.  Even though we’ve looked at many services from a Library-wide perspective, recent calls for proposals for use of two large spaces in the Main Library elicited some very good responses. But most were designed to solve a single problem or deal with a single unit. For years you’ve heard me say “Think Library with a Capital L.”   That gauntlet is still there for you to take up. Or to continue with the theme of today’s video clip: juggling together will result in something bigger and better than plate-spinning alone.  I know it’s a challenge, but it’s key to our future success.

 

We’ve got several new services and new service models on the near-term horizon.  Primo, our new web-scale discovery system, should be implemented this year.  I expect that by the time it’s working fully, we’ll be looking for its replacement.  New market offerings with features of particular interest to our users will continue to emerge, and we should be ahead of the curve in preparing to upgrade and switch systems regularly.  We should consider the constant pace of change in such systems, as well as in the look and functionality of the Gateway, and the need for their rapid deployment, to be permanent features of our environment. Not to do so threatens our relevance and decreases our ability to make changes agilely and as a matter of course. Let’s learn lessons from the speed and agility with which the University joined Coursera and apply those lessons to all new offerings. 

 

It’s also highly likely that within the next five years or so CARLI will replace the current Voyager system.  We’ll have less control over what’s chosen or what our users will see and use, and the pace of implementation probably will be slower than what we’d like.  That’s the nature of consortially-operated systems.

 

Consortia such as CARLI, the CIC, and the Center for Research Libraries and partnerships such as the one with UIC also are key factors to our success now and in the future.  We have considerable experience in working together with our colleagues, and we understand the weight of the advantages of working together over the disadvantages.  But each new undertaking has a new cost and we must consider every opportunity carefully.  There seems to be a rush among some of our peer institutions to create partnerships with libraries outside of the U.S.  We have many such paper partners ourselves.  However, the primary historical basis for these international partnerships – exchange of print publications – has changed so drastically that engaging in old partnership models is no longer productive.  We’ve taken a bold step in developing a new partnership model with Kyushu University and an important lesson lurks there: there is no new partnership model template.  Each one must be developed collaboratively in ways that meet the partners’ needs in a sustainable way.

 

Sustainability doesn’t mean keeping something static; it must lead to evolution. It was only several years ago that we touted the inauguration of our Learning Commons, followed by our Scholarly Commons and more recently the Grainger Engineering Library’s CARE initiative, which is being undertaken collaboratively with the College of Engineering.  This year we’ll inaugurate our Media Commons. None of these stay the same, however.  I hope you’ve noticed what’s happened with our Learning Commons, which provides a useful model for our other physically-located Commons and collaborative services.  The Learning Commons is no longer a separate physical space in the Undergraduate Library.  It is the Undergraduate Library, representing an extension of its core values and a representation of its philosophical approach to library services and programs. And it’s not just the Undergraduate Library, as it now extends beyond it to most of our other public-facing units and services, both physical and virtual.  In other words, we’ve realized our vision that the Learning Commons would extend beyond its originally confined space to permeate and characterize our services to students.  We should work towards extending that model to the Scholarly Commons, to the still developing Media Commons, and to other collaborative models, such as CARE.  Many years ago, I described the Library’s future as dependent on its ability to become an essential part of the fabric of the University, rather than a system of physical places.  And while our physical spaces are still very important, our presence now extends far beyond them. 

 

Having said that, I must acknowledge the importance of our physical spaces for study, contemplation, intellectual interactions, social interactions, and more.  We’ve transformed many of our spaces to meet contemporary needs, and we’ll be attending to others soon.  We’ll continue to be challenged by our users’ changing habits and needs, by the emergence of cool new virtual tools, and by the need for clean facilities with a mix of traditional tables, collaborative spaces, comfy chairs, good lighting, robust electrical and wireless connectivity, and up-to-date equipment to accommodate just about anything users need to study and learn productively.

