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Davis, California

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Shields Library continues to struggle

Once considered one of the top libraries in the UC system, Peter J. Shields Library has plummeted in ranking, funding and capability in recent years.

Previously ranked as high in the American Research Library’s rankings as 24th in 1986, Davis sat at 60th at the end of 2008.

Meanwhile every UC library except Davis has either maintained or improved their rankings since the 1990s, according to a November report by the UC Davis Library Task Force, a faculty panel commissioned by the Academic Senate.

“We all thought that with the lights on and the building full of students working that everything was hunky dory, but what we find is that there is a progressive decline in the holdings of the library, and that the overall budget has fallen dramatically since 1985,” said JaRue Manning, chair of the College of Biological Sciences Library Committee and emeritus professor of microbiology.

A comparison of UC Davis to its UC counterpart in San Diego provides a stark contrast in attention the respective universities pay to their libraries.

“The library uses UCSD as its comparable school only because of how far we’ve slipped,” said Axel Borg, a UC Davis librarian of 25 years and president of the union representing UC Davis librarians and lecturers. “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 UC Davis library has dealt with the lack of funding primarily by trimming staff. The Task Force report shows 17 fewer librarians employed by Shields in 2006-2007 than in 1991-1992.

UCSD’s employment over the same time period has increased, thanks to a significant commitment from the chancellor in making it a priority for the library to grow along with the rest of the campus, said Karen Sawislak, executive director of the union representing UC librarians and lecturers.

“They’ve added a lot of positions and have approximately 50 percent more librarians available for library operations and public service than UCD,” she said. “They have significantly grown their librarian population over the last five years where as Davis has been stagnant, despite the growing campus.”

Outnumbering Davis in librarians 74-49 allows UCSD to spread assignments among a greater number of staff, enhancing organization and capability.

“At Davis people have to carry an enormous range of responsibility while at San Diego they’ve really made the commitment to maintain a large staff and give people reasonable duties, which allows them to develop expertise,” Sawislak said. “Davis librarians are stretched so thin – you really can’t maintain a library on the cheap that will keep up with changes in information technology.”

The number of person hours available for assisting students at the UC Davis library has been dramatically cut, Borg said.

“This is a concern for the users because when you need someone to help select a database or navigate a catalog, there are simply fewer of us to do it,” Borg said.

Students who need assistance in the library’s basement will surely feel this effect. The government documents department has been disassembled and the information desk no longer exists, stranding students on that level with questions.

Information Technology is an area where UC Davis remains competitive by reserving 44 percent of its materials budget to electronic resources – but is still outpaced by UCSD, which allots 53 percent.

The fact that UCSD has a larger endowment than UC Davis is just one aspect of their library’s success, Manning said.

“With the commitment [UCSD’s library] receives it wouldn’t even matter if our budgets were the same, we have no development program and receive a paltry endowment,” said Manning, who added that he has asked administration for endowment monies numerous times.

Manning was an integral member of the Task Force, which has prompted the Academic Senate Library Committee to look at reorganizing itself.

“We’ve illustrated that the library committee has for many years not been a very active one, and has not played a major, or even significant, role in asking questions of developing library policy,” he said.

Both Manning and Borg believe that now could be a time for change – if the library is willing to look beyond its own walls for leadership during university librarian Marilyn Sharrow’s one-year medical leave of absence. Helen Henry and Gail Yokote have been promoted from within to fill the void as co-university librarians.

“The report clearly says there has been ineffective management of the library, and to me we’re not bringing in anybody new, just moving existing components higher,” Borg said.

Manning also advocates hiring an interim director from outside the university to provide a new viewpoint.

“I’ve been here since 1971 and have really used the library heavily, and continue to do so, and frankly I’m shocked at the state the library has found itself in and there doesn’t seem to be a clear resolution, or financial backing if there was one,” Manning said.


MIKE DORSEY can be reached at campus@theaggie.org. 



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