(This brief essay is adapted from Martin Halbert's self-evaluation submitted as part of his annual performance evaluation.)
A Retrospective Self-Evaluation for the 10/1/09 – 5/30/10 Period
This has been a remarkable eight month period for me, both in terms of the normal experience of starting a new job as well as the major transitional events that have transpired here at the University of North Texas during this time. I am pleased to take this opportunity to reflect on what I have accomplished since I started as UNT Dean of Libraries, with a particular focus on how I have tried to lay a strategic foundation for subsequent activities.
Let me preface all of these comments with an acknowledgement of my reliance on the outstanding staff of the UNT Libraries. Anything that I have accomplished during this period is attributable to their talents, diligence, and teamwork. Quite simply, I feel enormously privileged to lead this group of noteworthy individuals.
Library Strategic Planning
A variety of planning needs were brought to my attention when I arrived in October of 2009. Most of the senior library administrative officials had either retired or were planning to retire imminently, and there were some two dozen individuals reporting directly to me as a result of management decisions deferred until the arrival of a new dean. Space deficits had reached a serious point, mandating immediate attention. Other aspects of the library strategic plans were also awaiting new leadership for updating, including the vision and mission statements, organizational goals and objectives, etc. After assessing the situation for a month, I initiated a library strategic planning process at the beginning of November with a document that included analysis goals, a year-long timeline, and notes on forming working groups to take responsibility for preparing recommendations for my review and decision. Eight months later, all the components of this year-long strategic planning process are on schedule or have been completed ahead of schedule. I oversaw the development of a number of subsidiary components (such as the library reorganization plan and PAC process review), which were developed as part of this planning effort and are successfully being implemented, but which will not be reviewed here (all available for the curious reader, however!).
The new vision statement for the library reads as follows: The UNT Libraries will advance top tier research and scholarship through innovation and collaboration. The new mission statement is: Providing leadership in innovation and learning, the UNT Libraries are an essential force in teaching and research. The Libraries provide expertise in all areas of scholarship and work to meet the ever-changing needs of a vibrant, student-centered research university. Key library strategic goals for the next few years that were articulated in the process are the following:
- Establish creative partnerships that enhance the academic experience through exploring and fostering ideas and discovery.
- Develop programs that engage, empower, and inspire the University community in the pursuit of knowledge.
- Integrate the library into the research initiatives of the University.
- Create physical and virtual collections which support scholarship and research by connecting the past, present, and future.
- Provide well-designed physical and virtual spaces that foster academic community and encourage intellectual inquiry and exchange.
Collaborative Planning with Faculty and Colloquium on Digital Scholarship
As part of the first strategic goal listed above, I initiated efforts to reach out to UNT scholars to explore the possibilities of joint library/faculty projects in digital scholarship. Based on my previous experience at other institutions and building on the strengths of the UNT digital library team, my conviction is that UNT can gain great distinction through such endeavors. I organized a colloquium concerning this topic that was held on December 11, 2009; the presentations at this even (viewable at http://www.library.unt.edu/digital-colloquium) were by both UNT and external scholars. In subsequent months, I led a series of discussions with Drs. Moen, Torget, Kennedy, Calder, Chrisman, and others to explore what collaborative digital scholarship partnerships might be established at UNT. All of these discussions have now led to joint research grant planning efforts which we hope will bear fruit in coming months, and which can catalyze a contemporary new 21st Century style of library/faculty collaboration. In particular, I have received positive feedback from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to apply for funding to undertake a research project with several of these scholars to investigate specific topics in digital scholarship.
UNT Strategic Research Plan
Beyond the strategic planning efforts I initiated in the library, I participated as a member of the campus committee charged with developing the UNT Strategic Research Plan in response to call issued by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) as part of the Texas House Bill 51 legislation (HB 51). This rapid planning effort entailed extensive interviews with several of my fellow deans and intense committee work to distill our findings into a response to the THECB in time to meet the April deadline for the report. Participating in this effort was an immersive experience in learning about all the different research programs going on at UNT in an invigorating way. I hope that I contributed usefully to the creation of this campus strategic plan, and particularly with respect to the elements of the plan that bear on library goals, especially achievement of membership in the Association of Research Libraries as described in the following section.
