Organizational Strengths and Current Challenges
It is within this context of challenges and opportunities that CUL must consciously strive to expand and enhance its support for SMUís scholarly activities. This discussion is broken down into four main areas: collections and services, funding for collections, staffing and internal organization, and facilities constraints.
ē Collections and services
CULís collections and services are fundamental to enhancing the quality of the teaching and learning environments and are worthy of special note. Easy access to an impressive array of electronic resources, such as specialized journals, indexes, databases, and full-text initiatives, enables students and faculty to pursue in-depth research using materials that would have been difficult to use just ten years ago. The print collections are wide and varied, a testament to the committed efforts of collection development staff over the years. One of the other keys to CULís ability to provide such excellent service is the dedication and service orientation of our staff, a quality that is regularly noted by patrons. This is evident in the high service and satisfaction ratings regularly given to staff in periodic user surveys. This history of service excellence is a hallmark of CULís enduring commitment to supporting the Universityís research, teaching and learning needs. One example of an area noted for service excellence is CULís robust interlibrary loan service that frequently garners high praise from users. The staff speedily locate hard-to-find materials from other libraries worldwide in support of scholarly activities.
CUL staff are responsive to changing user information seeking behavior. Surveys and focus groups help to identify new and revised expectations and have provided feedback about the organizationís effectiveness in meeting them. Most units actively solicit input from users, review comments, and implement suggestions to strengthen service delivery; recommendations and questions submitted in suggestion boxes are addressed by library staff, who post responses on bulletin boards in the lobby and on the web. The Dean regularly meets with the CUL Student Advisory Council to seek input on planned initiatives and recommendations for service improvement. The Dean and the Deputy Director also meet frequently with the Faculty Senate Subcommittee on Libraries. These types of feedback are useful for assessing current organizational performance, setting priorities for change, and advocating for library support in various non-library forums. The Dean encourages innovation and creative problem solving among the staff through her ďEureka!Ē Award, given annually to individuals and teams who exemplify ďthinking outside the box.Ē Innovation is also supported through the SMU Libraries Award for Technical Innovation.
In the Norwick Center for Digital Services, which brings together the staff and space necessary to convert non-accessible collections into digital objects, CUL is working actively to bring these service standards into the digital realm. The next challenge in the digital arena will be to define and put into place standardized, documented workflow processes to implement digital projects, particularly in the area of metadata creation. Experimentation will be necessary to determine how to execute projects most efficiently. Labor, equipment, and expertise needs will vary widely from project to project and staff must allot adequate time for planning and training at the onset of each project. The digital collection development policy will need refinement as the library moves forward with its digitization goals. Similarly, staff must create a new framework to provide for the sound and timely evaluation and selection of other new strategic technologies. Libraries worldwide are in a transition period of responding to changes in user information needs and adapting services to meet those needs. CUL must be prepared to implement new technologies more quickly and to make internal operations more efficient.
Another example of recent efforts undertaken to improve the quality of service offered to library users is the ongoing implementation of a library-wide subject liaison model. This new model of providing combined reference and collection development service will better support academic research and programs, and speaks directly to the University goal of improving teaching and learning. To date, outreach efforts to academic departments have been strong in those areas where CUL already has subject specialists and liaisons, such as in the Hamon Arts Library. Current research shows that both student grades and student retention rates improve when faculty and librarians work together to integrate information literacy and research methodologies into the curriculum early in a studentís program of study. These findings would support the creating of an information literacy requirement for all first-year students.
CULís well-honed acquisitions and cataloguing processes enable library staff to make newly purchased materials available to users quickly and efficiently. However, backlogs of gift materials, ephemera, music scores and archives and manuscripts remain. These need to be addressed in order to better serve our users as well as be accountable to our generous donors. As is true for many libraries, CUL adheres to national cataloging standards, but at the same time must explore ways to provide more timely access to these largely invisible collections.
Meanwhile, catalog access to library materials is not nearly as useful as researchers would like. They find the existing library online catalog interface dated and difficult to use, often attempting to search as though using Google or accessing a commercial web site such as Amazon.com. The catalog is not nearly as powerful as these tools and fails to deliver expected results. Additionally, library users have increasing expectations for the presence of digital content. CULís digital collections are still few in number and some are currently embedded within systems that are challenging to use and non-intuitive for most users. CUL must work with its partner libraries at SMU to explore solutions to this situation.
Given the Universityís increasing emphasis on research and graduate studies, CUL must prepare to support curricular changes and new research endeavors. CUL is grateful for its healthy acquisitions endowments. The DeGolyer endowment provides support that enables the DeGolyer Library to maintain its collections and services, including its distinguished holdings of Western Americana and railroad history; the very generous Prothro endowment provides a major source of income for the purchase of books on every subject supported by the University. Other large endowments include the McManus endowment for bibliographic material, the Kahn/History endowment for books in history, and the Oost endowment for classics. Moreover, the continued generous support of the Friends of the SMU Libraries (FOL) enhances CULís ability to acquire specialized materials and equipment for its collections, and is a valued source of both advocacy and financial support. The FOL endowment has grown sufficiently for the income to partially subsidize the salaries of the Director and staff support, while the annual fundraiser, Tables of Content, has grown to be a star event on SMUís social calendar, enhancing CULís reputation within the Dallas community and raising much-needed funds for grants and staff awards.
