This week, I learned that the depiction of complex systems in a systemigram is a deeply analytical and methodical process, requiring a micro-level of detail. It is not unlike instructional design, which also requires a micro-analysis of incremental learning processes. However, in instructional design, one works backward from the overarching learning goal(s). In systemigrams, it seems that one would work forward from the funding source instead. Forward design of the systemigram would be necessary when the outcome is unknown, or to be predicted. Backward design from the outcome would be feasible in situations like the analysis of Enron because it is a past event, and the outcome is known. Regardless, the process of depicting a systemigram requires detailed knowledge (aka research) of the situation at hand. For example, the post-analytic systemigram of Enron required an immense amount of note-taking from the documentary; though in reality, to create a full-scale systemigram about Enron would take multiple viewings of the documentary in addition to research to fill in the gaps of knowledge that the documentary left out (a good example from class that needed additional research for understanding was the inadequate description of mark-to-market accounting).
I found the Enron documentary to be a handy template for thinking about my system of interest (libraries) from an economic or funding perspective. It makes sense that funding serves as the lifeline of almost any system. Without it, the system cannot be sustained. I think libraries are unique in that their funding is typically reliant on the system they serve. This is true for school and academic libraries, though not necessarily for public libraries. I used to work at a public library that was funded as a line item on the local community’s property taxes. In other words, it was treated as an independently funded system, making it easier to predict the budget from one year to the next. Many public libraries are not so lucky and are reliant on the goodwill of their local municipality for steady funding. Academic and school libraries are always dependent on their district’s or institution’s budget, which can make for an unreliable stream of funding. The UNT library system is an example of that because UNT libraries are funded almost exclusively by student fees, and enrollment may vary from year to year. For a Tier 1 research university, this is not a sustainable source of funding because of the increased costs of supporting the information needs of high-level faculty research.
A comparison of the materials expenditures of the UNT library system to a comparable Tier 1 institution (in terms of student enrollment), University of Oklahoma, illustrates this inadequacy. For FY 2015, total library materials expenditures at UNT were $6,121,280. In comparison, University of Oklahoma libraries spent $14,435,222 on materials in the same fiscal year. It should be noted that Oklahoma is ranked 50 out of 114 in the ARL Library Investment Index, which is not exactly stellar. That speaks volumes for the inadequacy of UNT library funding, and I suspect that if that inadequacy is not addressed, UNT’s Tier 1 status is arguably at risk. Consequently, in depicting the UNT library system in a systemigram, I would focus on funding because it is the system’s biggest threat to sustainability, and it affects decision making at all levels (e.g., materials selection, staffing levels, services).