An informal survey of librarians that In Trust conducted earlier this year revealed unsurprising news: Most library directors have very little contact with the board, and many feel that boards are not well informed about issues critical to the library.
For example, 19 of the 35 librarians who took the survey reported that they never make a report to the board, and 24 said that they never have any contact with board members outside of board meetings—for example, by sitting on a committee that includes board members.
When offered an open-ended question about what they suspect that board members misunderstand about the library, some of their answers proved thought-provoking:
The board has misconceptions about which resources are available online, and which are available only in print.
Some boards forget that librarians create the library. It’s not a repository; it’s a service.
The library has an educational function in helping students and faculty navigate the complex environment of online and print research resources.
But all the news was not grim. Some librarians reported that their boards are well informed about the library’s role in the institution. One of these was Eileen Saner (above left), director of library services at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana. In the three decades Saner has served AMBS, she has developed relationships that support the library's contributions to the community. In Trust asked her to reflect on how her library advances the strategic priorities of the school
Q How can the director of the library stay focused on the mission of the institution?
A The fundamental task of a professional librarian is to monitor the environment — including the seminary’s curriculum, collections, students, and faculty — and adopt new strategies to improve resources and services.
When AMBS drafted a new mission statement about 15 years ago, I committed it to memory and I have an outline version of it taped to my office telephone: AMBS serves the church as a learning community with an Anabaptist vision, educating followers of Jesus Christ to be leaders for God’s reconciling mission in the world. Since then, I’ve paid keen attention to priorities that emerge from the seminary’s strategic planning, and I deliberately focus on how the library can contribute to advancing the institutional mission.
Q How can the librarian connect the library’s goals with the strategic goals of the seminary?
A The library can support the flourishing of the seminary by proposing and implementing programs that address institution-wide priorities.
For example, one AMBS strategic goal is to “increase connections between AMBS and its constituents . . . through AMBS programs, library resources and teaching faculty engagements.” The library helps achieve this goal by offering a non-credit online independent research class for ministry professionals through the AMBS Church Leadership Center. Participants use the library’s online resources to investigate topics related to specific ministry goals. They share findings within a Moodle course, thereby creating an informal learning community of pastors serving in a variety of settings. Currently our community of learners stretches across six states and the province of Ontario.
Another AMBS strategic priority is to “develop pedagogy . . . that is responsive to changing needs and opportunities for pastoral and theological education.” Acting on requests for ministry training from leaders in immigrant Mennonite churches, AMBS is piloting a non-degree program that combines online classes with on-site mentoring.
At the dean’s request, I collaborated with the professor to develop library research activities for an introductory online course designed for emerging leaders of Hmong Mennonite churches. When several of the course participants joined the on-campus new student orientation this August, they were already comfortable using library resources for class assignments.
AMBS President Sara Wenger Shenk has observed that the church needs to “experience AMBS faculty as thought leaders, and value them as wise guides for what the church must know and be and do for its health and revitalization.” This yearning connected with my desire to see more faculty scholarship freely available online in an AMBS-sponsored open access repository. I have been chairing an open access task force that has guided the launching of an AMBS digital collection using infrastructure provided by our consortium, the Private Academic Library Network of Indiana.
Q How are senior administrators and board members made aware of issues facing the library?
A Our academic dean, Rebecca Slough, supports my efforts to monitor institutional strategic planning, to make relevant proposals, and to develop effective programs. She represents the concerns of the library in the administrative cabinet. Seminary administrators bring library operational or funding issues to the board as necessary. The dean’s regular reports to the board include several paragraphs that I write, generally focusing on the library’s responses to institutional strategic priorities and to the opportunities of 21st-century academic librarianship. The dean includes me in faculty meetings and encourages me to identify ways the library can contribute to effective teaching and learning.
The dean also chairs the Library Committee, which meets four times a year and includes a representative from each academic department, a student, and the two librarians. Before each meeting, I consult with the dean to discuss issues, outcomes, and preparation so that the meetings are a productive time of testing ideas, monitoring library spending, and strategizing for the future. Faculty on the committee then interpret library initiatives and concerns to other members of their departments.
Q Does the library have its own mission statement?
A Library initiatives are guided by a mission statement that states clearly its fundamental purpose — to advance the mission of AMBS.
The library’s mission statement and goals were first developed in 2010 and then revised in 2014 to reflect new opportunities in our environment.
After a year of transition to a new automation system, the library staff will soon resume twice yearly meetings to assess how current efforts contribute to reaching those goals and also to plan future priorities. The three members of the library staff (director, assistant director, and library services technician) have complementary skills and gifts. Each one has a critical role in advancing the mission of the library and the seminary.
