talk to people, it's good for you

Given the dramatic news and rumors about the State and SUNY budgets for the coming several years, I — and many of my colleagues — are taking a look at our processes, budgets, and expenses, and trying to find ideas about where we can shift, change, or eliminate costs. Our Libraries’ annual staff planning retreat is next Tuesday, and I’m certain that this issue will feature on the agenda, and that our director will provide leadership and direction to us all, but I can’t manage to wait until then. My brain won’t let the problem go, and I keep worrying at it. I have faith that we’ll figure it out, and weather the storm without sacrificing our core services.

One of the reasons I feel so positive about what will undoubtedly be a rough financial position is related in no way to money, and in every way to people. I had a meeting with an academic department yesterday to discuss the results of my latest foray in to zero-based budgeting for periodicals (summarized in an article I wrote for Against the Grain, .pdf pre-print here). I sat down with the department and communicated several key points.

  1. Thank you for helping me with this. This is major — I wanted them to know, above all, how much I value their input in my planning and evaluation processes. Our collections are not purchased and maintained in order to make me feel good about my work, or to serve the library’s desire to be a library — they’re about taking teaching to the next level, about facilitating the work done in our classrooms, and about ensuring that our students are learning as much as possible. And without their participation in the project, I could not have known how our resources are being used in the classroom.
  2. I propose to cancel these titles, add these, and investigate these further. This was the core of the project, and I was able to create a nice sum of budget savings without impacting overall access to information for their students. It was a win-win project, in large part due to the concentrated effort we’ve put into finding good online resources for their subject area. It’s nice to see those efforts pay off.
  3. In our interviews, I learned the following about how you see the library; can you corroborate? I was meeting with them to discuss periodical literature, but it’s inevitable that conversations between librarians and departmental faculty stray to other issues — information literacy instruction, circulation policies, monographic purchasing, whatever’s on their mind when I’m there as a captive audience. And some trends emerged that I wanted to discuss and confirm, and report to them on how I proposed to communicate the issues back to other relevant library staff. Never miss a chance to collaborate on relationship-building!
  4. I would like to suggest that the following services may be of greater use to you and your students than your current utilization would suggest. Not getting the research results in student assignments that you hoped for? Not seeing enough use of book materials in bibliographies? Concerned about the research skills of certain returning graduate students who’ve been out of the educational environment for years? Did you know we can help you with that? We need to market our services better, and every opportunity to do so should be snatched. Our information literacy and research consultation program, let me show you it.
  5. Can I answer any other questions? Again, never pass up an opportunity for relationship building.

So how does all of that relate to the budget? It doesn’t, directly. What’s implicit in all of it, though, is that there are now that many more faculty on our campus with whom I feel the libraries have an extremely productive working relationship, and who understand the care and attention we put into our work. If we come to them next year, as I suspect we will have to, with a list of changes to how we’ll be providing services and collections due to budget constraints, there are that many more faculty on our campus who will understand that we’re doing the best we can with what we have. The relationships we’re building through our daily work and special projects will hold us in good stead, and will ensure that even if the world comes crashing down around us, our campus colleagues will know we’re trying as hard as we can to hold it up.

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