Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Library in Crisis

A report has recently come to my attention, written by a faculty task force at UC Davis purporting to outline a crisis situation at the campus library. As part of its overview, it touches on many themes of the future of the libraries in our discussion.

In a subject based on statistics, the report actively and instructively attempts to sift through them for conclusions. It claims that the library has suffered a long-term trend of underfunding that predates the current budget crisis. While expenses associated with new technologies have grown rapidly in the last 15 years, the UC Davis library's budget has remained stable at around $16 million. This equates to an effective loss of funding. Coincident with this decline in funding, the report cites a precipitous drop in ACRL ranking from the top 25 in the 1980s to a current position of around 60, among the bottom of the UC's. Underfunding is further exacerbated, according to the report, by the fact that UC Davis has an enormous range of disciplines to serve--greater than any of the other UC's and possibly any in the nation! Presumably this range derives from the campuses background agriculture and veterinary medicine although what these disciplines are and why UC Davis should have so many is not spelled out in the report.

To assess the damage from underfunding, the report makes a case study of several departments. The Enology collection in the Biology/Agriculture department is a Level 5 collection designed to gather everything of interest and shortfalls in its budget impact the entire world as a result.

The mathematics department has been forced to cut back on key journals in its field.

As a result of underfunding, researchers in history no longer have access to major reference resources and books and interlibrary loan introduces critical delays in their work that sets them at a disadvantage compared to their peers.

The consolidation of the government documents department into other departments has made it difficult to consult with experts over the material.

For allowing this situation to come to pass, the committee blames the faculty who have allowed their library committees to lapse and the library administration for failing to communicate historical trends. For its recommendations, the report calls for increased funding necessary to restore the place of the UC Davis libraries to the top 30 in the ACRL rankings and to set up an active system of faculty and library committees with regular communication. The report ends with a warning that without access to the digitized information that contains the essence of current research, scholars "do not have a chance" to be competitive.

The report can be viewed at:

Waldron, Andrew, et al. The Library in Crisis: University of California, Davis, 2008.