Focus On The Board: Hal F. Higginbotham, Board Treasurer
METRO Board of Trustees member Hal F. Higginbotham is the CIO and Senior Vice President of the College Board, a not-for-profit membership association whose mission is to connect students to college success and opportunity. Higginbotham is METRO’s Board Treasurer and serves on the Board’s Executive Committee. He has also been active on our Strategic Planning Committee, which recently completed its work on a new Strategic Plan for the organization. Here, we speak with him about his service on the METRO Board, the strategic planning process, and how METRO is faring in the current economic climate.
What motivates you to donate your time and energy to serving on METRO’s Board?
My initial connection with METRO was through my wife, Barbra, who was the Chief Librarian at Brooklyn College before her retirement last year. METRO is about libraries and one can’t live a life with a librarian without becoming passionate about libraries.
In addition, METRO’s work intersects strongly with the growing importance of information as an essential asset for contemporary society. I find it rewarding and stimulating to work with METRO on the issue of information within this larger context. In a world where technology and the Internet have so profoundly affected our access to information, we now face important questions about the mediation of information and how to successfully and efficiently manage the wealth of information so readily available to us. This is a key question early in the twenty-first century—one for which libraries have a major role to play in helping to find the answer. At the same time, current circumstances—both economic and technological—are challenging libraries to think about new modes of access and new populations to be served in a period of unprecedented change.
Speaking of organizational adaptation to change, tell us about your experience working on the Strategic Planning Committee and your thoughts about METRO’s new Strategic Plan.
Too often, strategic plans are not the critical animators one wants them to be, in many cases because the planning process did not adequately engage the substance of the organization’s main challenges. Fortunately, METRO’s strategic planning process turned out quite differently, with a level of engagement quite unprecedented in my experience. That was due, in part, to the board restructuring that has brought many new members, fresh perspectives, and diverse talents—all centered around the belief in information as an important social resource.
Together with METRO’s Executive Director, our strategic planning consultants, and the Professional Planning Group, we delved deeply into the question of what METRO should be in the next five to ten years, and our work on this issue will benefit all METRO members in significant ways.
The Strategic Plan focuses on a wide range of issues, and I think METRO members will benefit from reading the entire plan, which provides rich detail about where we’re heading as an organization. In a nutshell, the plan discusses how METRO can assume a larger role within this geographic area and perhaps nationally to advance the issues surrounding access to information, the quality of such access, and innovation in information services. It also explores how METRO can extend and renew its service fabric and bring its members into a greater level of engagement. And the plan discusses how, in today’s world, we can assure a robust financial base to sustain METRO’s leadership role and deliver its services.
As Board Treasurer, what is your perspective on METRO’s financial standing in the current economic downturn?
METRO’s largest source of revenue is the State of New York, which provides vitally important support for the programs and services METRO delivers to its members. Clearly, METRO isn’t immune to the economic climate and will be working vigorously to keep library issues prominent during state budget deliberations that are undoubtedly going to be very complex over the next couple of years.
By the same token, over the past five or six years, METRO has made considerable progress in becoming a financially healthy organization, a fact that sets it apart from many other not-for-profits. In modest measure, METRO has been able to develop financial resources sufficient to provide us with the time to think carefully and deliberately about what direction to take as circumstances unfold. METRO’s staff members are focused hard on these issues and on making sure METRO’s services are delivered efficiently and well. We are also exploring supplementary sources of revenue to broaden our base of financial support.
Given our efforts in these areas, I believe that METRO is well positioned to continue its work and that METRO is better positioned to withstand the current changes than many other organizations. Our membership can feel good about what’s happening in that regard.