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Strategic Change in Libraries: Timing is Everything

November 6, 2018

“You don’t have to swing hard to hit a home run. If you got the timing, it’ll go.” – Yogi Berra

Have you found that on your campus it’s difficult to find the perfect timing? To meet. To do a database trial. To engage faculty. The list goes on.

In a modern era of doing more with less, timing is everything.

I’ve been on my current campus for two full academic years, and am just starting to figure out some of the larger-scale timings for things like when to submit the budget proposal, when annual renewals are coming due, etc. Our fiscal year runs July 1 – June 30, and we often are submitting budget proposals around mid-terms of the spring semester. Because we’re a two-year school, we experience a lot of change during the first month of each semester. This change usually includes turn-over in my part-time staff, both with professionals and student workers, so it becomes a matter of keeping the day-to-day operations up and running and the building open for students.

Yes, I felt stuck during my first year, because I inherited the old systems, policies, procedures, and subscriptions, but it did give me time to research and plan. I now have a strategic plan for the library in place, along with knowledge of timing.

Most of our annual subscriptions renew in July or August, for the start of the academic year (there are a few that are scattered throughout), and it makes sense to put new services in place at the start of a new academic year. So, work backwards… substantive changes need to be included on the budget proposal, so decisions need to be made, or underway by mid-March the previous academic year. Being a small library (only 2 professional librarians), we don’t have the luxury of being content-area experts, so we rely on our faculty to assess, evaluate, and promote the resources that support their curricula. It’s relatively easy to run usage statistics and see whether students are using a database or not, and to promote resources that are already in place. But what become a little trickier is trying to find that “perfect timing” to trial new resources…

As former teaching faculty, I take advantage of my familiarity with the ebbs and flows of the academic year. Most trial electronic databases only run for 2-4 weeks. So, we need to have them available when faculty are available (our faculty are only 10 months – so there’s no guarantee of summer availability). What works best on my campus for trials is the time between mid-terms and Thanksgiving/end-of-November. Drop/add is over, midterm grades have been submitted, the syllabus has been revised (and re-revised if necessary), large-scale projects are well underway, and finals are still seemingly off in the distance beyond that Thanksgiving holiday break…

I get my feedback from faculty prior to winter break, and can start planning adoptions, renewals, etc. when I return to campus in January and fit it into that budget proposal. Spring semester is spent researching resources not already in place, and making initial contacts to prioritize what trials will roll out the next fall.

It’s a lengthy process, but figuring out how your campus works, and having a clear mission statement, strategic plan, and goals, will help change take place. There is truth in the adage: “good things come to those who wait” – and persist!

Dana J Kerrigan is the Director of Library Services and College Librarian at Valley Forge Military Academy & College in Wayne, Pennsylvania. 

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