Monday, February 16, 2015

How Can Libraries Find the Money To Make Big Changes? (Part 1)

My last blog post “If information has become ubiquitous due to the Internet, can librarians do the same?” caused a number of people to ask: “Wonderful ideas, but how do we pay for all of this?” It’s a very fair question.   Unfortunately, it is one, which frequently causes librarians, in response, to throw their hands in the air as if it’s hopeless.

Many librarians indicate that what they hear from their administrators is: “Do more with less” and feeling totally maxed out just trying to do what they’re doing now, they simply can’t wrap their heads around the idea of doing even more, without more resources.  However, I’ve always said that when confronted with that directive, we need to hear: “Be more efficient, be more effective”. I still maintain that position.

So, let me share some ideas about how you an organization go about doing that, over the next several posts.  Are these ideas easy?   No, of course not.  Are they quick?  It varies.  Some are quicker than others, but combined into a packaged approach, you’ll be able to show results from early on and well into the future.   Results that will help your library clearly establish its value to the communities it serves.

1.  Strategic Plans. When encountering a librarian reading my ideas and asking: how do we pay for that, my first response is to ask if the University has a current strategic plan published on the University website? (Here is ours at OU) Then I’ll ask the librarian(s) if they know what it says and can they, in fact, tell me something about it? More often than not, at best, I’ll encounter a blank stare or a mumbled response that they think they’ve seen it, but really can’t remember anything it says. Then I’ll ask if the Library has a current strategic plan and is it on their website? (I’ll frequently already know the answer, as I’ll have checked. The results of that checking are, shall we say, grim.  Here's ours at OU Libraries) If they have one, I’ll ask how often it’s reviewed in a year to ensure progress is being made on the goals/objectives that were set? All of which is a strong indicator of why a library is not performing well and/or is not being recognized for it’s contributed value to the University. 

It is staggering to me to believe that a Dean/Director of Libraries, in today’s funding environment, can expect to have a compelling and positive discussion about the Library finances, if they can’t sit down with their administration and directly show how the Library’s Strategic Plan supports and contributes to the goals of the University’s Strategic Plan.  Not only show but also do so in documented and measurable terms!  

For example, if the Universities plan calls for higher student retention, higher matriculation rates or the creation of a new degree or a program – the Library’s strategic plan needs to have some goals and objectives that show what the library is going to do to support those being achieved.  When achieved (and hopefully exceeded) it gives powerful support for why the University needs to continue to, at least, support the library at its current funding levels.   If the University’s goals have been exceeded, it makes a powerful case for the benefits to be shared with the Library.  Of course, this is not a quick path to more revenue.  It will take at least a year and possibly longer, before it starts to pay off.  However, it is likely to strongly support a case for not cutting the Library’s budget, if these linkages are drawn using metrics that make the case.

2.  Organizational Support of the Strategic Plan and Accountability.  Also, when talking to Librarians about their Library’s strategic plans, I all too often hear that it’s an administrative exercise, once done, it’s dropped in the drawer and forgotten until the next round of the exercise.  That’s a terrible mistake to make.  A strategic plan should be a living document and can serve in multiple ways to help build discipline in the organization that will allow the organization to achieve large goals and put the organization on a sustained high-performance track.  Creating objectives from the department level all the way to the team member level can do that.  Most strategic plans state goals.  While this isn’t the preferred route, it is frequently the route that results because people dislike accountability.  Yet any Dean/Director and/or department manager worth their pay, should take goals the Library Strategic Plan and turn it into objectives for their departments and team members.  What’s the difference between a goal and an objective?    According to this reference:
“Goals are long-term aims that you want to accomplish. Objectives are concrete attainments that can be achieved by following a certain number of steps… Goals have the word ‘go’ in it. Your goals should go forward in a specific direction. Objectives have the word ‘object’ in it. Objects are concrete. They are something that you can hold in your hand. Because of this, your objectives can be clearly outlined with timelines, budgets, and personnel needs. Every area of each objective should be firm. Unfortunately, there is no set way in which to measure the accomplishment of your goals. You may feel that you are closer, but since goals are de facto nebulous, you can never say for sure that you have definitively achieved them. Objectives can be measured. For example, ‘I want to accomplish x in y amount of time’ becomes ‘Did I accomplish x in y amount of time?’ This can easily be answered in a yes or no form.”    
If objectives are defined and they are linked to the Library (and thus the University’s) strategic plans, then when a performance period is over, both the team member and the manager should be able to sit down and say: “Did we accomplish this or not?”  Sure there will likely be a conversation why it wasn’t achieved if that is the case, but at least everyone knows what the expected result should be.  

Furthermore, that meeting shouldn't be once a year.  A better practice is to ensure that each team member has a quarterly meeting with their manager to ensure progress towards the goals is being achieved.  If the goals are no longer valid, this is a perfect opportunity to revisit and revise them, rather than waiting till the next annual evaluation cycle.

It's also important that the entire organization receive regular reports about how it is doing in achieving the plan.  A quarterly meeting, led by the Dean/Director is a good vehicle for achieving this.  So is a written report that can be distributed across the community to show the value being created for the community.  (Here is ours at OU Libraries.)

Performing these steps above helps to position the head of the Library to be able to take into their next meeting with the funding authorities, real measurable results that will document the Libraries value in achieving, and aligning, with the goals of the parent organization.  

That will also put in place a much firmer foundation for finding the money to make big changes than I see many libraries currently using.  

(Next time, we’ll talk about increasing efficiency and effectiveness by realizing that what brought you here, won’t take you there.)