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Davis, California

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Report finds Shields Library under-financed

A severe lack of funding may soon render Shields Library obsolete, according to a recent report by the UC Davis Library Task Force.

The library is currently on a flat budget – it receives the same funding on a yearly basis despite economic inflation and rising book costs.

Long considered the most diverse campus in the UC system, Davis is in danger of losing that distinction, said Axel Borg, a UCD librarian of 25 years and president of the union representing UC Davis librarians and lecturers.

“You see people talk in the newspaper about how they’re coping with the economic recession, maybe by dining out less – well the way UCD is coping with it is by taking out what makes us unique,” he said in reference to the funding problems that could result in the loss of unique library materials.

The budget has three main areas: electronic serials, print serials and continuations. These are either online, in print journals or databases that the library re-subscribes to every year regardless of cost – “locked money” Borg called it – and make up almost 80 percent of the library’s budget.

Fourteen percent is tied up in approval monographs – general texts that the library purchases. This money isn’t necessarily locked, but is a slightly variable yearly investment to keep pace with competitors.

The fixed order category is where Shields Library stands out. It’s the portion of the money that allows university librarians to buy unique materials, and is especially important to the powerhouse departments of UCD, like food science or viticulture and enology.

Costs increase yearly for the four largest chunks – the library’s budget stays the same while book prices rise and inflation occurs.

Since the 1990s, every UC library except Davis’ has either maintained or improved their status in the American Research Library’s rankings, according to the Task Force report. Davis was once as high as 24th in 1986, and between 1993 and 2001 ranked consistently between 35th and 38th – but since has dropped to 60th.

The ranking today is based only on funding, Borg said, and is not indicative of a library’s ability to function.

Helen Henry, associate university librarian for administrative services, said that while this decline in ranking is a fact, its use in the report is misleading. Henry is concerned about what she believes to be inaccuracies in the report and declined to comment on the document. She is in the process of sending comments back to the Academic Senate.

Kelly Ratliff, UCD associate vice chancellor for Budget and Resource Management, said she also had not seen the report, but cited some positive budgetary news regarding the library.

“During the spring, when we were planning for budget reductions, the library was assigned a 7 percent general fund budget target cut, which was reduced to 3 percent in the Provost’s final decisions,” she said.

Ratliff said she hasn’t seen the library treated differently in terms of funding from anything else involved in the campus budget process.

However, Borg believes UCD treats its library much differently than its main competitor UCSD does.

“The library uses UCSD as its comparable school – and that’s only because of how far we’ve slipped,” he said. “We did a case study over the last 15 years to see what kind of funding we were missing out on as our rankings dropped, and the UCSD library has received $65 million more than UCD over that time.”

The library does what it can to cope with these budget cuts by trimming staff, Henry said. The Task Force report shows 17 fewer librarians and 71 fewer total staff employed by Shields Library in 2006-2007 than in 1991-1992.

“We’re helping to support and augment our material budgets with salary savings, and we’ve had to use some of that salary saving for collections,” Henry said.

Borg said this puts more work on the backs of already overworked and underpaid librarians.

Both the number of librarians and their pay is dropping, Borg said. UC librarians make 30 percent less than their CSU counterparts, and are even further outdistanced by California Community College librarians – despite being more qualified across the board, according to the report.

“It’s a backwards world, where people are paid less to work with the most talented public school faculty and students,” said Karen Sawislak, executive director of the union representing UC librarians and lecturers, who said the disparity is most troubling at the starting level.

“A starting assistant librarian in the CSU can come around $57,000, whereas a starting salary for an assistant librarian is around $46,000. It’s a big difference,” she said. “People have to be very high up in the range for associate librarian before they even reach the starting salary for a CSU librarian.”

The report concludes with three recommendations – to increase funding, reinvigorate the university library committee and establish scholarly communication.

“There is so much talent here, but it has to cope with less money, more kids and higher costs – the only reason we survive is because of our talent,” Borg said.

MIKE DORSEY can be reached at campus@californiaaggie.com.

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