Archive for the ‘Commentary and Opinion’ Category

Message from Chancellor Block on Future State Funding

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012
To the Campus Community:
By now, you likely have heard that Proposition 30, the governor’s tax measure on the statewide ballot, has been approved by voters. This is good news, as it lends a measure of sorely lacking stability to state funding.
While UCLA is deeply appreciative of Gov. Brown and all the Californians who turned out to vote for Proposition 30, we all must remember that it does little in the short term to alleviate the effects of past funding cuts and unfunded cost increases. State support has fallen 44 percent since 2000, even as we have absorbed numerous cost increases, such as health insurance premiums, collective bargaining agreements, pensions and utility rates.
To adjust to new funding realities, UCLA has cut expenditures, streamlined operations and developed new non-state revenue streams. The campus-wide search for savings must go on, and I will continue to work with senior administrators, academic leaders and student representatives to protect academic programs. Reflecting that priority, in the past, we have made contingency funds available to ensure that there are enough seats in the high-demand classes that students need to graduate in a timely manner, and that’s something we will again consider.
The disinvestment in public higher education has created a structural problem that can’t be fixed easily and requires long-term strategies. As I explained in a recent Time magazine essay, by chronically reducing funding, California and other states are jeopardizing our nation’s future by forsaking the young minds and the research we need to fuel the economy. In today’s New York Times, Thomas Friedman predicted that preparing the future workforce and ensuring a middle class will be a key issue over the next four years. “The answer to that challenge,” Friedman wrote, “will require a new level of political imagination — a combination of educational reforms and unprecedented collaboration between business, schools, universities and government to change how workers are trained and empowered to keep learning.”
I couldn’t agree more. At UCLA, we have many partnerships with other universities and both the public and private sectors to help prepare our youth and further our research mission. We’re on the road toward a new financial model, ramping up fundraising efforts, bolstering intellectual property licensing, accepting more international and out-of-state students, and taking other actions to increase revenues. But we need leadership from Washington and business leaders if we are to create an aggressive national strategy to save public higher education and preserve our nation’s future.
While I’m discouraged by long-term funding trends, I’m optimistic about UCLA’s future, and the passage of Proposition 30 shows that voters are willing to increase taxes to pay for important programs. We are a vibrant community with inspiring ingenuity and resilience. We will meet these challenges and secure our promising future together, guided by our overriding priority to maintain and enhance the broad excellence, rich student experience and affordability that attract the world’s top students and scholars.
Gene D. Block


Sunday, September 11th, 2011

“Where were you that morning?” 

As I watched the 9/11 events this morning, I could not help but reflect on that question.  I was supposed to fly to Washington that morning for a meeting on library issues, but the opportunity to connect with a reporter from Newsweek had presented itself.  She and I were in my office talking about the Queens Library and our programs and services.  My door flew open and the security chief interrupted moving immediately to the television set at the end of the room and turning it on.  He turned and said, “A plane has just flown into the World Trade Center.”  My first thought was that he was joking and said so, but as the image came up, it was the truth.  We stood in front of the picture and watched in horror.  My guest decided she had better get back to Manhattan and immediately left for the subway.  The second plane hit. 

I pulled senior staff in immediately, and we began contacting branches to see what the situation was.  As the towers fell, communication with more than twenty of our branches was lost.  Phones immediately became jammed.  We sent security officers out in cars to those branches to check on condition and report back by radio.  We were under alert.

By mid day the decision was made to try to get as many of the staff home as possible.  Those living in Manhattan began the long walk across the 59th Street bridge as the subways going into Manhattan had been suspended.  Reports continued to come into the command center, and we stayed open in all locations as long as there were people present.  Since many of the libraries were home to after school programs, we were sure all children were safe until parents, many stranded in Manhattan, could reach them.

By the next morning we opened all libraries across Queens and people came.  It was a testament to the role the library plays in our society.  And we were open everyday after welcoming all who came. Some staff were displaced that lived near ground zero and were taken in by friends.  All of us knew someone who was lost as the days followed.  Every community in Queens was affected as the toll was known–fire fighters, police, others were lost.

