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Dealing With The Money

This was my favorite part of the Inside Higher Ed article reporting on an ALA session that focused on communicating with chief academic officers:

“You don’t have to convince me that you are worth the extra funding,” said Dominic Latorraca, vice president of academic affairs at County College of Morris, in New Jersey: “Can you convince others within the university that this is the way to go to track down the help we need? If you can show that, it’s going to impress me more than you saying, ‘Did you know that inflation went up 4 percent last year?’”

Most librarians tend to be uncomfortable grappling with the money issues -- since we tend to be selfless egalitarians who are only concerned with the welfare of society, we think that there is something unseemly in being hard-headed about the business aspects of running a large organization.  In a well-ordered world, our provosts (or library boards or school systems or hospital administrators) would simply give us all the money that we think we need because we are so clearly a good thing.  To have to argue for our funding is prima facie evidence that the administrators that we deal with are pennypinching suits who don't appreciate the really important issues.

If only it were that simple.  As an administrator myself, I am, of course, already suspect.  But dealing with the money is my job and I don't have the luxury of just complaining about the lack of vision of the people who hold the pursestrings.  The fact is, I'm extremely fortunate to be working in an institution where the people leading the institution (president, provost, deans, etc.) really do value the libraries and believe in their importance.   However, they also believe in the importance of supporting research infrastructure, and faculty development, and study abroad programs, and more scholarships for the best undergrads, and healthier stipends for the grad students we're trying to attract....  And once they've finished arguing for funding for all these things with the people that they report to, there's still never enough to fund everything adequately.

So my job, as I think about the budget plans that I'll be putting together over the next few weeks, is to make the most compelling case I can for why putting more money into the libraries is going to make the biggest impact on the goals of the university.  When talk turns to "How do you advocate for the library" I always say, "You need to figure out what keeps the person in charge awake at night." 

The point is that the people running our organizations are always faced with more good ideas than they can fund.  But, if they're doing their jobs right, they also have a vision for their organization and there are just a few things that they really focus on that can keep them awake at night.  It might be the quality of the undergraduate experience, it might be competing with other local hospitals for physicians, it might be expanding the tax base in some big city suburb -- it probably isn't how to have a bigger, better-funded library than anybody else.  So the challenge to the library administrator is to figure out how to make the case that putting money into the library is going to be a part of the solution to whatever those problems are.   Complaining that resources are getting more expensive isn't going to cut it -- everybody has that problem.    You've got to show that investing in the library is a part of the solution.   And then you do the very best you can with what you get.


K.G. Schneider

"selfless egalitarians who are only concerned with the welfare of society..." Well, that's the persona, anyway.


Excellent points! Just advocating that we are great for society doesn't get any money. Presenting how a library is relevant in the eyes of those with the pursestrings is most important.

In my community, it's jobs. :)

T Scott

I recall a situation in which a colleague made his pitch to the Provost by pointing out that of the dozen schools that were considered peer institutions, his library ranked near the bottom in terms of funding. The Provost's response? "How do we know they're not wasting their money?" I think that's a legitimate question and we need to have answers.

(Oh, and despite my gentle tweaking of my colleagues, I DO think that most librarians, most of the time, ARE reasonably selfless egalitarians -- I like working in a university because I can consider other factors beyond just money and the bottom line in making decisions. But I do still have to pay attention to the bottom line.)

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