Chronicle of Higher Ed: Libraries Innovate to Counter Cuts
Few of the [Association of Research Libraries’] members hold out much hope that the outlook will improve anytime soon. “There’s already an expectation expressed that there will be more cuts during the current fiscal year, and a high expectation that they’ll continue into 2010-11. That’s scary,” says Mr. Lowry. “Maybe things will turn around, but right now the outlook is extremely pessimistic.”
Frankly, despite the headline, I don’t as see much innovation going on as librarians making do with less. Most of the article is along the same lines as the quote above, describing a rather dark situation for research libraries. Budgets are being cut, librarian positions being cut, empty positions left unfilled, with less money for collection development.
To deal with the collection development problem, libraries are shifting their perspective from individual collections to consortium collections. In other words, as long as one of the libraries in your consortium has a copy of the book, and you can get that book through ILL in a reasonable time frame, you don’t need to purchase the book for your library.
I think this renewed focus on collection development is a good thing. The problem is that you need librarians for it to work, and probably more then libraries have now.
Libraries can no longer rely on standing orders to fill their orders. Instead, they need to be much more thoughtful about how they spend their money. They need to think about what goes into the collection, what should be taken out, what can be called from other libraries on a just-in-time basis. You need librarians to be working closely with faculty to determine collection development policies and to purchase materials accordingly.
However, staffing budgets are being frozen and more likely cut during the very time when these librarians are needed. As a result, I believe that research library collections and services across the board are going to suffer. People will point to ‘the current economic climate’ as an excuse, but that won’t stop the damage being done. The greater risk is that people will take this new level of ‘service’ as being good enough, and budgets will never be readjusted to meet actual needs.
I commend all librarians who are working in reasearch libraries and libraries everywhere during this tough time. But to label what is happening as ‘innovating’ is to put a positive spin on an untenable situation. These librarians are not innovating: they are simply doing the best they can to continue deliver some level of service to their communities.