ARL Application Planning
As the importance of HB 51 for the University of North Texas became clear to me last semester, the attendant issue of candidacy in the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) assumed a larger role in library planning. Well before joining the campus strategic research plan drafting committee I had begun exploratory conversations with ARL membership officials to assess the prospects for UNT becoming a member of this premier library association.
What I discovered was tantalizing. UNT has considered ARL membership for years, and seriously on at least two occasions in the past two decades. The UNT Libraries have long been poised at a point close to ARL candidacy, but have lacked a compelling reason to push for membership, a task that is challenging in terms of the resources required to satisfy ARL membership criteria. After several conversations with ARL, I became convinced that we have a real opportunity to successfully meet these criteria, provided that the leadership of UNT will support the library in this endeavor with the resources that ARL mandates for prospective members. The membership indices which ARL applies in assessing prospective members are far too complex to detail here, but it all essentially boils down to fiscal and other kinds of tangible support from the library’s parent institution for systematically building robust collections and service programs to support research efforts on the campus. We are now at the beginning of a three year evaluation cycle for ARL candidacy. Time will tell if we are able to enhance our collections and service offerings sufficiently to satisfy ARL membership standards. Our biggest gap currently is in our print collection development program, an area that I am particularly concerned to remediate.
Collection Development and Management
Candidly, the print collection development program at UNT is one of the weaker areas of the library. My staff told me this when I arrived, and I have been at pains to begin the process of building up this program area, especially because of its critical importance to ARL candidacy. In the long term this will occur in the course of implementing a new collection management division within the library as part of the reorganization that I have recently implemented, but this division will require at least another year to fully form. In the short term, I have actively sought out opportunities for acquisition of major collections in order to begin to enhance the depth and breadth of our research collections. A remarkable opportunity presented itself in the form of the closure of the Fort Worth federal depository library program (FDLP). This major collection of approximately 800K historical research items dating back to the 19th Century became available for acquisition because of cuts to the Fort Worth public library system, and UNT was perfectly positioned as the most prominent national FDLP library in the DFW area. We have now begun the process of receiving and processing this enormous influx of materials, a task that will require months to complete. This acquisition does not by itself boost our collections to where they need to be, but it is a dramatic start to build on.
By the estimates of the THECB, the UNT libraries have the most severe space deficit of any programmatic area on the campus. THECB projections confirm our own organizational estimates, putting the UNT libraries at a gross space deficit of approximately 200K ft2 or more. (See http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/index.cfm?objectid=50871843-A0AE-4FFF-252C6ADAE5C6BF86 for details. The 2009 deficit estimate was 198K ft2, whereas other THECB estimates put the figure closer to 240K ft2.) This space deficit manifests itself in a lack of adequate public space for students, insufficient space to store and process collections, collaborative spaces to work with faculty researchers, and virtually every other library function imaginable. Library space has not grown significantly since the construction of the Willis Library in 1970, a facility which was roughly two-thirds the size needed for a campus of 17K students, and clearly inadequate for a campus of 36K some forty years later. Space problems are the single biggest cause of concern among library staff, and have repeatedly stymied efforts to bring service programs up to national standards. Because of these serious deficiencies and concerns, I immediately commissioned a facilities assessment study by an external consultant when I arrived at UNT last semester. This study confirmed the space problems observed elsewhere and recommended commissioning a qualified architectural firm to prepare a Library Master Space Plan for the next 1-2 decades of growth. The RFQ for this plan is now in the process of being issued, and will hopefully result in developing a plan for the library space needs of students and faculty at UNT in the coming years. Although we are years away from remediating the space deficit needs of the library, I am pleased that the issue will finally receive some thoughtful analysis.
Open Access Policy and Symposium
Finally, I have done my best as Dean of Libraries to promote awareness on the campus of the issues of Open Access to research (primarily through a symposium held on May 18, 2010 in cooperation with the College of Information and the Provost’s Office), and to catalyze the development of a UNT Open Access Policy that will ensure long term reliable access to the output of the UNT research community. Stevan Harnad has publicly praised the draft UNT policy as the best example of such a policy in the world, and my hope is that UNT will become noted as a leader in the Open Access movement nationally and even internationally.