State of the University of Texas Libraries
January 10, 2013
Good morning. Today, it is my opportunity to visit with you about the state of our University of Texas Libraries. And it’s my chance to talk to you a bit about our significant contribution to the mission of our university—something in which all of you should take great satisfaction.
At the outset, I want to make it clear that we share both a common purpose and a single vision with the University of which we are a part. Those of us here in the University of Texas Libraries do what the rest of this remarkable community does: we directly enable society’s advancement through research, creative activity, and the development of new knowledge. Our efforts, as do those in the classroom and laboratory, transform lives for the benefit of all. This is an ambitious mission and aspirational vision we share with every member of the University community.
So as we speak of vision, and the challenges we face, I want to begin with this: America’s public research universities are one of the true miracles of this nation—of the world--enabling the brightest students among us to gain access to the best teachers, to question, to learn, and—importantly--to lead. Public research universities--such as the University of Texas--are the nation’s engines of creativity and innovation. They provide the genius and energy that define our private sector, the science that cures our ills, and the innovation that reaches for the furthest frontier. Those of you in this room today contribute to that miracle.
President Powers made the case in his recent State of the University Address that The University of Texas is one of the state’s greatest assets. The London Times Higher Education Rankings go him one better. According to the Times, we are all President Powers says we are--and more. It places our institution among the 25 most powerful global university brands in the world. As he concluded his remarks, the President underscored his unwavering belief that our state, Texas, should be home to the nation’s best public research university. Our citizens should not have to leave our state, he said, to enroll in a “university of the first class.”
Recently, I returned from a meeting on the East Coast, where an invited group of 50 participants at a Mellon-funded forum addressed the questions and challenges surrounding the “globalization of research librarianship” in this century. I was gratified at the frequency with which the University of Texas Libraries were held up as examples in Latin American, Human Rights, and other global issues. And I was particularly pleased when two colleagues in the course of our 36 hours together, told me that The University of Texas Libraries would be a welcome addition to their prestigious consortia—each a thousand miles or more away from Austin. Like our University, our library brand is recognized and respected by the very best among our peers.
So I applaud the president for his vision and his unwavering determination, and I personally find it motivating and fulfilling to have the opportunity to serve the public sector from my role here at the University. I especially applaud his recognition that our success, even in these most challenging of times, is the work of a large, talented, and diverse community. His report was, in fact, a rich catalog of the myriad contributions of staff, faculty, students and alumni that have staked the university’s banner atop the higher education landscape in our world. And every one of you in this room has helped to plant it there.
And I am pleased that for every facet of the university’s contribution to society’s needs and aspirations, those of you who work here in these libraries make pivotal and timely contributions that ensure our collective success.
We are there alongside faculty and students in the classroom where essential Teaching and Learning occur. The research university is a place where our teachers prepare our students to look beyond immediate vocational aspirations--to understand and address society’s most compelling questions.
In countless ways our UT librarians partner with faculty to develop critical thinking, discernment, and analytical skills for learners who will be tomorrow’s leaders. Together, we provide students and faculty alike with learning tools and environments that abet and enable the enrichment of the mind.
And we are there in the laboratories where groundbreaking Research occurs. There are no great universities without great libraries – an observation as true of the University of Texas today as it was of Oxford University in the fifteenth century.
I ask you to think with me for a moment about the shared, symbiotic relationship of greatness—the university at large on the one hand and the libraries on the other.
UT Libraries’ vast collection of resources, one of the largest and richest in the world, comprises the intellectual core of the Austin campus. These resources are among the magnets that attract superior faculty to the center of Texas, faculty whose expertise incubates many of the technologies and innovations that fuel the Texas economy. In fact, many would say that the libraries are the laboratory of many of our social science and humanities faculty.
We are there with the faculty and other staff to apply our skills to a common cause. Like the skills of our faculty, our library staff Expertise contributes in countless ways to the success of the university mission. The rich and unique collections that define great libraries do not fall unaided into the arms of learners; rather they are patiently and selectively assembled, interpreted, and made discoverable by an array of library experts who cultivate these critical resources that propel the teaching, learning and research experiences that define our university.
The professional skill and commitment of our people is perhaps UT Libraries’ most defining characteristic. Because that is so, we must strive to support you as you continually develop your expertise and expand your knowledge in the support of the teachers and learners of the University of Texas at Austin.
And we are there with the alumni, the students, the faculty and staff who define and shape this Community. All of you in this room today play a pivotal and sustaining role. The modern research university is a dynamic, interwoven community of researchers, teachers, and learners. UT Libraries supports and interconnects this community by providing the resources, services and spaces that bring people and ideas together.
Researchers and faculty depend upon our resources to drive their investigations. Students and faculty extend their dialogue through our services. And the libraries themselves provide spaces where students collaborate and connect. Together, we bring the University’s tagline about “changing the world” to life.
