David B. Thorud Leadership Award
Photograph of Steve Hiller

Steve Hiller

Director of Assessment & Planning, Libraries Administration

Nominated by Lizabeth (Betsy) A. Wilson, Vice Provost for Digital Initiatives and Dean of University Libraries

Awarded 2016

Dear Selection Committee:

It is my pleasure to Steven Z. Hiller for the 2015 David B. Thorud Leadership Award in recognition of transformational and inclusive leadership in library assessment and planning. His story of leadership spans two decades of culture change, innovation, establishment of best practices, and personal and professional generosity.

The story begins in 1991 when the University of Washington Libraries launched its first strategic plan, and committed itself to becoming a user-centered library. The library director, Betty Bengtson, asked Steve Hiller to lead a task force that would define the user-centered library, assess user needs and patterns, and take action to improve services. The charge sounded simple enough. The execution would be much more complicated and complex. However, the payoff would be profound.

In 1991, the Libraries was not listening to its users in any kind of a systematic way. Like most libraries, we had suggestion boxes and responded to letters and phone calls from users. We received feedback at service desks and from advisory groups. However, this haphazard approach was insufficient during a time of unprecedented change in networked information, disruptive technologies, higher education, and the very essence of the research library. It is in this context that Steve began leading a variety of groups in a variety of configurations to design and build a library assessment and planning program.

Setting an Example

Today, thanks to Steve’s leadership, the UW Libraries enjoys an international reputation for its assessment work. Our triennial surveys first introduced in 1992 are now standard practice and provide invaluable information about students and faculty needs and priorities, and the importance of and satisfaction with the Libraries. Steve has led the Libraries in its productive utilization of user surveys, usability testing, environmental scanning, LibQUAL, focus groups, balanced scorecards, learning outcomes, and impact assessment. We now continuously listen to our users and actually do something with what they tell us. For example, the results have guided such successes as our Any Time Any Place Library, the Research Commons, Chat Reference, the Desktop Delivery service, and the recently renovated Odegaard Undergraduate Library.

With over twenty years of longitudinal data on satisfaction rates and user behavior and priorities, we can and do make better decisions, allocate and reallocate resources strategically, and continuously improve services. As the Dean of the Libraries, I draw on this work to communicate our impact, resource needs, and new capacities. During the recent economic downturn and deep budget reductions, I depended on our robust quantitative and qualitative data to make difficult decisions in a very short timeframe. I am convinced that the Libraries decisions were thereby more strategic, served the greater good, and positioned the university for the future. I cannot imagine being an effective–or responsible–library leader without the assessment program that Steve has built.

Valuing and Respecting the Well-being of People

What started as a volunteer taskforce in 1991 has matured into a full blown assessment and planning program because of the visionary, passionate, and inclusive leadership of Steve Hiller. Early on, Steve understood that we were creating something new and coined the phrase “culture of assessment.” He advocated for an environment in which decisions are based on facts, research and analysis, and where services are planned and delivered in ways which maximize positive outcomes and impacts for library clients. He was one of the first to understand that a culture of assessment was an indispensible part of the process of change and the creation of the 21st century research library.

We all can point to large scale projects led by visionaries. When that visionary leaves, the program often flounders and folds. Steve has worked to ensure the sustainability of the library assessment program. With Steve, it is not about him, it is about the institution and the people it serves. Steve understood from the outset that he needed to build an infrastructure that was not dependent solely on him or even a select few. He ensured that Libraries staff had and continues to have the training and support needed for this new way of working. He reached across the three campuses to ensure that assessment expertise was distributed over our far-flung geographic locations and infused throughout all levels of staff. He sought out partnerships across the university with the intent of raising the assessment capacity of the entire institution. He engaged, mentored, promoted, and supported countless individuals who are now recognized as national experts. Often he co-presented with more junior staff at national and international venues and engaged others in meaningful professional association work, thereby growing the next generation of professionals.

Exhibiting an Openness to New Ideas and Partnerships

It is not surprising that Steve’s leadership impact is felt well beyond the University of Washington. He can be credited with establishing and nurturing a global community of practice. In 2004, he teamed up with the like-minded Jim Self, University of Virginia, and Martha Kyrillidou, Association of Research Libraries, in a massive project called “Making Library Assessment Work.” This large-scale effort entailed making site visits to some 60 research libraries in order to strengthen assessment efforts across North America. In 2006, Steve and colleagues established the first ever conference dedicated to library assessment held in North America which attracted 300 participants. The fifth biennial conference was held at the UW in 2014 with a record of attendance of over 750 professionals from around the world.

Over the past two decades Steve’s transformational leadership has helped turn what was always a very good library into an excellent one. He has never sought credit; in fact, he has been quick to deflect accolades to others. He has kept his focus on ensuring that the University of Washington Libraries remains a user-centered library providing responsive and innovative services to faculty, staff and students. And in this way, an entire library and university have benefitted from Steve’s wise and purposeful leadership. I hope you will agree that by honoring Steve Hiller, we celebrate the leadership legacy and spirit of David B. Thorud.

Lizabeth (Betsy) A. Wilson
Vice Provost for Digital Initiatives and Dean of University Libraries

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