In a closely related posting, One scenario for the death of the academic library, Jonathan refers to a paper posted by Eric Hellman in the comments to the above-mentioned article. Open Access, library and publisher competition, and the evolution of general commerce, by Andrew Odlyzko, 2013, discusses how libraries have the opportunity to change the future demise of academic libraries by increasing their role in Open Access scholarly publishing. This is timely, given that the UNT Libraries hosted the Fourth Annual Open Access Symposium. Invited speakers included several librarians involved in this very pursuit. But that's a side issue...of interest to me was how library budgets, as a proportion of university budgets, have been decreasing over decades (Scholarly Kitchen, Inside Higher Ed), which reinforces the changing attitudes of faculty revealed in the ITHAKA survey.
|Figure 5: Fraction of library budgets devoted to all acquisitions and to purchases of serials|
The final piece from Dupuis' list that intrugued me was the posting from McGill University's blog about a "consultation session" called by the Trenholme Dean of Libraries Colleen Cook about the effects of a $1.8 million (Canadian) cut in the library's budget. The plan is to close one library and merge it with another. Essentially, the reason for this is that the money saved will come largely from cuts to support staff, so there will not be enough people to staff both libraries. Since these two libraries have rather low rates of usage (as measured by visits per population served), it made sense to merge them. However, the chief complaint was the inconvenience of the location of the merged library to the primary users of the closed library (medical students). Interestingly, the Dean's proposed solution to this problem (delivery of materials) itself was in jeopardy due to the same issue: reduction of support staff.
I am surprised that the solutions to this problem that were raised were largely work-arounds: retaining a core set of textbooks at the closed location; having volunteers or librarians performing the duties of the support staff (thank goodness for unions!); book delivery. No mention was made of efforts to obtaining access to digital versions of the core texts (whatever that might require). I am also disappointed that the chief complaint is physical access to materials; there was, apparently, no discussion on the loss of access to librarians.
The Dean was criticized for the abruptness of the planning of these consultation sessions, as well as the apparent "lack of sincerity and transparency." One of the affected faculty alleged that the Dean had "ended a meeting of the Advisory Committee by saying, 'My library, my decision.'" On her behalf, Colleen Cook informed those attending that the planning is rushed because the cuts went into effect in May and had to be implemented before September 1st. And, in the end, it is her decision, although it is expected that she take the concerns and ideas that she solicited into consideration.
What is happening at McGill is happening at many, many academic and public libraries. Economics is about making choices -- the university administration made their choices (reducing funding the library), and the library administration made their choices (cutting staff, and thus closing a library). These choices may or may not stand up to the test of time...