Cuts, Freezes Widespread in Academic Libraries

May 13, 2009

Many academic libraries are facing major planned or potential budget cuts as the nation’s economic meltdown plays itself out. Online reports and announcements from major U.S. universities show that significant budget cuts may be widespread among members of the Association of Research Libraries and other college and university libraries across the country.

The NorthEast Research Libraries consortium has released a letter (PDF file) to publishers about the current collection development budget crisis its members face. According to the letter, financial officers in NERL institutions have been given specific targets for budget discipline for the next two or more years.

In NERL’s home institution, Yale University, reductions in collections budget for FY 2009–2010 will be on the order of 10%, with a likely additional 5% for 2010–2011. NERL notes that the problems are widespread, stating, “Similar stories are told on many sides, with some of the heaviest impacts on the institutions among us that are the largest and have been the beneficiaries of important university endowments.” Average cuts across the NERL consortium are about 4–5%. At a January Collection Development Council meeting, University Librarian Alice Prochaska announced that resulting from the university’s 25% endowment decrease, the collections endowment budgets will see a 6.75% reduction, or approximately $900,000, and the collections general appropriation budgets will be cut by 5%, a decrease of around $300,000. “This is the first time that the general university collections budget will be cut for economic reasons,” she said. (She noted that four or five years ago the Library’s GA was reduced by 5%, but that that reduction was not applied to the collections budgets.) The reductions Yale currently faces will take effect July 1, and may be the first of many: At a March 9 meeting, the committee minutes noted that “the library has been told to expect another 5% cut in FY2011.”

Across Florida, colleges and universities were expecting the state legislature to cut up to $500 million from higher education. The University of Florida has posted a “2009–2010 Budget Reduction Proposal for the George A. Smathers Libraries, Including the Health Science Center Libraries” (PDF file) that details over $2.6 million in proposed budget cuts. The University Library Committee passed a resolution in January opposing the reductions and supporting retention of budgets at no less than the July 1, 2008, level for the three libraries. “We are making this recommendation because the libraries are integral to the research and educational mission of the University, as stated in the Strategic Work Plan,” the committee said, further noting that “a cut in library budgets would have a detrimental effect on every educational and research program at the University.”

Cornell University Library will have to cut around about $944,000 from the fiscal year 2010 materials budget. “A reduction in the materials budget is in keeping with reductions across the university,” said John Saylor, associate university librarian for scholarly resources and special collections, in the April 14 Cornell Chronicle. “It’s unfortunate but unavoidable,” he continued. “The library is committed to maintaining and building a collection that ensures our lasting position among the top research libraries.” Ongoing library contract reductions are around 7–9%, with an FY2009 permanent reduction of $2.3 million.

Emory University Libraries have already cut $200,000 (1.8%) from the current (2008–2009) collections budget, and FY2010 will bring additional collection cuts as the library struggles to adjust a reduced budget to inflationary pressures, which can range from five to ten percent, according to an April 2009 report from the library’s Information for Scoial Scientists. Chuck Spornick, head of collection management for the General Libraries, estimates that almost $637,000 (6.0%) will need to be trimmed from the 2010 collections budget.

At Georgia Institute of Technology, Dean of Libraries Catherine Murray-Rust posted a request online to members of the library community, in which she asked for comments about which subscriptions to drop from the library’s collection, saying, “Due to the increasing costs of journal subscriptions and budget reductions, the library is carefully reviewing the journal collection in preparation for potential journal subscription cancellations in the 2010 calendar year.” Librarians will “review the feedback and develop a prioritized list of titles to cancel” by August 31, she continued.

MIT Libraries are faced with a $1.4 million budget cut this summer. A report on the library website calls the reduction “part of the Institute-wide mandate to reduce General Institute Budget expenditures in the 2010 fiscal year.” This mandate requires the MIT Libraries to reduce their budget by 6% by July 1. The library anticipates further budget reductions for FY2011 and FY2012.

UCLA Libraries are facing a cut of over $400,000 this year alone. University Librarian Gary Strong blogged in April: “I received a memorandum from Executive Vice-Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh detailing this request. . . . In the detail attached to EVC Waugh’s memorandum the library is slated for a $438,623 mid-year reduction for 2008–09 and the five percent reduction for 2009–10 of $1,830,201.”

At the University of Tennessee Libraries, Dean of Libraries Barbara I. Dewey sent a memo (PDF file) February 16 to deans, department heads, and library representatives warning that they were “facing a potential 8% base budget cut. This cut represents reductions totaling $1,343,299 from the library’s operations, personnel, and collections budget.” She noted that “the magnitude of the economic situation no longer makes it possible for us to avoid collection cuts.”

The University of Washington Libraries submitted a business plan (PDF file)in February to Provost and Executive Vice President Phyllis M. Wise that reflects “levels of reduction in central support of 8%, 10%, and 12%.” In dollar terms, these reductions are $2,457,962, $3,072,452, and $3,686,943 respectively. Wise posted a letter April 29 stating that “the legislative session that ended on Sunday was one of the most difficult and challenging in decades.” The $9-billion shortfall in the state budget will have “serious consequences” for the university, she said. Even with federal stimulus dollars, she noted, the reduction in state funding will amount to $189 million.

ACRL survey says . . .

As part of the evaluation of the 14th National Conference of ALA’s Association of College and Research Libraries in March in Seattle, attendees were asked to identify the leading issues they face today as librarians/information professionals, as well as the main issues currently facing the profession.

More than 1,300 individuals responded to the survey and their responses overwhelmingly indicated that funding constraints, budget cutbacks, and declining support for and increasing costs of academic/research libraries are the most challenging issues.

Respondents indicated that shrinking budgets impact everything—from staff, to collections, equipment, and facilities. The ongoing question they have to ask is “what is essential and what can be cut?” One respondent indicated that “budget cuts have created a culture of fear at my institution” while another commented that “budget cuts/hiring freezes have resulted in an inability to pursue desired projects/materials due to lack of funds, and more work for us as vacancies are not filled.”

–Leonard Kniffel, American Libraries, and Charles W. Bailey Jr., publisher, Digital Scholarship. Adapted from the DigitalKoans blog.