To optimize scarce resources, CUL is an active participant in various joint purchasing arrangements that enable the library system to acquire information at substantial discounts. The most important of these consortia is TexShare, partially funded by the State of Texas, which provides deep discounts on electronic materials. This enables CUL to acquire important e-resources for a fraction of their usual cost. CUL also takes advantage of other purchasing relationships with groups such as TCAL (a consortium of Texas libraries focused on products not available through TexShare) and PHOENIX (major North Texas university libraries) to obtain favorable pricing on other electronic products. At the same time, CUL must continue to advocate for funding that both maintains and increases the number of these crucial research tools. The expanded research agenda will bring expectations for support in both current and new research areas.
CUL faces significant financial challenges as it looks forward to the next five years. Chief among these challenges is maintaining the core acquisitions budget in light of continued inflationary increases. Faculty hired in new Ph.D. programs and interdisciplinary areas will need both retrospective and current collection support.
ē Staffing and internal organization
Like many other organizations facing rapid change, CUL must modify staffing patterns and job responsibilities in order to adequately support new and revamped services. CUL is challenged to critically evaluate, restructure, and reassign job responsibilities as new priorities and new technologies emerge. CUL managers need to place greater emphasis on managing job duties and providing staff with clear job expectations to ensure high levels of productivity. The groundwork for a new emphasis was laid in 2000 when CUL developed a customized evaluation instrument for senior managers. Building on this, in 2006, the Executive Council participated in Advanced Performance Management training program with its 360 review process. Work must continue, in partnership with SMUís HR staff, to coach senior managers and provide them with the tools to manage their staff in a vastly more complex work environment.
CUL is fortunate to have a large number of staff with significant length of service at the University. This core group of long-term employees helps sustain an internal culture that embraces respect for and commitment to the core mission of the organization Ė providing high-quality, responsive service, and maintaining and growing excellent collections. Long-term staff collectively comprise an important framework of institutional knowledge and experience upon which to build and expand service capabilities as user needs change. They act as role models for staff with less experience, and can help mentor and guide less experienced workers.
At the same time, new staff members bring new ideas and new ways of looking at library services. CUL recognizes the important contributions of those who challenge old ways of thinking and who help reframe service paradigms within CUL. They bring new approaches, often technology-driven, to solve both old and new problems. These newer staff members represent the next generation of knowledge workers who see possibilities where none may have existed before, and who will help grow and sustain excellence within CUL over time. The combination of well-qualified and well-educated, seasoned staff and newer staff is a powerful resource within CUL. At the same time, staff salaries and benefits need boosting in order to become competitive locally and nationwide. CUL faces particular challenges when looking to hire qualified staff with high-level technical skills, particularly in middle management.
Growth and change mean that employee competencies must be kept current. Within CUL, both managers and staff believe that more training is needed to help employees develop and refine skills and knowledge. Managers are encouraged to participate in SMUís varied management training classes; however, we need to go one step further and provide management training for all first-time managers before assuming their new duties. As technical expertise becomes more important than ever in libraries, technology training must keep pace with new demands. CUL must define the technical competencies required for all staff positions. This will help identify training needs for current staff as well as clarify technical requirements for future vacancies.
Closely related to the need for skill development training is the perceived need for a career advancement path for non-librarian staff. A career ladder for librarians was formalized in 2002 with the creation of an annual review process and the setting aside of a promotion fund by the Provost. While CUL has a policy of promoting from within and creating positions to meet specific needs, there is as yet no similar promotion process or career ladder for non-librarians. Additionally, succession planning must be strengthened in order to prepare for a large number of impending retirements over the next five years. The Executive Council currently assesses all vacant positions, providing opportunities for strategic direction of blocks of staff towards newly defined goals, along with opportunities to begin training staff for anticipated openings. However, CUL must develop a more conscious strategy for rethinking the organizational structure in light of the rapidly changing information landscape.
Notwithstanding these challenges, recent innovations by CUL staff have focused on enhanced service dependability and accessibility for users. For example, Fondren Reference Services staff are in the process of reorganization, and the Public Services and Collection Development divisions are working to transition to a subject liaison model. The Center for Information Processing is reviewing the charges and make-up of its teams and work groups, and has developed a new reporting structure; new positions have been created, existing positions have been modified, and a new Director has been hired. The Norwick Center for Digital Services (nCDS) grew out of the former Center for Media and Instructional Technology (CMIT), requiring several staff members to take on new or changed responsibilities that now support student multimedia needs and digital library projects. The Systems/CUL Information Support Services department has taken on responsibility for CUL web development and has restructured to form a Web Team. These examples speak to the flexibility and adaptability of staff, but reinforce the need for a revitalized performance management system that will clearly and succinctly spell out performance expectations across all CUL departments.
ē Facilities constraints
A recent space analysis conducted by an outside consultant, at the request of SMUís Campus Planning & Plant Operations, documented numerous areas that need attention in order to resolve dysfunctional traffic flow and obsolete mechanical systems, particularly in the FLC. Deferred maintenance issues in the three separate buildings that comprise the FLC are noticeable. Books and patrons alike suffer from temperature extremes. There are no humidity controls in areas that house our most precious rare books. The DeGolyer Library is storing collections in all parts of the FLC building (and on our Plano campus) to the detriment of efficient staff curation and security. Exhibit space is limited and slowly erodes due to the continual need to expand shelving. In the Hamon Arts Library, shelf space is also an issue. The Library will be completely out of shelf space in two years, and must look at either building up another floor, adding compact shelving (and reducing study space) or sending collections to offsite storage.
The challenges for CUL are many, but so are our strengths. CUL has established a reputation for being a proactive, responsive, learning organization and has a track record to prove it. We welcome the opportunities these challenges bring and look forward to serving our users to the best of our abilities.