 

Our users aren’t always satisfied with what we offer, and some of them tell us about it.  This summer I received a message from a user who was cranky because our photocopiers are aging and the price per copy was rising.  We all know why this has happened, just as we know that we now offer new and less expensive ways of producing copies.  But it highlights a challenge and an opportunity, and that’s the challenge of and opportunity to communicate clearly to our users why things are happening, what the current options are, how they work, and how to get help with issues of all sorts. 

 

It’s easy to dismiss complaints or to view them as bad marks on an otherwise perfect slate.  We shouldn’t fall into that trap.  We should look at a complaint from a user as a gift.  In their book A Complaint is a Gift, Barlow and Moller[1] tell us why complaints are important.  We won’t know how to improve a product or a service if we don’t know what’s wrong.  Complaints can give us ideas for new services.  And complaints can give us valuable information about what people think is important.

 

Although they’re very important, the Internet and the Web really haven’t been around all that long, or so it seems to someone who’s been working in libraries as long as I have.  Gopher – remember that? – Mosaic and more characterized Web 1.0, which began the transformation of many many aspects of our lives. Web 2.0 is beginning to seem like old hat for many and today we’re somewhere on the way from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0.  Web 2.0 is generally about user-generated content, sharing and collaboration, social networks, and the read-write web.  Web 3.0 will be marked by technical changes that will have profound implications for us. Web 3.0, or the semantic web, will be about the meaning of data, personalization, and intelligent search, that is, search that understands context. To quote Tim Berners-Lee, “Think of the web as though it were one giant database, rather than one giant book.”[2]  Or, I would add, rather than farms of databases in silos. It’s not too early to be thinking deeply about what this will mean for us and our users, how we’ll make our content more discoverable and accessible, or about the ways in which we’ll work with a new generation of faculty, students, publishers, aggregators, and others.

 

Last month, while I was walking across the Quad typically lost in thought, I suddenly became aware of a group of young children, probably 5 or 6 years old, playing joyfully and noisily.  They made me think about the world they’ll enter when they take their first jobs, whatever they may be, and about what will drive the changes that they can anticipate 15-20 years from now.  I’ve already discussed some of what I think will be the major drivers of change, of challenges, and thus of opportunities for the Library.  Now, I’d like to step back a bit and look more broadly at what I think will be driving societal change over the next decade or so, and then dwell a little on what I think it means for Library faculty and staff as well as for the Library as an organization.  Some of these factors were called out in a report by the Institute for the Future for the University of Phoenix[3] and some are based on my own observations and speculations.

 

In general, predictions are that we’ll have longer active lives than did previous generations.  We’re already seeing some evidence: many people are delaying their retirements, the age has increased at which those who are eligible for Social Security benefits can draw them fully, and there’s a change in attitudes that leads me to believe that 66 is the new 50!  As active life-spans are extended, it’s inevitable that many workers will opt to have more than one career.  Not just more than one job, but more than one career.  Some career changes will be made by choice while others will be made in anticipation of or in reaction to other factors, such as the outsourcing of some jobs, the demise of some industries and the emergence of new ones, or the development of new technologies that lead to the complete elimination or transformation of various types of workplaces. 

 

We’ll also witness a growing interdependence between the human mind and smart machines. It’s evident that there’s a growing use of robotic equipment in manufacturing.  For example, Foxconn, the manufacturer of Apple’s IPhone, plans to install more than a million robots over the next few years to supplement its Chinese workforce.  I don’t know if we’ll have the extent of interrelationships that Ray Kurzweil predicted several years ago in The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence,[4] or if the work being done at Harvard and other institutions to encode content into sequences of DNA so that computers of the future might store data in DNA[5] will pan out.  Or if the relationship between a man and a robot as portrayed in the rather new film Robot & Frank will play out as Hollywood portrays it.  But no matter what the specifics of new technologies might be, I think we’ll continue to see stronger relationships between people and the technologies with which they carry out their work.

