The Peter J. Shields Library at UC Davis is in a bit of a bind.
In fact, that might be an understatement. The predicament that the library has been in over the past decade is slowly turning into a crisis. Long-term under-funding has seriously damaged the library’s ability to do what it does best: provide an outstanding array of research materials for students and scholars.
A report released last month by the Academic Senate found that the rising cost of books, journals and subscriptions to electronic databases has put a strain on the library’s ability to provide faculty and students with the resources they need. This has been compounded by a near absence of new money for the library – in 1998 the library’s budget was $15.9 million; today it is $16.3 million.
The lack of money has contributed to a decline in the library’s standing and prestige among libraries in the University of California and nationwide. During the 1990s Davis consistently ranked between 35th and 38th place nationally with the Association of Research Libraries. The library now ranks 60th.
Library administrators have had to cut down staff and buy fewer books. In 1991 there were 76 librarians and 204 library staff. In 2006 there were 59 librarians and 144 library staff.
It’s time for more money for the library. Without a fully functioning library, UC Davis will not be able to preserve its prestige in fields like enology and history, two disciplines in which the library has traditionally excelled. In many fields, the library has world-class collections from scholars from all over the country.
This is a matter of critical importance to the survival of UC Davis as a premier research institution. The continued lack of financial support for the library is appalling.
To be fair, the powers that be did not cut the library’s funding as much this year as they said they would. It is unacceptable that the library’s budget is being cut at all, after a decade of a basically static budget and years of cutting librarians and staff.
It is not clear why the library has been under-funded but it’s time we get out of the dark and start dealing with this problem.
Because funding for the library comes from a variety of sources, university administrators need to work with library administrators and with librarians themselves to determine the best way to improve funding for the library. The only other option is to allow the slow starvation of the library to continue and the academic quality of the campus to decline.
That’s an option UC Davis can’t afford.