Rising Cost of Journals Has Libraries Reeling

Article excerpt

STUDENTS AND OTHER researchers are used to driving to a library across town or faxing a request to a library clear across the country when they can't find that special book or journal article in their own college or university library.

For users of libraries at Missouri's public universities and colleges, the chase promises only to get more frustrating.

With the number of books and scholarly journals growing, their prices ballooning way out of proportion to inflation, and the amount of electronic information exploding, all libraries are having a harder time keeping up.

Some university libraries are scrambling for enormous budget increases. Those that can't get them are hacking away at their purchases.

St. Louis University boosts its library budget every year by well over the rate of inflation, said Provost Alice B. Hayes. Last year at the law library, she said, the budget for books and journals went up 35 percent.

Frances Benham, university librarian, says SLU's libraries gobble up so much money that "the provost and president think I'm a bottomless pit."

In Missouri, few public universities have found the means to keep up with costs. Central Missouri State University is "acquiring less and less and less," says Pal Rao, dean of library services.

The University of Missouri has committed extra money to a five-year plan to update libraries on its four campuses. But the extra dollars haven't staved off cuts. The St. Louis campus has stopped subscriptions to nearly 600 journals - or almost a fifth of its subscription list, including "things that every research library should have," said Joan Rapp, director of libraries.

In part, print holdings have fallen prey to the cost of such things as CD-ROMs and data bases that cover anything from a national phone directory to the inventory of 150 libraries in Missouri - infinitely more information than the old thumb-worn card catalogs. These electronic holdings now account for 9 percent of UMSL's acquisitions budget, up from 1 percent five years ago, Rapp said.

Plans by the University of Missouri to bolster its data bases and electronic collections and to deliver documents by computer network got sideswiped by the state vote April 5 on riverboat gambling. Had it passed, the state's public university libraries stood to share a one-time windfall of $16.7 million.

The defeat "will keep us from moving forward for a long time," Rapp said. "It's going to put us further and further behind in our services."

Scholars are feeling the effects of the cuts at UMSL. Lawrence Barton, chairman of the chemistry department, said it had lost its subscriptions to two major publications. He added, "We don't subscribe to all the journals published by our professional association. That's wrong."

Rapp said that UMSL cut journals across the board, even though the cost of scientific journals has risen much faster than those in other disciplines. Especially for some foreign journals, subscription costs have increased 2000 percent or more since 1970, while the consumer-price index was increasing 276 percent. …