Over the past two weeks, Ithaka S+R has organized five roundtables for academic library leaders to help support their leadership during this time of disruption and uncertainty. In total, 40 library directors and two associate university librarians attended these sessions, representing every four-year institutional type. Participants introduced themselves by describing what has been working well for their libraries, the challenges they are facing, and their budgetary expectations. The discussion that followed–with minimum facilitation–then focused on the participants’ most pressing questions and issues. To enable participants to feel comfortable speaking freely, the sessions adopted the Chatham House Rule. Here, we attempt to summarize what we learned from these discussions.
A number of directors shared that they have been instructed to not make any “unnecessary” expenditures. Considering that many are still feeling the impact of the 2008 recession, they feel they are already good stewards of their budgets and have been doing “more with less” for the last decade. None of the directors being asked to curb unnecessary expenses reported having ceased spending on collections.
Almost all leaders expect cutbacks in the new fiscal year beginning this summer. But there is far more uncertainty about what to expect than is typically the case this late in the spring. That will likely cause the need for continual readjustments and necessitate a different kind of planning than is typical for library leaders.
Some directors expect to have to move to a far more nimble planning and budgeting approach than the longer term cycle (in one case described as a three-year cycle) that had been familiar. They need clarity on the planning expectations of their institutions in order to be able to do so.
Several directors expect that the current situation will provide an opportunity for moving forward with the strategic directions they had always planned or at least hoped to pursue. This often seemed to reflect some degree of focus on moving the library beyond staffing and structures focused on tangible collections and increasingly towards a more digital and service-minded enterprise. Several directors emphasized that they expected, in light of the present disruptions, that such a strategy would become possible because there was really no other option. Others see the speed of existing changes accelerating.
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