Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Meltdown Librarianship

Here at UCR we are concerned with critical dimensions relating to the future of UC libraries not yet specifically addressed in this conversation. We will discuss two in this post, and others in the future:

* the global economic melt-down and what this will mean to us;

* why management should empower its librarian experts;

Our feeling is that coming to terms with the first and working towards the second will be crucial in moving forward effectively.

I. The Global Context

The global economic meltdown, and its local avatar the meltdown in California, has already had dire effects on the public sector. Its coffers are rapidly being drained. This has resulted in drastic cuts to public education at all levels. We in the UCs are painfully aware of this. The chances of a turnaround in the funding of the public sector any time soon are slim to none.

For the foreseeable future we will all be asked to do a LOT more with a LOT less.

What does this mean going forward? Specifically:

• Fiscal crisis means that centralization and consolidation of services both within and among UC libraries and CDL will be increasingly and quickly catalyzed on all levels. The Shared Print Initiative and Next Generation Technical Services are new projects taking a system-wide, consolidated approach.

• Similarly, competition among the campuses will need to stop. Campuses can no longer operate as separate fiefdoms. We can’t afford not to change the way we think. If we don’t realize much more substantial cooperation, many of our libraries will cease to function. Given the backdrop of the meltdown, it must be understood that vast savings could be realized if more meaningful system-wide cooperation and consolidation occurred in, for example, systems development, content acquisition efforts, bibliographic instruction development, and management roles -- much of which is replicated on each campus, largely redundant, and which would be much more effective if properly consolidated.

• The relationship between CDL and the campuses will need to be fine-tuned so that decision-making can be more clearly collective. Uncoordinated and redundant efforts in expensive systems development (NextGen vs. the III OPACs), for example, is wasteful, hugely expensive and will need to stop.

All of this means that re-training and development of new skill sets, a result of consolidation and centralization as well as keeping up with new technological capabilities and the evolution of our patrons into them, will have to occur at a level we have not seen before if we are to stay afloat, much less retain relevance to the scholarly and educational mission. Many of us will be doing new things. While change is hard, it can be managed, if properly done.

LAUC must play a role in order to ensure the best possible outcome - and the time to start is now.

II. Flattening UC Library Management

In order for our libraries to transmute less into more, becoming nimbler, smarter, and more effective in the process, we believe that management will need to become flatter, more transparent, more capable of taking calculated risks, more cooperative with other libraries and CDL, and generally better able to empower library/librarian expertise at all levels.

Why flatten the management structure so that all librarians are empowered?

Because we have the experience and the expertise. Because two heads are better than one. Because problems arise in an instant, and solutions will have to be devised and implemented in real time.

LAUC should help re-think UC Library management so it can become more effective by taking input from all levels of library management and staff, and consulting outside experts as proves valuable, in order to develop new, more effective and empowering modes and models. We are not the only major library system facing these challenges. That doesn’t mean we should sit back and wait for others to solve our problems.

UCR definitely has more to say. But we know that lengthy blog posts turn people off.

We leave you with this -- More than ever before, it is highly recommended that LAUC cohere, now, as the substantial advisory body it was meant to be; that it begin to take risks on the level of the challenges affecting us; that it address sensitive, core issues systematically; and, that it make substantial contributions towards developing sensible models of the future for UC libraries and librarians. It is important to note that it is within LAUC’s purview to advise not only ULs but Provosts, Chancellors and Regents as well. LAUC has a critical and unique perspective, and it is uniquely positioned to be a major contributor in the dialogue on UC Library futures. Lets rise to the occasion.

Heidi Hutchinson, Steve Mitchell, John Bloomberg-Rissman