As I reflected this morning on that time and the months that followed, I found resolve in the fact that the libraries were there sustaining our connection with the community through this time.  Over the following months and years, every time I made the trip to City Hall and walked over the make-shift wooden covers over telephone lines still above ground, I appreciated the coming together of the city and its people.

I hope that we commit to keeping libraries alive and that knowledge and information remain open and accessible.  Knowledge is truly empowering.

Gary E. Strong, University Librarian

Interview About the New Research Commons

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

During the recent meeting of the Coalition for Networked Information, Todd Grappone and I presented a briefing session about the new Research Commons being integrated into the research library renovation.  I was invited to answer questions about the project in a podcast interview during the meeting.  That interview is posted here:

We spoke to a full house and there were good questions about the Laboratory for Digital Cultural Heritage.  Presentations have also been made recently at the fall forum of the Digital Library Federation meeting.

Scenarios for the Future and Restructuring at UCLA

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Over the past several months, I have been engaged with the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) in a scenario development process.  That work is now complete and a user’s guide has been published.  The introduction begins:  “Confronting uncertainty in a rapidly changing environment is essential if research libraries are to continue to be valued and valuable contributors to the advancement of new research and the creation of new knowledge.”  We have certainly been engaged in such thinking at the UCLA Library. The scenarios could provide an interesting backdrop for discussions here at UCLA.  If there is sufficient interest, a group can be formed to explore these.

The guide is available on the ARL web site at

ARL has published an opinion piece that I authored in its most recent issue of Research Library Issues, October 2010.  The entire issue can be accessed at .

As always comments are most welcome as are suggestions for other resources that help us move toward the future.

Visit to the Bodleian Library at Oxford

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

I spent Friday with Sarah Thomas, the Bodley Librarian, at Oxford. We had a chance to compare notes about the changes in our two universities, the challenges of tightening budgets, and plans for our libraries. Many of the issues that we are facing at UCLA are being faced there as well. Planning for their storage facility continues after numerous stops and starts and the challenges of buildings that date back to the 1500s are far different than what we face on the UCLA campus.


I was joined by Carol Christ, President of Smith College (formerly Executive Vice Chancellor at UC Berkeley), Sarah Thomas, and Paul Alpers (Carol’s husband, professor emeritus at UC Berkeley). We engaged in a lively discussion of the challenges of public and private higher education. Smith has just finished instituting a 15 percent reduction in their campus-wide budget that will cover the next two years.


One can even smell the books in the oldest of the reading rooms at the Bodley. We weren’t allowed to pass this front gate even with Sarah along with us.


And we think that we have challenges retrieving books. These conveyors snake underground through tunnels connecting the new and old Bodley. A researcher can retrieve only ten books at a time. Hope you made the right choice!


One of the highlights was being able to examine SAPPHO from the 2nd century A.D. The fragments give a challenge indeed. My purpose in this visit was to further discuss the potential partnership in digitizing about 4,000 nitrate negatives created by the late 19th century photographers Agnes Smith Lewis and Margaret Dunlap Gibson. One of the manuscripts identified in the negatives is the “Sinaitcus Syrus” held at St. Catherine’s Monastery of the Sinai. It is a palimpsest, the erased layer of which dates to the late 4th or early 5th century and preserves the oldest translation of the New Testament Gospels in Syriac. The agreement is close and we now just have to figure out how to get it done.


The highlight of my afternoon, was a visit to All Souls College for tea with UCLA Professor Claudia Rapp who is on sabbatical at Oxford. After gathering the keys, she took me to the All Souls College Library (above) and to the chapel.

I arrived back in London pretty tired from a most productive and exciting day. Saturday took me to the Olympia Boook Fair where I saw several John Fante volumes that we couldn’t afford.

Great Grandma Made These

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

During a trip home a couple of summers ago my sister gave my daughter some of the bonnets, sweaters, and booties that my mother made for my sister when she was born. So Ellie got all dressed up yesterday in her finest.


