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Friday, October 15, 2021

Shields Library ‘in trouble,’ says librarians’ union

Peter J. Shields Library’s national ranking has plunged as a result of a lack of funding over the last fifteen years, according to a report released by UC Davis’ unionized librarians.

University Council-American Federation Teachers (UC-AFT) Davis Local 2023, a union of UC Davis lecturers and librarians, released a fact sheet titled The UC Davis University Library is in Trouble, claiming that even though the campus has grown, the library’s adjusted budget has remained virtually unchanged.

In 1993, the Association of Research Libraries ranked UC Davis’ library 35th in the nation. However, by 2006, UC Davis’ library ranking slipped to 60th in the nation. Since 2005, the ARL has ranked libraries by their total expenditures, whereas it had previously used a complicated algorithm of many other variables, said ARL director of statistics and service quality programs Martha Kyrillidou.

UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC Santa Barbara also experienced ranking drops, but by no more than three places.

According to statistics published by the UC Office of the President, UC Davis’ adjusted library budget for the 1992-1993 academic year was $18,924,653. The adjusted budget for 2007-2008 is $19,495,889 – a 3 percent increase from 15 years ago. Meanwhile, the adjusted budgets of the other UC libraries have increased dramatically.

UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC San Diego’s libraries’ adjusted budgets increased by at least 60 percent from 1992-1993 to 2007-2008. UC Berkeley and UCLA’s adjusted library budgets increased by over 40 percent during that period. UC Santa Barbara’s adjusted library increased by 34 percent and UC San Francisco’s adjusted library budget increased by 21 percent.

UC-AFT Local 2023 President Axel Borg said such numbers are alarming.

When you look at the charts, you can see that UC Davis is a whole lot worse off than the other campuses, said Borg, a UC Davis librarian specializing in viticulture. When you look at places like [UC] Irvine and [UC] San Diego, their librarian numbers have gone up significantly.

Borg, who has worked as a UC librarian for 25 years, said that though the UC Davis campus has grown by over 10,000 students since 1992, the number of university librarians has remained almost the same. UC Davis has the lowest number of librarians per 1,000 students than any other UC campus, he said.

Borg said the statistics affirmed anecdotal evidence that UC Davis librarians are straining to meet the demands of the university.

We felt like we were trying to do too much with too few people and we also felt that there wasn’t enough money to buy materials for collections for use for the students, he said.

Borg also noted that though the UC Davis Facts website lists the library as among the best in the nation, the university could make that claim as long as the library is one of the 113 members of the ARL. But a low-ranked library does not support UC Davis’ top-ranked programs, he said.

The only method of reversing the falling trend is to better fund the library, Borg said.

You put your money where your mouth is, he said. Why hasn’t the library gotten more money? All we can show is this campus hasn’t invested in its library. Someone’s asleep at the switch. How did this get so bad?

Helen Henry, associate university librarian for administrative services, said that while she agreed the library is embarked on a troubling trend, the budgeting process is comprehensive and fair.

Anybody would agree that we all should be looking to be getting adequate funding, said Henry, who is not a part of the librarians’ union because she is an administrator. We do need more funding, but I don’t want to be attributing blame.

There are a lot of consultations and a lot of input from across the university, she said. I find this budget process to be very inclusive, very participatory and very transparent.

Kelly Ratliff, UC Davis associate vice chancellor for Budget Resource and Management, said the budget process is based upon complex formulas.

For the most part, the budget process is formula-based or block allocation, she said. The campus budget process calls for allocations that are determined by the provost and executive vice chancellor. The library is treated in the same way as other academic support and administrative units.

Ratliff, who is responsible for managing the campus budget, said constraints in recent years have forced most units to cut rather than augment funding. She said she could only speculate why the other UC campuses have been able to increase their libraries’ budgets.

Ratliff said UC Davis has faced some unique challenges, such as shortfalls in the utility budget since 2000. But there is no single explanation as to why UC Davis library budget is lagging, she said.

There’s not a simple answer because every campus has its own set of priorities and processes that they use to manage their budgets, she said.

Henry said library administrators have requested more funding every year while trying to increase efficiency. Since UC Davis is a research institution, the collections part of the library budget is especially important, she said.

We’re trying to gather ideas and come up with suggestions so that we can make cuts … [while] maintaining our collection budget, she said. However, the library still needs personnel to order and catalog the collections, she said.

On Mar. 9, UC-AFT, representing UC’s librarians, tentatively agreed to a new labor contract, said UC Office of the President spokesperson Nicole Savickas. The agreement, which came after three months of negotiations, will be finalized once ratified by the union, she said.

Borg said the timing of the union’s labor agreement was unrelated to the publication of their fact sheet urging more funding for the UC Davis library, as he said it is of local concern. UC Davis needs more librarians to serve the students and faculty, he said.

I believe that within the University of California, there are resources that may be able to address this [budget problem], he said. Yes, we’re in a bad budget environment, but I don’t foresee that these kinds of things will be remedied right away. If campus is planning to take a 7 to 10 percent of cuts, it’s damaging because we’re very far behind.

Henry said she agreed the library is critical to UC Davis’ academic prestige.

A world class university needs a world class library, she said. The library is essential to support the mission of this university, especially a research university.

 

PATRICK McCARTNEY can be reached at campus@californiaaggie.com.

 

 

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