Library Efficiencies

UC libraries must increase sharing to weather cuts

The University of California’s library system must expand its shared library services to ease the impact of an upcoming budget cut of as much as 21 percent in the next six years, a UC-created task force says.

To deal with these cuts, the Systemwide Library and Scholarly Information Advisory Committee’s Library Planning Task Force urges several strategies, including purchase of readily shareable digital formats whenever possible.

The 25-page draft report also points to a looming shortage of shelf space in the system’s libraries and offers a number of specific budget reduction proposals, including a move to reduce duplication of collections when possible and a budget reduction timetable involving an immediate $15 million reduction in 2012-13.

The most promising strategy “is to develop and manage collectively an expanded portfolio of shared library services,” according to the report.

Throughout the report, the task force, which was convened by UC Provost Lawrence Pitts last year, makes clear it has dedicated itself to identifying possible cuts while striving to make the impact of those cuts as minimal as possible.

UC’s libraries “have a long history of collaborating and finding economies of scale, and while the level of cuts we face is staggering, I am so impressed that we are stepping up to face the problem,” R. Bruce Miller, UC Merced’s University Librarian and a member of the task force, said in an interview.

Miller, who is chair of the UC Council of University Librarians, added that the recommendations seek aggressive focus “on a collaborative, service-sharing approach while continuing to give UC faculty and students the best possible library services under the circumstances.”

The recommendations include a call for the libraries to develop a process assuring rapid delivery of those materials that are “acquired on a non-duplicated, shared, systemwide basis”; to team with faculty to ensure collection purchasing decisions are closely aligned with academic program needs; and to adopt other systemwide, shared services to increase the libraries’ efficiency and effectiveness.

Noting great time pressure because significant budget cuts are expected to occur in the upcoming fiscal year, the task force recommends that the libraries:

  • Set an initial target of $15 million in increased efficiencies in 2012-13 by developing detailed plans for systemwide and shared services during the upcoming fiscal year. One of the means of arriving at that number would be by “management of collection growth and conservation of library stack space.”
  • Target another $25 million in increased efficiencies, for a total of about $40 million by 2013-14.
  • Identify an additional $12 million in cuts by developing plans for more systemwide and shared services to be implemented in 2014-15.

While the task force outlines a road to possible cost-cutting efficiencies, it also is blunt about the effect of the continued cutting.

“The adverse effects of the anticipated budget cuts … cannot be entirely avoided,” the report states. “A reduction in library budgets of 20 percent or more will inevitably have an adverse effect on library services and support for the university’s academic programs.”

UC Santa Barbara Executive Vice Chancellor Gene Lucas, who is chair of the task force, said the identified strategies are aimed at maximizing library service under challenging economic conditions while at the same time “fostering transformative change in a rapidly evolving digital information environment.”

This projected round of UC library system budget reductions — which could total as much as $52 million or 21 percent over the next six years — follows previous cuts. UC’s 10 campus libraries, its California Digital Library and its Regional Library Facilities have seen a total budget reduction of  about 20 percent since 2008-09.

The task force is now circulating its draft report, sending it to the campuses and the Academic Senate and asking for responses by Sept. 2. In the meantime, the Council of University Librarians will be forming more detailed plans on precisely how to make specific cuts. Once the task force receives all the feedback, it has agreed to meet again to chart a course of action.

The UC library system grappling with these cuts is the largest academic-research library operation in the world, with 35 million volumes and a growing digital collection. At UC, faculty, students, and staff have access to nearly all of the resources that comprise the libraries’ collective holdings. 

The task force recommendations come at a time when UC’s libraries — along with the teaching and research programs they support — are being transformed by the explosive growth of digital publication, networked information and mobile communication.

The strategy of systemwide collaboration is a familiar one for the UC libraries. Over the last 25 years, the library system has developed a systemwide approach that focuses on multi-campus collaboration along with “application of new technologies to create a multi-campus library system with capabilities for coordination and sharing of resources that are unequalled by the libraries of comparable research university systems,” the task force states.

The cuts have been necessitated, the task force notes, because of two major factors: the need to fully fund the university retirement system’s liabilities and the prospect of a $500 million cut in state funding for UC beginning in 2011-12.

The task force also finds that UC’s existing library facilities can accommodate its current collection but “will run out of space for new materials over the next five-seven years.” At some campuses, library staff have resorted to leasing off-campus space to house their growing collections.

Provost Pitts said he formed the task force “in recognition of the difficulties the libraries were going to face in the coming five years given the severe budget restrictions.

“The task force’s recommendations take advantage of the university’s 10 campuses and allow us to share the campuses’ resources for a common good with greater efficiencies and lower cost,” Pitts added. “I am impressed that the task force was able to identify a number of potential savings while preserving the availability of scholarly material for faculty and students at UC and for the public, and I am very grateful to the task force and the university librarians who contributed to this effort.”

Given the reduced state support, the Council of University Librarians (CoUL) has pinpointed more than two dozen shared service project initiatives “that have the potential to create efficiencies that can help to offset the effects of the anticipated budget cuts,” according to the task force.  For example, if the libraries consolidated the cataloging and processing of some newly acquired books and outsourced these functions to a vendor under a single systemwide contract, $4.7 million could be saved annually.  In another instance, if an existing program for cataloging of digital productions were expanded to include some print material, nearly $200,000 per year could be saved.

Although UC’s library system has been dealing with sharply reduced budgets for some years, the task force report notes the system has responded to scholarly information’s migration to the digital realm by “aggressively incorporating digital journals and books into their collection. At the same time, the libraries have made dramatic progress in converting existing print collections to convenient and shareable digital formats and have worked with the faculty and others to capture and curate information first produced in digital form.” Applauding these moves, the task force recommends that the libraries “acquire digital formats (e-journals, e-books) whenever possible.”

Analyzing financial pressures on the UC library system, the task force notes that one of the costly problems plaguing academic institutions is the ongoing trend of “rapidly increased prices for academic publications” which the libraries regularly purchase for use by faculty and students. While this is a long-standing pattern, the task force notes that the field is evolving with the growth of highly respected open-access journals, such as the Public Library of Science (PLoS).

Because of the ever-increasing rates charged by publishers of scholarly material, the UC libraries likely will lose “the equivalent of $17 million in buying power over the same period,” Lucas, the task force chairman, wrote to Provost Pitts in a cover letter accompanying the task force report. Lucas said UC and its libraries “stand ready to support ‘’ UC faculty and their peers throughout the world in their efforts to combat this escalating price trend.

Ann Wolpert, director of libraries at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the task force, said she considered its recommendations “notable for their clarity of the problem definition, and for the courage and common sense with which they suggest a path forward.”

Describing UC libraries as leaders in the field, Wolpert said the recommendations “build on demonstrated successes within the UC Library System and its highly respected Council of Librarians, and they align responsibility for planning and action with library and campus administrators who care deeply about the importance of libraries to research and education and are in a position to act.”

By Susan Sward

Susan Sward is a freelance writer with the UC Office of the President.

Read the Library Planning Task Force report