Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Chapter 3: Reduced Resources: Coping Strategies

Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Chapter 3: Reduced Resources: Coping Strategies

Article excerpt

The new American Library Association (ALA) website on library funding demonstrates the pervasiveness of budget problems in libraries, highlighting cuts in 41 states.

A question at a session of ALA's June 2004 annual conference provided dramatic corroboration of the severe problems libraries currently face in meeting their priorities. When the speaker asked how many in the audience did not know yet what their budgets were going to be for the coming year, almost every hand was raised, surprising both the speaker and the audience. A sales representative from a major vendor said afterward: "Just having my boss see that was worth his time at this conference."

Despite the general drop in funding and budgetary uncertainties, libraries are doing their best to keep up with the rising tide of e-resources. A 2002 Association of Research Libraries survey indicates that spending on electronic resources rose 400% between 1994 and 95 and 2001 and 2002. (1) The technology and information consulting company Outsell reported budget allocations for digital content in academic libraries had risen 19% (to 44% of the total) between 2002 and 2003 and in public libraries by 35%, to 31% of the total.

Vendors are encouraged by an awakening economy. They assume that, though libraries face financial problems, reallocations can still be made to accommodate new digital offerings and that their products will nose out competitors.

If prices keep going up and there is more than ever to buy, what are libraries doing to cope with a seemingly impossible situation?

Coping strategies include localized actions with internal impact, as well as measures designed to influence external circumstances in ways librarians believe will make collection-building more affordable in the long term. This second class of tactics aims at encouraging radical changes in the scholarly information distribution system.

Discussion of the finger-in-the-dike policies and library investments in an altered follows.

Internally addressing declining collection dollars

Libraries are resorting to the time-honored means of coping with reduced resources and also trying out new, somewhat more drastic, approaches. Strategies include:

* Serials cancellation

* Eliminating print versions of titles available electronically

* Either buying into Big Deal packages--or rejecting them (The benefits of the Big Deal are in the eye of the beholder.)

* Reducing overall purchases of print materials

* Replacing just-in-case with just-in-time buying

* Increasing collaborative collection development

Cutting serials

Journal subscriptions have always been the first target of opportunity in tight budget times. As in the past, libraries are canceling whatever duplicate or marginal serial subscriptions they have left that are not tied down by package license agreements.

Some package agreements permit cancellations, though outright savings may be small and sometimes cancelled titles must be replaced with new ones of equal value. Some prohibit cancellations altogether.

Several high-profile libraries have announced large-scale cancellation programs. For example, in 2003 UCLA eliminated an unprecedented 1,400 journals and databases worth $450,000. The University of Arizona has announced plans to cut 16% from its acquisition budget.

In most libraries duplicates and low-use titles are long gone. More often core materials are now on the chopping block. Some libraries are intentionally targeting greedy-publisher titles in a strategic way, even when they are important to users.

To save nonsubscription costs on titles retained, many are shelving unbound issues or shrink-wrapping them. Or, if e-resource agreements include print copies, some are simply discarding them to save processing costs.

Surge toward e-only subscriptions

Numerous announcements document a pronounced move to e-only journal collections, especially in science and technology. …

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