Magazine article American Libraries

When Universities Gut, Libraries Bleed: How Academic Libraries Respond to Shrinking Offerings

Magazine article American Libraries

When Universities Gut, Libraries Bleed: How Academic Libraries Respond to Shrinking Offerings

Article excerpt

When a university cuts majors, programs, or even an entire school, what happens to its library? The obvious answer: Nothing good.

As universities across the country trim offerings in hopes of addressing budget deficits, academic libraries must attempt to maintain services, even as it becomes more and more difficult to fulfill their missions.

"We're really getting slim," says Laura Jacobs, library science professor and interim director of the Jim Dan Hill Library at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. The university, which has a reported budget deficit of $2.5 million, has suspended 40 programs, including the library science (LS) minor, since 2014. The library budget has seen large cuts as well.

Suspension means that a program is not permitted to accept new students as majors, not that the program itself is closed. That means that the library must continue to support the suspended programs, even while it has only two staff librarians (not including Jacobs) to serve a student population of 2,500.

"The administration would like us to expand hours," Jacobs says. "That's pretty hard to do." The library no longer maintains a reference desk, instead encouraging students seeking reference help to make appointments with a staff member (something many students appear reluctant to do). Even the number of student workers in the library has dropped, given the elimination of the LS minor.

Painful as it is, Jacobs finds it preferable to cut back on services rather than to spread herself and her staff even thinner.

"You can't split yourself into too many jobs," she advises. "If you're working on updating databases, to mentally shift over to reference or to do instruction for a class or to try to do collection development--it's pretty much crazy-making."

She's also attempted to shore up the library's relationship with university faculty, which, she says, has suffered from the fact that she is the only remaining member of the LS faculty.

"Building the personal relationships that are necessary for collection development has become more complicated because we don't have settings in which we automatically interact with faculty," Jacobs says. "Thinking about the library has dropped to the bottom of their list."

For example, she says, each month she sends Choice book reviews to relevant departments and asks them to alert her to any new items that should be acquired. But faculty response has dropped significantly.

"The music department just says, 'Choose for us,'" she says. "That works okay because I have a music background, so I can do it pretty easily. Whereas with social inquiry, I wouldn't begin to know."

Many miles to the east, a $16 million budget shortfall led the University of Southern Maine to lay off 50 faculty and 100 staff members and eliminate several departments a few years ago. …

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