Though the entire campus faces steep budget cuts next year, Peter J. Shields Library’s funding woes particularly impact the vitality of the university, some UC faculty say.
UC Davis‘ library ranking has toppled from 35 to 60 in the last 15 years, according to the Association of Research Libraries.
The library administration has been asked to prepare for at least a 7 percent permanent funding cut next year, though final numbers will not be known until the state budget is finalized, said Helen Henry, associate university librarian for administrative services.
The rising costs of physical books and electronic databases further cripple the library’s ability to maintain its collections year after year, Henry said.
“If we even have a flat budget, it’s almost equivalent to a budget cut,” she said.
Henry said prices of library materials have shot up by 9.8 percent. In addition, the weakening American dollar has made making foreign purchases increasingly difficult, she said.
“All of these things take away purchasing power,” she said. “If our budget wasn’t cut, we’re actually losing.“
The end result is a squeeze on the discretionary purchases segment of the library’s budget, said Dan Goldstein, UC Davis social sciences and humanities librarian.
Goldstein said the academic departments depend on discretionary purchases to meet their needs. As costs have risen and the budget has remained virtually stagnant, the library is increasingly unable to meet departments‘ requests, he said.
This poses a problem to academic departments, which rely on the library to be able to make purchases for a faculty member’s area of expertise.
“For English and history, the library serves as the lab; it’s where you do your primary research,” Goldstein said.
Ted Margadant, chair of the history department, said the declining funding trend makes keeping pace with the publication of new books in “areas of history where the library has built outstanding collections” difficult. The cuts also prevent the library from building collections in fields that the department has developed recently, such as Middle Eastern studies and Islamic history, he said.
“Reversing the decline in funding for Shields Library is very important for the history department,” said Margadant in an e-mail interview. “Our faculty have helped the library build world-class collections in many fields of history that are vital to our research and that of our graduate students, and we require undergraduates in many of our courses to do research in the library.“
The library’s budget difficulties are particularly problematic because UC Davis is a research university that relies on its library’s prestige to recruit top faculty and graduate students, said English department chair Margaret Ferguson.
Ferguson, who used to teach at Columbia University, said UC Davis‘ strong library attracted her to the campus 10 years ago.
Faculty and graduate students also rely on the library’s collection to publish books of their own, Ferguson said.
“Our tenure and promotion system depends on our publishing books, and if our own university library doesn‘t regularly buy books published by humanists through university presses, the discipline as a whole is harmed,” she said in an e-mail interview.
While the library administration, unionized librarians and faculty all seem to agree that the library is under-funded, there is no general consensus as to why that is the case.
Axel Borg, a UC librarian of 25 years and president of the union representing UC Davis librarians and lecturers, said the administration has done a “poor job” of advocating for the library.
Library and university administrators have cited UC Davis‘ large lab animal population and high electricity bills as unique budget challenges that prevent the library from getting more funds – an argument that Borg does not buy.
“Animals didn’t just arrive; we’re really overextended,” he said.
Other UC campuses, such as UC Irvine and UC San Diego, have experienced over a 50 percent funding increase for their libraries over the past 15 years. UC Davis‘ library budget, on the other hand, has only increased by 3 percent.
The UC San Diego budget expenditures have increased over twofold since 1993, and funding for its libraries “mirrors this growth trajectory,” said Dolores Davies, director of communications of UCSD libraries.
“A strong and dynamic library system has been essential in supporting and facilitating this academic growth and achievement, both in terms of providing a rich and diverse mix of intellectual resources (both print and digital) and instructional support,” Davies said.
Similarly, UC Irvine’s library budget has increased by about 75 percent over the past 15 years to parallel its campus growth, said Kevin Ruminson, director of planning, assessment, and research for UC Irvine libraries.
“The libraries have initiated new services and strengthened collections, and have made the case for funding the libraries as an essential academic resource for the growing campus,” said Ruminson in an e-mail interview. He added that UC Irvine will continue to “expand services and collections to meet the needs of the increased student and faculty population.“
But such has not been the case at UC Davis, though Henry said it is no fault of the administration.
“I truly believe that the chancellor and provost are supportive of the library. They’re not dealing us a bad hand; they’re trying to support the library as best they can with the resources they can,” she said.
When The California Aggie contacted Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef for an interview, Associate Vice Chancellor Maril Stratton said the chancellor wished to relay that “he doesn’t make decisions about individual budgets.“
Henry said library’s funding isn’t exclusively controlled by the library or campus administration, but by librarians who can apply for grants. UCSD, UCLA, and UC Berkeley have all successfully secured grants, she said.
The UC Davis Academic Senate has appointed a task force to investigate the library’s budget woes. Professor Andrew Waldron, chair of the task force, said he expects the report to be released next month.
Regardless of the causes of the lack of library funding, the consequences are severe, Margadant said.
“Short-term budget cuts in library acquisitions and professional library staff can inflict long-term damage that would jeopardize the reputation of the library within the UC system and throughout the nation,” he said.
PATRICK McCARTNEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.