February 18, 2018

In Slumping Economy, Academic Libraries Face Crisis

By LJ Staff

Academic libraries in nearly every state are experiencing fiscal pain.
Although legislators across the country profess their earnest desire to shield
higher education as best they can, such massive shortfalls mean cuts are
inevitable. “This is a budget crisis,” declared Helen Spalding, Associate
Director of Libraries at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and President
of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). In Missouri,
explained Spalding, state-funding for higher education is discretionary and
represents about 12 percent of the state’s budget. But when state tax coffers
came up short in the last few months of the fiscal year, because higher
education funds were discretionary and not locked in, cuts to higher education
made up nearly 37 percent of the state’s cash shortfall. And that pain was felt
in the state’s academic libraries. “We delayed paying bills, stopped all
purchasing, stopped all hiring, gave up money we reserved for open positions,
and scavenged where we could to meet our requirements.” Spalding said.

Such sudden and deep cuts have college and university librarians increasingly
worried about the long-term effects of the current economic crisis. “When you’re
forced to cut your collections budgets, its more than just not being able to get
books, journals, and electronic content, because a lot of this you just can’t
retrieve on another day,” Spalding pointed out. “It literally creates a gap in
the scholarly record.” Spalding says this funding cut comes at an unfortunate
time, when digitization efforts and other technology measures, which could
increase the efficiency and decrease the costs of library services in the
future, need funding. “We certainly are not going to be able to realize our
possibilities.” Spalding added. “It’s not like we don’t know how to run a great
library–we do, but having to work with decreased staff means things like
cataloging suffer, and that provides access. If something is not cataloged, it’s
not accessible.” Further, Spalding said cuts could create a strain on another
valued service for ACRL colleges and universities–interlibrary loan (ILL).
Spalding says that libraries simply can’t rely on using ILL to substitute for
purchasing their own materials. “ILL is based on reciprocity, “she explained.
“I’m increasingly concerned about ILL deteriorating into to a few better-funded
institutions having to act as repositories of the scholarly record. We just
can’t do that.”