SOURCE – Spring 2022
Online Supplement to Interview
with Bess de Farber
Title: Online Supplement to the Interview with Bess de Farber, Former Grants Manager
Authors: Laurie N. Taylor and Bess de Farber
Bess de Farber was the Grants Manager for the Libraries from 2008 to 2022. She has facilitated and led collaborations resulting in over $10 million in grants to the Libraries. As impressive as that is, perhaps even more importantly, she has engendered cultural change with her expertise as a professional facilitator and musician, sharing joyously of her creative and generative approaches to collaboration using appreciative inquiry. Bess arrived at UF with extensive experience from the non-profit world, including her work in developing the CoLAB Planning series, which is a facilitated process to help individuals and organizations find new collaborative partners, and from the libraries at the University of Arizona. In addition her position and dedicated work on grants, during her time at UF, Bess has written three books about collaboration: Creating Fundable Grant Proposals: Profiles of Innovative Partnerships (2021), Collaborating with Strangers: Facilitating Workshops in Libraries, Classes, and Nonprofits (2017, with April Hines and Barbara Hood), and Collaborative Grant-Seeking: a Practical Guide for Librarians (2016).
In this online supplement to the interview in SOURCE, we learn more from Bess as she shares stories of grants management at UF, collaboration creation, and her books.
What are some amazing partnerships that resulted from a CoLAB?
Specifically at UF a new degree program was established with faculty in the UF Colleges of Medicine and Journalism and Communications after participating in the Collaborating with Strangers Workshop. And, a new course in the UF School of the Arts combined three different artistic disciplines for the first time after a workshop for faculty members in all Arts departments. A series of CoLABs was used as the mechanism for forming collaborative humanities faculty and doctoral partnerships known as Intersection Groups to experiment with the delivery of coursework in response to four grand-challenge questions funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. There are many other examples, some that are known to the CoLAB team through shared anecdotal conversations, but after so many CoLAB interactions, we were unable to capture them all.
Please tell us about the Libraries grants program?
This is the only place in the country that offers hands-on grantseeking, co-creation of fundable projects, ongoing mentoring, and a significant grants management program for ensuring the successful stewardship and submission of grant applications applied for and awarded to an academic library. Other programs focus on support for applicants, but don’t provide the continuous professional research development services that sustain and build a culture of grantseeking at every level of personnel engagement. Grantseeking is not generally covered within most masters of library and information sciences degree programs, and unless the Libraries employees have engaged in previous grantseeking as research or teaching faculty, or as nonprofit administrators, they often are inexperienced in this discipline.
We know it is different than other colleges, and we know not every college has a Bess. What’s the secret to UF’s success in the grants program?
The secret to the Libraries success in consistently receiving awards for its submitted grant proposals, or when we serve as a lead partner in proposals submitted by our partners, is that we: 1) focus on building a project from assets we have ready at hand, including past successful projects on similar themes, experienced staff, a track record of successful partnerships in many previous projects, and connections with others in a variety of fields, genres, and initiatives; 2) emphasize available assets using details in the proposal that create a complete mental movie of how proposed projects will be actualized, and this gives reviewers confidence in their investment of scarce available dollars; 3) offer budgeted expenses that are reasonable and in line with what the sponsor is interested in supporting, while contributing effort of knowledgeable staff to complete grant activities according to the project timeline; and 4) complete a assessment of whether each grant opportunity is timely and feasible for being completed without unnecessary stress.
What are we doing that others aren’t?
Our research development process combined with a thorough feasibility assessment ensures we are not wasting time pursuing projects that will fail—either through declinations or through the inability to propose feasible projects that the project team and its collaborators can complete successfully. Our grantseeking process always considers whether or not we can change/improve people’s lives—whether for students, faculty, or members of the general public. If we can’t achieve this, then we don’t apply.
How unique is it for libraries to have this kind of support?
In 2020, I received a call from a library employee at the University of Texas, Austin seeking information about the Libraries grants management program. She was tasked with evaluating such programs within academic libraries around the country. At that time, she indicated that no other library she had investigated was as thorough in building a grantseeking culture and achieving a high level of awarded project success. I bring a unique complement of skills to establishing and sustaining this program: a former accountant using fund accounting, a program officer, a consultant for various nonprofit organizations and funders, and a community development professional. These complementary skills have served me well in leading the Libraries Grants Management Program.
Are the Strategic Opportunities Program grant unique or do other libraries have similar programs?
Yes, although other academic and public libraries offer funding for internal grant awards that often provide seed funds for proof-of-concept innovative projects, the Libraries program focuses on developing high quality applications that are evaluated through a committee of the applicants’ peers. The Grants Management Committee is represented by employees from a variety of departments throughout the Libraries. They offer questions to applicants that demonstrate gaps in the application’s mental movie description or other deficits in strategies or information. These inquiries show applicants where they could improve their proposals and along with my professional mentoring and editing, each applicant receives intensive practical experiences in grantseeking activities, as well as technical assistance for completing all the post award activities to complete their projects.
What was the transition like from non-profits to research libraries?
This was tough. I had no previous experience working with library personnel in or outside the academy, nor was I familiar with the work of academic libraries. At the University of Arizona, there were few employees who were interested in pursuing grant opportunities so I was able to immerse myself as a facilitator in leading project teams, and developing strategic plans. In this facilitative manner, I learned much about all aspects of academic library operations and engaged with all of the library employees at the University of Arizona. It was excellent preparation for leveraging the outstanding grantseeking assets at UF.
What are you planning on learning next? Or, what are you curious about right now?
I’m interested in how to convert the in-person Collaborating with Strangers Workshops (CoLAB) that I have been facilitating since 2001 into an online experience presented with Suzanne Stapleton for the US Agricultural Information Network (USAIN) conference participants in April 2022. My CoLAB team will be facilitating a proof-of-concept for Libraries personnel to test a zoom model for facilitating conversations that expose their research interests and recent collaborative experiences that have remained hidden during the pandemic.
The Magazine of the University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries, published by the LibraryPress@UF, is an open access journal, distributed primarily in electronic format twice a year, in the fall and spring. SOURCE offers the reader an opportunity to view remarkable materials from our collections, learn about our innovative research and collaborations conducted both in the Libraries and with other colleagues throughout the University and beyond, and explore highlights of exceptional faculty and student services provided by the Smathers Libraries.
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