Time for a cup of coffee
Keith Wells is library director and associate professor of theological bibliography and research at Denver Seminary. We asked him whether he feels connected with his seminary’s board.
I know personally probably half a dozen of the board members because they’re local, including the current chair of the board and his predecessor. They tend to be on campus and will stop in. I’m intentional about building a relationship, particularly with the chair of the board. I e-mail a board member if one of them is planning to be on campus, then maybe sit down for a cup of coffee.
It’s a more informal connection — to help a board member understand our day-to-day operation, what challenges we’re facing, what difficulties we have, and what directions we’re pursuing in order to provide quality resources and good services to support the curriculum and the research interests of the faculty.
Wells takes it on himself to educate the board about how new programs place new demands on library resources and infrastructure.
In our governance structure, you can look down from a high-level view and say: “We’re going to offer a degree program at an extension site — in a city where there’s no formal theological education on offer within a five- or six-hour drive, and there’s a whole community of people whom we can serve.”
You can present this in a very positive way as a great opportunity: It’s missional, there’s local interest, and the host church is committed. But then start adding up what it will cost just for the library set-up: the materials budget, the computers that will be needed. The training, physical space, furniture, design, and shelving. I want to make sure that the planners within our institution understand what a big commitment it is to set up the kind of library that our students need.
Digital is not necessarily cheaper than print
Myka Kennedy Stephens, seminary librarian and assistant professor of theological bibliography at Lancaster Theological Seminary, has learned that she must be able to explain the costs of print and electronic materials. Skyrocketing costs for collection development and periodicals is something that all schools share.
This year, before the April board meeting, I was talking to the vice president of operations and finance about the library’s budget for the coming year. At first she said my budget wouldn’t be increasing, but then she asked, “If you could have a little bit more money, how would you spend it?”
I knew that periodical subscription costs and book costs would go up five percent. When I presented my proposal to her, she said, “I think this looks great, but I have a question about the cost of print books and periodicals. Why do you need so much money for these materials? Aren’t you moving toward electronic resources?"
I told her that while we of course use digital resources, the cost of e-books is usually higher than print books. It’s typically cheaper for us to purchase print books. In addition, we’re still working out remote access to e-books. We’ve also got a new curriculum being phased in, so the library needs to have money to support the new curriculum.
Stephens has been able to make some closer connections to the board recently.
One of our newly installed trustees asked if he could have remote access to our e-resources. When he went on the campus tour, he fell in love with the library! So he said, “It would be so wonderful if I could use this from home.” His request has launched us into developing a plan to integrate the trustees into the library and also into IT services for the campus.
We’re hoping that this will be a positive move not only for the trustees, so that they have more resources for their work, but also for us — so that they can see what an asset the seminary library is.
AMBS Library Mission Statement
At Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, the mission statement and goals for the library complement the seminary’s overall mission.
Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary
Library Mission Statement
March 2010, Reaffirmed June 2012
The AMBS Library promotes the use of information resources to advance the AMBS mission of serving the church and educating leaders for God’s mission in the world. As a center of scholarship, reflection and lifelong learning, the library provides professional services, relevant collections, and a hospitable study environment for AMBS students, faculty, staff, and church leaders.
March 2010, Revised December 2014
A. To serve our community.
Provide support and instruction in the use of library resources, encouraging patrons to develop skills and attitudes to thrive in an information-rich environment.
Collaborate with faculty to integrate effective use of information resources into class activities so that students will achieve course objectives and become independent lifelong learners.
Promote awareness, understanding, and use of the AMBS Library through community engagement, orientation sessions, exhibits, publicity, and outreach.
Eliminate barriers which prevent the full use of the library including those based on race, class, educational background, or physical limitations.
B. To acquire, organize, and facilitate access to resources.
Collaborate with faculty to assemble resources relevant to the mission of AMBS.
Participate in collaborative networks that enable discovery of library resources.
Initiate and participate in creative resource-sharing partnerships.
Collaborate with partners and adopt appropriate technologies to preserve and distribute library materials so that the voices represented in the collection will be available to current and future users.
C. To develop and maintain appropriate physical and technological environments.
Maintain the physical and technological environment necessary to sustain library resources and services.
Provide an attractive, comfortable, and healthy environment for users and staff.
Test and evaluate developments in information technology. Implement those which enhance the quality and cost-effectiveness of library staff operations and patron services.
D. To administer resources effectively.
Attract and retain a qualified and diverse staff that is committed to service, innovation, and active participation in the AMBS learning community.
Develop and administer annual budgets that represent the priorities and needs of the library and promote optimum use of its financial resources.
Routinely evaluate mission, goals, services, resources, and environment. Make adjustments to improve effectiveness.