The New Reality

We are very stretched in a number of important areas. Our challenge is to find the right balance between reductions in staffing versus reductions in the collection.

—Rick Luce, Vice Provost and Director of University Libraries

Vol. 11 No. 5
April 2009

Return to Contents

The New Reality
Emory faculty respond to a transformed economic world

Schools adjust to hard times

“To suddenly have to do a complete, 180-degree about-face and think about where we can slow down, where we can cut, and constricting ourselves while trying to maintain some of our momentum and simultaneously go in the opposite direction—that's quite disconcerting.”

We are very stretched in a number of important areas. Our challenge is to find the right balance between reductions in staffing versus reductions in the collections.”

Conflict of Interest and Ensuring the Public Trust
Historical perspectives and current concerns

Hearing the Music
A composer considers audience response

Making Love to the World
The practices that sustain research


Academic Exchange: How have academic libraries been affected by the economic crisis?

Rick Luce: In varying degrees, all research libraries have been negatively impacted in their ability to retain existing subscriptions and grow their research collections, while many are also reducing services. The cost of acquiring research materials—for instance, books, serials, databases, etc.—continues to significantly exceed the annual inflation rate based on the consumer price index. We are projecting a 7-percent cost increase for materials next year.

AE: What cuts have you made so far?

RL: For the current fiscal year 2009, the university library budget was reduced by $200,000. We will achieve that through cost savings, such as not filling vacant positions and reducing the number of copiers in the building. Looking at next year, we have prepared a budget predicated on a 3.5-percent increase for collection materials only, which reflects Emory’s strong support of research and learning in a difficult period. Nonetheless, we project a deficit of $395,000 in the collection budget just to maintain a steady state. We will also experience other operating cost increases requiring reduced expenditures totaling an additional $400,000.

AE: What will library users notice?

RL: My two top priorities are to maintain hours and service for students and faculty and to continue to grow our centers of excellence as outlined in our strategic plan. That is fundamental to our mission, so that’s where we’ll put all of our energies. Our challenge then is to balance the necessary reductions we must take. In terms of immediately visible impacts, we will cancel some journal titles and databases, and to a lesser extent we will acquire fewer books and other media. We are closing the entrance outside of the Matheson reading room, which is a convenience. Other necessary reductions we’ll achieve internally, such as not filling about ten vacant positions. We will certainly feel this acutely since we are very stretched in a number of important areas. Our challenge is to find the right balance between reductions in staffing versus reductions in the collection.

AE: What conversations have you had with your staff?

RL: We’ve talked about what has caused these issues—where we are today and what is on the horizon for next year. We will continue to actively have these discussions throughout our organization as we learn more. This is much like within a family, where it is important to keep the lines of communication open, and the university is in many dimensions our family. We’re all interrelated, and our work is highly interdependent. At the moment, it appears that we’ll achieve our 2010 budget without major negative consequences for our public services; however, 2011 and 2012 are increasingly going to be very difficult. Since we don’t know with any precision what the future holds, we must plan for and make the difficult strategic decisions that will position us for where we want to be five and ten years from now.

AE: Have excessive price increases by larger publishing houses eased in the down economy?

RL: No, not at all. We’ve seen no abatement in the rising cost of published content, and one can only speculate when the current economic model will implode, as research institutions are unable to absorb the corresponding cost escalations. The current economic pressures will continue to strain the traditional publishing system that has already been under duress. Between 1986 and 2006, journal expenditures at North American research libraries increased by a staggering 321 percent, with the average journal unit cost increasing by 180 percent. During this same period, the U.S. consumer price index rose by 84 percent, clearly demonstrating that journal costs have far outstripped inflation.

Although publishers claim those increases are, in part, the result of providing more content, we’ve not seen the pricing escalation curve change when their distribution has moved from paper to electronic. Among other things, this has had the effect of forcing libraries to purchase fewer monographs, which has also forced university presses to produce fewer monographs. As a result, it has become more difficult for faculty, particularly new faculty, to have a scholarly monograph published.

At the same time, we see legislation being introduced in Congress to repeal the NIH [National Institutes of Health] Public Access Policy that supports public access to taxpayer-funded research. The best research, not to mention an informed nation, is one that is based on all available knowledge, not just knowledge accessible to only those who can afford to pay for it. Taken all together, these trends are very worrisome. As the economy is exacerbating these budgetary pressures, clearly we need a more sustainable system of scholarly communication..