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What can we stop doing?

Monday, April 26th, 2010 by Merrilee

In an era of increased expectations, we all feel pressure to do more. Institutions are continually offering new services, or expanding existing services. At the same time, budgets are shrinking, and few institutions see a prospect for increased funding allocations in the future. As we introduce new services, and rethink operations, surely there must be something we can stop doing. First, there is an upper limit to what we can do. Second, if we don’t proactively prune and weed, there is a very real opportunity cost in the number of new things any institution can undertake.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal details Getty’s withdrawal from the Bibliography of the History of Art. While I make no judgment about the discontinuation of funding for that particular service, Getty president James Wood explains the rationale behind the decision as balancing new and old:

“If no programs are allowed to ever die, in the end you become captive to decisions from the past,” says Mr. Wood. “Every now and then . . . you’ve got to step back and say, ‘Certain things have been very successful, but we should sunset them now.’”

For some months, I’ve been asking, what can we stop doing? Surprisingly, my question has been greeted with silence. Well, not exactly silence. Most of those I’ve spoken with are interested in hearing what others have stopped, but few are willing to come forward and share. We are in the midst of surveying the RLG Partnership to gauge interest in this topic for our annual meeting. Close to 60% are “very interested” in attending a session on “what we can stop doing,” but only one brave soul has so far volunteered to speak.

I will be leading a seminar on this topic at the upcoming RBMS Preconference, titled Cutting to the Core: Letting Go of Functions and Services. The speakers will be: Michael Fox, Minnesota Historical Society; Mark Greene, University of Wyoming; Eleanor Brown, Cornell University. I will be sharing the experiences of these speakers in some upcoming blog posts.

In the meantime, what have you stopped doing? Some have wryly commented that what they’ve stopped attending conferences — this is not what I have in mind!