 

I’ve already touched on the challenges of managing data, but I don’t think I either described the challenges or emphasized the opportunities clearly enough.  I can’t begin to articulate well the size or velocity of the torrents of data that will flood us in the future.  We’re being asked increasingly often by faculty and graduate students to help them manage the data they’re creating: how to organize it, how to find and access it, where to store it, how to ensure that it will always be available…these are just some of the issues with which the campus – including the Library – must grapple with today and tomorrow.  Sensitive data bring even more difficult challenges.  Tomorrow’s torrents will make today’s Mt. Trashmores look like anthills.  We, the Library, and we, the campus, must develop and implement plans to address the multitude of challenges and opportunities that we’re just beginning to understand.

 

Managing data is just a prerequisite for having the data accessible and ready to use.  Our faculty, students, and we will have to be able to see patterns and designs in them and to analyze them and to apply those patterns and designs to other aspects of our work. We’ll have to have the ability to interact with these data productively and usefully in ways we can barely imagine today.

 

New forms of media also will drive important societal changes in the longer-term future. We’ve started to recognize the increasing importance of media by creating the Media Commons in partnerships with other campus units.  Over the next decade or so, a new media ecology will impact the ways in which we’ll communicate with our users – and with each other.  In other words, we’ll need to think, work, and live comfortably in formats to which we might not be native.

The world continues to become more interconnected.  Although we already benefit greatly from the interactions we have with students, faculty, and colleagues from different cultures, we’re going to experience a huge increase in these interactions throughout all aspects of our lives.  This will enrich our lives and yet bring some challenges to the ways in which we build teams and establish trust among colleagues who are spread around campus and around the world.  Working effectively with people from other countries requires a genuine passion for learning about other cultures, a genuine passion and talent for working with people – all kinds of people – and a solid commitment to building respect and trust with them.

 

But in some respects it seems to be getting harder to trust anyone or anything.  It’s hard to go anywhere today without being recorded visually. Pat hair  In the last few years, we’ve seen a proliferation of surveillance devices almost everywhere we work and play.  Campus and the Library are no exceptions. Just last month I saw a news report about a new facial recognition app that will link to your shopping preferences[6].  I shudder at the concept.  It’s not a stretch to think of other links it could make, say to your private preferences or your identification.  It’s not unrealistic to think that over the next decade or so these devices and technologies will become ubiquitous, and we’ll have the growing challenges of protecting our users’ – and our own – privacy. At the same time, we’ll have more and more opportunities to educate our community about the value of privacy within physical and virtual library spaces and to advocate for new public policies that will situate decisions about what’s kept private with each of us.

 

The change drivers I’ve just outlined are but a few of those that will be most important for the Library’s future.  I’ve not even touched on intellectual property issues, or scholarly communications, or, well….You can predict others better than I.  Predictions are fun, but they mean nothing if we’re not poised to recognize them or to think and act strategically in anticipation of them. The important questions for us right now are what does this mean for us as individuals and what does it mean for the Library?

 

Predictions mean nothing if we don’t have the skills to turn them into actions.  You’ve heard me talk many times about the imperative for us to be adaptable, flexible, and ready to change.  Add to that the ability to adapt to situations with dexterity.  But that, of course, isn’t all.  Some of the other new skills we’ll need include computational thinking, media literacy, the ability to recognize and become familiar with new border-crossing disciplines, and continuous learning.  There are many more, but time precludes me from touching on them this morning.  These traits will be absolutely essential in the future, for the world seems to be spinning faster and faster, and we have to be able to change with it – in anticipation of it – if the Library is to remain strategically important to the University’s mission.

 

Many of us have held multiple jobs in our careers, and some of us have worked for more than one employer.  Only a few of us, including me, have changed careers.  But, as our active lives extend, and as new industries, new types of jobs, and new opportunities emerge at lightning speeds, you should anticipate having more than one career.  Whether you stay in one career or change more than once, it’s critical that you retain control over your career development.  I think it’s terribly important that the Library continue to support training and development opportunities, but it’s not solely the Library’s responsibility to provide all that you’ll need to change career paths.

