Who is your Masood Ashraf Raja? U of North Texas & Advocacy or: Library as cause, not just collections

November 17, 2013, 5:42 pm

UNT’s Willis Library

You’ve probably heard the news by now about the University of North Texas Library’s $1.7 million shortfall. Many operations are on hiatus while they figure out the funding possibilities. Apparently library administrators were caught off guard and are required to retroactively absorb benefits and other expenses. Their budget is almost entirely derived from student fees – which they cannot raise—and they will likely need to cut back on services and collections.

UNT provides us with a wakeup call and a great opportunity for scenario planning. How would you (or your organization) react if your Provost placed you in a similar situation? These are conversations we had all the time when I was the University of California, but if you’re not ready it can be quite a shock.

save_UNTTo me the most interesting component of this story is the advocacy. Within hours there were flyers, a blog, and a Facebook group devoted to this crisis. A news article credits Masood Ashraf Raja (Associate Professor @ UNT) and others for generating this content. It is inspiring to see such a swift response and a handful of testimonials pouring in—in just a matter of days.

I started wondering—what if this happened on my campus? Our facilities are heavily used but would students argue on our behalf? Would faculty stand up for us in such a drastic crisis? Would our community be able to mobilize as quickly as UNT? Who are the top library advocates on my campus? Who is my Masood Ashraf Raja?

I can’t answer these questions—and that’s eye opening for me. We have many positive and productive relationships with students and faculty, but would these folks go to bat for us? Could they view the library as a cause or just as collections and study space?

The UNT situation offers all of us an excellent opportunity to engage in these types of conversations with our staff– and with students, faculty, and alumni. Some preemptive discussions about priorities, needs, and budget shortfalls today can help us prepare for unexpected circumstances tomorrow. With the financial climate as it is, this feels like a necessity for all library leaders. So tell your students and faculty about UNT and ask them: what if this happened here?

Masood Ashraf Raja

Also: Someone should invite Masood Ashraf Raja to talk at Midwinter or Annual; we need more folks like him to stand up and speak out in support of libraries.

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