As they say, they don’t make them like this anymore. Mom knit and crocheted all of the baby clothes for her babies. Since my sister is my daughter’s god mother, I am pleased that she passed them along.


As my mother said, “Every stitch was made with love.”

Grandpa Again–And It Is Good

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

One of the pleasures of getting to be my age is watching your children grow and take on their place in life. Especially nice is accepting your grandchildren into the world. Many of you know about my grandson Mason. He is now joined by Ellie Rose Marie Ray who arrived at 1:44 am this morning. She weighed in at 7 lbs. 5 ounces and is 21 inches long. And she has a full head of hair.


Momma and Ellie are doing fine. The doctor comes by this morning to check her out. But she is sleeping already and resting up to take on the world.


Now this is a real “Miss California!”

Visit to Idaho

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

Some of you know that I (and family) spend time in Northern Idaho whenever possible. I was lucky to be there over Memorial Day and the weather was beautiful, the fields were beginning to turn green, and the rest was welcome.


Sunsets this time of year are beautiful and the days are growing longer.


Sitting on the deck the green field lays out in front and the breeze is light and peaceful. Cattle are still grazing in the mountain to the West. I am located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.


The crab apple tree in the orchard was in full bloom but the lilacs and peonies were not yet blooming. So I had to buy flowers in one of the markets to take to the cemetery on Memorial Day.

But now back to work!

What About Google Books?

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

There has been a lot of discussion surrounding the pending settlement between GOOGLE and the publishers and what impact it might have for our relationship with the project. As many of you know, the University of California has committed to having many of its books scanned for inclusion in the Google Books database. Recently, the University Librarians agreed to participate in the Hathi Trust to preserve these digital copies. With the news of a pending settlement, there have been numerous discussions concerning these issues. The Committee on Libraries and Scholarly Communication of UCLA’s Academic Senate will be discussing this topic during its meeting this week.

In attempting to capture the context for this discourse, you might want to see a couple of articles recently published. They include: (Be sure to read the comments linked at the bottom of the article which provide additional perspective.) (Pamela is at UC Berkeley and provides us a lot to consider.)

I am sure there are many more articles, blogs, meetings, and comments about this significant change in our library landscape. I welcome your comments and thoughts.

Added note on May 4, 2009:

ALA and ARL have just posted statement on the proposed settlement for your interest. They may be found at

On 9/11

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

I spent 9/11/2008 at the Chancellor’s Retreat and was struck by the fact that no mention was made of the significance of the date until almost the end of the meeting. I had begun the morning with thoughts and memories of that fateful day in New York City.

I was in my office at Queens Library being interviewed by a reporter from Newsweek having delayed my planned trip to Washington, D.C. that day until around noon. My head of security, Mike Daly, rushed into my office, turned on the television to NY1, turned and said that the World Trade Center had been attacked. I was sure Mike was kidding. The reporter, Mike, and I sat there glued to the images flashing before us and the uncertainty of the reporter’s voice on air.

The reporter rushed off hoping to get back to Manhattan, and we immediately went into crisis mode and began contacting branches to attempt to calm folks and make sure that our 63 facilities remained open as long as people needed to be there. The city transportation came to a standstill. Internet in 23 of our branches was down because their lines ran through the Verizon center at the World Trade Cente. Cell phones were still working for the most part. By late afternoon, most were making their way to their homes or had arrangements of places to stay. A number of our staff who lived in lower Manhattan close to the site (thankfully all were at work that day) had made arrangements for places to stay. A number walked from their work back across bridges into Manhattan.

As I gathered senior managers into our control center, we decided we would open all branches the next day. The city had closed schools and other facilities, but we felt it important that we be open and ready to have people come in and they did. Thousands came to their branches as a place of connection and to get information.

The rest of the story would unfold, and I have many thoughts about how we handled it all. But those thoughts are too numerous for this. But I did want to make note of the anniversary, and that it impacted so many people’s lives for so long. As I sat at home that evening and watched from my terrace balcony the funnel of smoke and ash still rising from ground zero, I felt the world was a different place. And it certainly has been.

Do pause and reflect a moment.