 

This was a very a brief look at what these emerging drivers of societal change will mean for individual employees.  What else might they mean for the Library as an organization?  Well, to take advantage of these and other challenges, to seize the opportunities both as we anticipate them and as they emerge unexpectedly, the Library must continue to be an adaptive and flexible learning organization, alert to changes in the environment.  This means continuously realigning employees with emerging needs.  This also means that we must continue to attract and retain the very best people we can by investing in them -- paying competitive salaries, providing good quality workplaces, technologies, and responsive support, and supporting training and development.  Over the last few years we’ve experienced a turnover rate that’s higher than it had been, which is largely attributable to the programs that incentivized departures and to the recent change in how SURS calculates some pensions.  But, I think this is just the beginning of a trend of higher turnover, for all the reasons I’ve just discussed.  This means more adjustments in assignments and skill-building and a lot of creativity in designing positions.  It also means giving serious thought to hiring for skills, attitudes, and potential for growth rather than to meet the requirements of a singular position.

 

It’s also imperative that the Library gives faculty and staff room to fail.  No one wants to invest their time, and the Library’s money, to undertake something that might fail if they’re punished for the failure.  For more than a decade, the Library has invested in many pilot projects, some large and some quite small.  Most have seen some measure of success, but some haven’t.  But, had we not tried, we wouldn’t have known what would work, and we would have suppressed creativity that ultimately led to other approaches and other successful outcomes.  Room to fail is essential to keeping the Library vibrant and great.

 

There are many other challenges and opportunities that lie before us. Scholarly communications, our institutional culture, changing technologies, other societal changes, and more will all be important for the Library’s continuing success.  I’ve chosen not to include these because, well, because I’d still be talking while your stomachs rumbled for lunch.  But, please don’t be mistaken.  These and more are every bit as important as the ones I’ve called out this morning.

 

Over the last thirteen years I’ve repeatedly stressed several important concepts.  You’ve probably heard “bigger is no longer better” and “visions without actions are just hallucinations” more times than you wanted.  But they’re important concepts for this Library if we’re going to continue to be a great contemporary academic research library that supports the work of our world-class faculty, students, visitors and scholars around the world robustly, integratively, and in ways that meet new and emerging needs and demands at high levels.  Also key to our past and future success is that we continue not to be content to muddle through.  We have seized and must continue to view and seize challenges as strategic opportunities.  Remember that the only things that should be in the middle of the road are dead skunks and yellow lines.  There should be few if any middle of the road paths for us.

 

I mentioned earlier that I found today’s talk particularly hard to write.  Perhaps it’s because it’s the last time I’ll be standing in front of you as your University Librarian to deliver this annual talk.  This year, you’ll be engaged in the search for my successor.  It’s really important that you think about the path we’re on and what you want to change; that you think about the qualities and skills that I don’t have and about which ones it will be important for my successor to have, and that you think about our culture and identify what’s important to cherish and keep and what’s not.  The Executive Committee has been discussing these points, without me being present, for the last semester or so.  I hope that they’ll be bringing them forward for broader discussion in preparation for the start of the search.

 

Our University Library truly is one of the world’s great academic research libraries.  Its future is in our collective hands, and we must be bold if we’re to keep it great.  We can seize opportunities, even knowing that we won’t always be successful, or we can wait for others to show us the way.  I hope we’ll continue to be bold.  Carpe diem!

 

Thank you so much.

 

 



[1] Barlow, Janelle and Moller, Claus. A Complaint is a Gift: Using Customer Feedback as a Strategic Tool. San Francisco: Bernett-Koehler Publishers, 1996.

 

[2] http://www.w3.org/DesignIssues/Semantic.html 

[3] Institute for the Future for the University of Phoenix Research Institute.  Future Work Skills: 2020.  Palo Alto, CA: 2011.    

 

 

[4] Kurzweil, Ray.  The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human IntelligencePenguin Books; Penguin Bks 2000 Publishing edition (January 1, 2000)

 

 

[5] Heaven, Douglas. “Books and JavaScript Stored in DNA Molecules.” New Scientist, August 16, 2012. http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22190-books-and-javascript-stored-in-dna-molecules.html  Science, DOI:10.1126/science.293.5536.1763c

 

[6] http://redpepperland.com/lab/details/facedeals