Libraries are for Use

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

Saving libraries

So the UC Berkeley Libraries were able to diversify their funding sources to enable it to continue providing the services that the faculty expect.  How did they do it?  Well, first, the Libraries issued a plan detailing how it would “meet budget goals”.  This report “reinvisions” the libraries as more centralized in some form or fashion in order to reduce staffing costs.  This means fewer specialized libraries and fewer librarians who are intimately familiar with the collections.

So the Libraries let the faculty know the impact of the cuts on their areas of specialty.  Communicating impact.  Of course, the faculty didn’t like the proposals.  The cuts were not in the general libraries, but in specialty libraries, which, I think, are held more dearly to the research faculty.

With that backlash, the Libraries issued another report detailing how much money would be needed to continue their current levels of service: $5 million up front and another $6.5 million in the budget.  The report points to University of Michigan, which has had annual 4% increases (hmmmm, I need to look into that).  Again, the Libraries communicated their needs to the faculty.

And the faculty responded…the president of the Academic Senate and the provost created a plan to increase the funding for the libraries without raising tuition or fees on students.  This is because these libraries impact the faculty more than the undergraduate students.  What is important about this plan is the variety of sources:

  • $3 million from discretionary funds
  • $1.6 m from research overhead costs
  • $1 m from the colleges
  • $500K from voluntary contributions
  • $2 m from library cuts

Of course, the “voluntary contributions” are highly speculative – are they sustainable?  Will the faculty come through?  But it is the smallest piece of this pie.

Here’s one interesting portion of the report:

We also recognize that a sudden infusion of such large sums in 2014-15 may not be capable of being spent immediately in the most rational fashion. Hence, we encourage the Library to submit a plan for ramping up its collections and staffing at a pace commensurate with quality-assurance.

This is important because so often decisions to spend a lot of money quickly are based more on politics rather than for the benefit of the overall libraries.

Another notable portion of this report is this:

Both the Administration and the Academic Senate are committed to annually reviewing the Library’s budget and will work with Library staff to identify additional funds and cost-savings as needed.

This is both exciting and worrisome.  After all, a library with an independent budget and its own source of funds is more free to make decisions on how that money is spent.  The more others are involved, the more others, are, well, involved.  This is a common problem with people and animals alike – finding that balance of freedom and independence with cooperation and collaboration.  Both have their costs and benefits – the UC Berkeley Libraries will find out if they have found that balance.

So, it appears that UC Berkeley Libraries was successful in finding more money by:

  • Addressing the budgetary constraints head-on and developing some plans on how to deal with them.
  • Developing plans that have an impact on the faculty (rather than “soldiering” on)
  • Communicating that plan to the faculty well in advance.
  • Detailing the funding that would be needed to continue providing the services expected by faculty.
  • Capturing the faculty energy and working collaboratively with the faculty and administration to find additional sources of money.
  • Accepting a certain loss in independence for continued support.

That’s what I see as good in this story – the ending.  But I’m just a little concerned about how strongly the faculty felt in continuing the status-quo of the the library structure.  Now that I’ve become more involved in financial matters, I’ve become more aware factors of inefficiencies.  Decentralized services are notoriously inefficient, in that there is duplication of collections, services, materials, space.  Usually, these costs are exceeded by the benefits of location, in that faculty are closer, the librarians have easier access to the faculty and thus are more attuned to their research ideas and needs, and the collection is more specific to the needs of the department.  The UC Berkeley Libraries include 24 subject-specialty libraries and 11 “Affiliated Libraries”.  That’s a lot of overhead.

Many of these benefits are centered around a physical collection.  In this more networked world, these benefits may be of decreasing value.  In addition to more digital resources that are accessible from anywhere, there are better physical delivery services to ensure easier access to the physical.  Digital connectivity in the form of social media, news feeds, etc. could enable librarians to be attuned to the work of the faculty and their needs.  Finally, research has become more interdisciplinary, with artists working more closely with social and biological scientists, physicists working with neurologists, philosophers working with clinicians, and more.  Then there are the inherently interdisciplinary fields of study that are becoming more common and more prominent in academia.  I wonder how difficult it is for students and faculty in trying to locate resources that are distributed across so many locations.

Does this plan perpetuate an outdated model of service?  Libraries have been swinging from centralized to decentralized services throughout its recent modern history.  Of course, with greater number of resources online, duplication of resources is less of a cost.  And there would continue to be the benefit of face-to-face exposure of the librarians with the faculty, and vice versa.  So, is decentralization outmoded?  Are the benefits still exceeding the costs?


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This entry was posted on February 9, 2014 by in Academic Libraries, Collections.

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