By Allison Campbell-Jensen

As University Librarian and Dean of the Libraries, Lisa German enjoys an unusual overarching perspective on the Libraries and its undergirding, influence, and impact on the University of Minnesota and the broader community.

“We in the Libraries reach so many students, faculty, staff, people in the community, both here in Minnesota and beyond in ways that are perfectly evident and in others that may be less well-known,” she says.

For example:

  • Many graduate students needing research help know their subject librarian by name, but undergraduates may not realize how the Libraries is integrated in their learning.
  • Researchers may know of the University Digital Conservancy and Data Repository at the University of Minnesota (DRUM) but may be unfamiliar with the Data Curation Network that ensures data is findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (FAIR).
  • Users of Libraries materials around the state access them through Minitex: Do they know it’s a partnership between the University Libraries and the Minnesota Office of Higher Education?
  • Innovation spaces, where users can record videos, incubate business ideas, and explore the use of virtual reality, ought to be better known and better connected in users’ minds.

“So much of what we do is essential, and we have been doing it well for years,” German says. “With a newly created strategic plan, and working together as one library with many locations, we can accomplish even more.”

Two other important goals for the Libraries are, one, to address inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility and, two, to manage fiscal challenges. To take a fresh look at all the Libraries do — and could do — German launched the Strategic Planning Team in September 2020. The team of eight staff, with Ashley Alexander as Project Manager and Co-chair, started an intense process of research, outreach, exploration, discussion, and reflection that resulted in a new strategic plan.

Beginning with values

“[The library is] where I would go to study. It was a sanctuary, a safe place, a huge resource for all the things I needed.”

—U of M alum and current staff member

A strength of the team, says member Erinn Aspinall, Interim Director of the Health Sciences Libraries, was the broad representation of ideas and skill sets. The other members are Carolyn Bishoff, Physics, Astronomy, and Earth Sciences Librarian; Melissa Eighmy Brown, Interim Director of Content Acquisition & Delivery; Jan Fransen, Service Lead for Research Information Management Systems; Danya Leebaw, Social Sciences & Professional Programs Director; Erik Moore, University Archivist; jen neveau, Web Content Strategist; and Carissa Tomlinson, Director, Physical Sciences & Engineering. Aspinall, Fransen, and Tomlinson also each served a three-month term as co-chair.

“I’ve always been really excited that our work will be guided by our values. That was the first thing we created in our writing process and our values have been central to our work throughout,” Aspinall says.

In their distilled versions, the University of Minnesota Libraries’ values are:

  • We respect each person
  • We lead with expertise
  • We are accountable
  • We support the journey
  • Together we make the difference.

The first and fourth values were supported by a statement from a faculty member in one of the team’s focus group sessions. “It’s probably just kind of 100 small things . . . ,” the faculty member said. “I just have a whole series of small interactions that have been just positive.”

Wrangling input

“UMN could not be a world research leader without a strong library system. This is the backbone of the University.”

—U of M faculty member

That is just one sample from the feedback the team gained from a multitude of stakeholders.

“We had a lot of information that we wanted to get, and we had a very short timeline,” Tomlinson says of her time as Co-chair “wrangling” input. For example, more than one thousand faculty, staff, and students responded to the survey that she helped design.

In addition, the team received 40 Libraries staff input forms and conducted 36 focus groups. A staff member in a focus group said: “The library physically supported my ability to earn both my undergrad and graduate degree. … It’s where I would go to study. It was a sanctuary, a safe place, a huge resource for all the things I needed. So, without a doubt, I know I would not have done as well in my studies . … For graduate work maybe not so much as a physical safe place I could go to, but as a resource to get the information I needed to earn my degree so that I would say is, is huge for me that the library allowed me to fulfill my education.”

In responding to the survey, one faculty member noted that: “Research could not be done without the resources of the library. I also think the subject matter librarians are so helpful to our research mission. UMN could not be a world research leader without a strong library system. This is the backbone of the University.”

Among the bold steps suggested for the Libraries by survey respondents were: diversify staff, expand online access, diversify/decolonize collections, improve spaces, and extend hours. Asked about opportunities, Libraries’ groups replied with more than 250 suggestions, Alexander says.

Just one example: “There is much happening at the University level related to Digital Accessibility. The Libraries have had a role in these conversations that should continue, as there is much work to be done. The Libraries are well positioned for this work given our many touch points through the University.”

“I feel like, as a group, we really tried hard to continually get input from Libraries folks and be really transparent about what we did,” says Tomlinson. “Because we were really intentional about incorporating feedback from so many stakeholders, including the library community, I hope that our goals really reflect what people want to be doing going forward.”

Aligning with MPact 2025

“[W]e were really intentional about incorporating feedback from so many stakeholders, including the library community.”

—Carissa Tomlinson

While developing the goals of the Libraries’ 2021-2025 Strategic Plan, the team wanted to balance the need to align with the University’s MPact 2025 — while acknowledging expertise, characteristics, and trends particular to libraries in general and the U Libraries in particular, Alexander says.

The resulting goals are:

  • Student Success: Foster student success and life-long learning in partnership with our academic and community partners.
  • Research & Discovery: Serve as a touchpoint at every part of the research lifecycle from discovery to impact to assessment and reuse.
  • Collections: Meet the scholarly information needs of our campus, state, and worldwide communities through our networked, world-class collections and deep staff expertise.
  • Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility: Create a powerful learning community and welcoming spaces where all can achieve their personal and professional goals.
  • Organizational Effectiveness: Build and sustain a supportive, inclusive, and diverse workplace; develop and deploy employee expertise, reward operational excellence, and empower innovation and change.

What’s next

“Now we’ve got to do the work,” Alexander says. A team recently was appointed and charged with coordinating with departments and units on implementing the plan by developing tactics and measurements. In the meantime, staff are encouraged to use the strategic plan during their quarterly reviews — which means that they, the Libraries, and ultimately the University are positioned for success.

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