As the President made explicitly clear, the fiscal tribulations that continue to impact the American economy have had severe reverberations, and higher education has absorbed some telling blows. I need not revisit those impacts on the University of Texas and our Libraries. We have talked about those sufficiently, and you understand them completely. As the University itself has responded first to the fiscal crisis, and now to the demand for greater productivity and accountability in the public sector, so too have we in this room.
In his address, President Powers detailed our response to the twin challenges of maintaining quality while striving for greater productivity in the pursuit of our missions.
Among the innovations he chronicled was the work of colleagues of mine in the office of the Provost. They are architecting a transformation of the traditionally large courses that are a characteristic of undergraduate learning at our University. We cannot, said the President, in this fiscal climate, turn our campus into a cadre of only small classes, but we can transform the way learning takes place in the larger ones, producing new classroom environments that are more collaborative and interactive.
We have yet to see what the impact of the Massive Open Online Courses—or MOOCs—will be on higher education. But in joining the edX consortium, the UT System and the University of Texas are among the leaders in what certainly is one future direction for higher education. The Libraries have been a part of these formative discussions as our university designs our approach to the implementation of edX and Coursera here at UT. A big university, thinking innovatively about the life of the mind--that is who we are.
And in that regard, we in the library community are moving beyond the fiscal challenges that confront us to ensure that we sustain our critical contributions to the University’s missions. Over the past several years, we have reduced our staffing levels by some thirty percent through transitions and retirements; we have done a remarkable job on that score. And we have consolidated some libraries—you remember which ones. And we have revamped or improved some workflows.
As was the case with the advent of the steam engine in a previous century, we have the blossoming of technology to thank for much of that, for digital advances have made so many of those gains in efficiency possible. But it could not have been done without you, and your commitment to the evolution of a true learning organization about which I will have more to say shortly.
We have met the challenges we have encountered. All of our libraries remain open lengthy hours to meet student learning. Indeed, the Perry Castaneda Library has recently embarked on a twenty-four hour operating schedule, five days a week, during the busiest parts of the academic year. Our materials budget continues to grow, indexed for inflation as part of the five-year budget planning process—one of the few schools in the United States able to do so during the lengthy period of fiscal troubles.
I can say that I like where we are. More accurately, I like where your resolve has taken us. Our service profile is stronger and better received now by our community than at the onset of this period of retrenchment and reinvention that began as far back as 2003. Certainly, when we look at the evidence-based metrics of our assessment protocol, LibQUAL+ and student data, we are able to draw those conclusions. The people of this community like what we do—that is what the evidence says. And, intuitively, I can say that our relationships with Student Government and the faculty Library Committee, as well as our relationship with those to whom we report administratively, are strong and strategically grounded.
In his state of the university address, President Powers emphasized that as a great center for teaching and research, the University of Texas adds value to Texas and to our nation. The same is true for what you do. The University of Texas Libraries are at work building a equally resonant message: that the expertise, the services and the resources we make available to this community are not only important on the Forty Acres, but are collectively one of Texas’ greatest assets, advancing our state materially as well as intellectually.
The new “Roadshow” we have developed will enable us to deliver that message to Texans wherever they assemble, and we will remind them that their philanthropy is as important to our sector of the University as it is to other campus pursuits with which they may be more traditionally familiar. We can share with them the examples of valued donors who support our endeavors, such as Jan Roberts, David Nilsson, Blake Alexander, and the University Federal Credit Union. We can remind our audiences that their generosity will continue to make a great difference in the lives of all who compose our community. We have good people by our side, and we will reach out to more, growing our circle of friends and expanding our support base.
Identifying our Priorities
Smart travelers make sure they know where they’re going before heading out the door. Over the past several years, you have engaged in a far-ranging strategic planning initiative. The management team, working with a broadly representative staff planning group, has embraced the challenges in front of us and recast our strategic planning as continuous process woven in to the operational fabric of the organization.
Starting with the University’s fundamental mission, that planning group surveyed social and economic factors influencing our future options. It then proceeded to outline our strategic objectives--and to fashion a strategic road map for reaching them. Road map in hand, they identified the most essential initiatives and began recruiting colleagues to form working groups charged with developing recommendations for implementing each.
And you stepped up and got it done. Out of the myriad of recommendations put forward by our Working Groups, countless improvements were identified and many are already in place or in the works.
Thanks to the Discovery Working Group and the Summon implementation team, the selection, purchase and roll-out of our web-scale discovery tool, which we have branded scoUT, allows our community access to almost a billion vetted books, documents, journal articles, and other items, freeing our users from quality assurance concerns with information on the wider web, advancing their inquiry and enabling all to formulate better hypotheses, to mount better arguments. New chat software in the hands of our librarians will further enhance access and discovery for the community.
Through the hard work of the Campus Delivery working Group we introduced in August the delivery of books among our libraries. Don’t want to take the elevator to PCL 6th floor? The book will be waiting for you at the circulation desk, or delivered to any other library on campus. Additionally, ILS expanded their services to offer “pick up” and return of Interlibrary Loan Materials to any library location. This coming summer, a desktop document delivery service will be launched, which will provide electronic copies of print articles and book chapters to everyone in the UT community.
Our physical plant has received significant renovation and refurbishment, including the “flip” of the circulating book collection to the ground floor of PMA and the removal of the print journal collection to the upper level there. Several libraries have already, or will soon, receive new furniture and electrical upgrades, improving access and study for students. Over 750 new electrical outlets are in place, with more on the way. Among the areas addressed: PMA, Life Sciences, Fine Arts, and three separate areas in Perry-Castañeda itself.
Our students will note many other enhancements as well. Group study rooms have almost doubled from 17 to 33. PC upgrades and larger monitors are found in all libraries. Printing costs have been reduced almost 25%, and a new generation of walk up scanners is available in PCL, Life Sciences, Geology, PMA, and FAL.
But the crowning achievement for our students was the recent inauguration of 24/5 in PCL, a hugely impactful collaboration with student government that has been widely embraced. One little data point, over 400 students were studying in PCL between 3 and 4 in the morning on October 24. I remember cleaning out my son’s dorm room in Jester one day in May some years ago. Having emerged from that experience, ankle deep in the accumulated detritus of a year’s habitation in that first year dormitory room, I know what the attraction of a clean, well-lighted place like PCL would certainly represent to my son then and to our students today. Today, I am able to announce an arrangement just completed with UT Athletics that has secured the funding of 24/5 in perpetuity—we have another partner to thank for helping us advance our mission.
University of Texas Libraries as a Learning Organization
As we felt the first tremors of the mortgage crisis and related fiscal missteps, all of us knew that public research universities would be severely impacted by the inevitable consequences. It affected state support of what we do: falling tax revenues could not support business as usual in public education. It impacted our investments: endowments were hard hit as were the financial markets upon which they were based. And it affected our students on the home front: family pocketbooks could not offset through tuition increases the erosion of resources from other sources. Like the University of Texas, if our libraries were to prosper in troubled times, we would have to answer the challenge; we would have to reinvent ourselves.
And if we were to do that, we would be required to draw upon the talent, commitment, and resources of every one of you for whom your university roles brought reward and meaning into your lives. We would have to take a look at what we did, how we served our constituents, and how we worked together. We would have to become a learning organization. We would have to learn how to listen to each other.
The journey we have traveled over the past three years is familiar to you. We moved to flatten the administrative structure of the organization, both to redirect resources to critical operational areas and to streamline our collective listening process. That transformation is only now beginning to take its new shape and I will have more to say on that at Coffees in the near future. We engaged external change agents to help us administer ClimateQUAL, to understand the deficits in our organization and to learn what we needed in order to thrive. A number of you, committed to the organization, raised your hands and over the years have devoted thousands of hours to make us better. The Strategic Planning Task Force, the visioning work it undertook, and the Working Groups it spawned have made us better.
To mention only a few of these is to slight the critical contributions of others. But as we comprehensively covered the process last year, and in VP Coffees through the course of the year, it is useful to offer here some of the salient contributions that have made us better. Allow me to conclude with the acknowledgement of seven of those.
The Personnel Issues Working Group made strong recommendations for the reworking of the performance evaluation system and offered guidelines for improvements in our recruiting processes that are now part of the operating procedures of our Human Resources team.
Similarly, our Career Advancement Working Group offered up recommendations that have led to campus Human Resources assisting us in job profile reviews, compensation analysis, and career advancement structures. You will be seeing and hearing more of that work over the next two to three months. Meredith and Jennifer, Elida and Beth, will keep all of us informed.
The work of the Internal Communications Working Group will lead to the redesign of the staff web. The Process Improvement Working Group has helped us do more with less, recommending revisions to a myriad of workflows in the search for new efficiencies. The Digital Projects Working Group helped birth a rational process for access to our rich digital operations, allowing all proposals seeking access to those capabilities to be fairly assessed.
To the Staff Inclusion Working Group I would like to offer a personal tip of the hat. For out of its recommendations, in the work of the Library Staff Council, has evolved a fundamental change in the way we work together, listen to each other, and set priorities going forward. We on the Management Team welcome the Library Staff Council into this partnership in the shared governance of the University of Texas Libraries.
And so, I return to the vision that I offered to you a few minutes ago when I began these remarks. We will succeed whatever the circumstances of the moment, if we remember WHY we are here.
We are here, because we believe in and contribute to the mission of one of the world’s great public research universities as it prepares the leaders of tomorrow and advances our society through groundbreaking research.
You and I will advance those objectives at every turn. And because we do, the constraints visited upon our university will be just that – challenges that we address and overcome. We will take the available resources and direct them toward an even more credible job of advancing teaching and learning at the University. And we will boldly address the transformative aspects of higher education and of research libraries in this new century. I look forward to working with all of you as we move through this academic year and address the challenges of the coming biennium. Your commitment and your professionalism are the guarantors of our success.
-Dr. Fred Heath
Vice Provost and Director