Monday, November 30, 2009

UC Irvine libraries try to protect students' access from being limited further despite a 14 percent budget cut.

by Line Eichner Knudsen Elliott

It is early afternoon, and the Gateway Study Center across from the Langson Library is packed with students. A hum of computers, clicking keys, and crackling paper creates a din of concentrated studying, a bubble of quiet intensity that is shielded from the noisy campus life, which continues on the other side of the center’s tinted glass doors. Students lower their voices to a near-whisper if conversation is absolutely necessary, but most have their heads bent over the tasks before them. There are assignments to complete, papers to turn in, finals to prepare for, and yet, just a few weeks ago, the study area was closed until 6 p.m., and students were forced to take their homework elsewhere.

As budget cuts are implemented across the UC system, libraries are among the facilities cutting costs in order to continue services to students.

The UCI libraries, consisting of Jack Langson Library, the Science Library, and Grunigen Medical Library off campus, share one budget and decision making in this sphere affect all three, while the newly opened Law Library and the Media Art Center, specialized in their fields and open only to students in select programs, are run separately and on much smaller amounts of money. What all of them have in common is a decline in the services that are available to students.

According to Mitchell C. Brown, Research Librarian and Unit Head for the Reference Department at the Science Library, the library budget is allotted by the UCOP. In the past, the UCI libraries were given extra funds because the campus was considered a growth campus, a campus that continues to add students, but this year those extra funds were no longer available.
It is the first year the UCI libraries have experienced a permanent cut, which means limitations in terms of the amount of money they have received, but they also cannot expect that the money will be forthcoming next year.

According to Brown, cuts were about $4 million out of a budget of roughly $28 millions for the school year 2009-2010. The largest part of this money goes to salaries, about 35 percent, another 32 percent is allocated the materials budget and 12 percent go to operating costs.

“Personnel cost is always the most expensive part of any organization,” Brown said. “And it is really where your intellectual capital is. So with a $4 million cut we don’t want to get rid of people.”

So far the libraries have avoided actually firing any employees, but they have experienced a serious reduction in the number of student workers. The libraries used to be the largest employer of students on campus, but that is no longer the case.

The most obvious changes so far concern opening hours. Grunigen Medical Library has cut hours from 88 hours a week in March to 73 hours in November. Langson and the Science Library have cut hours from 99.5 hours a week in March to 65 in the beginning of this quarter, but they have recently raised that number to 77 hours a week through the week of finals.

“The hours were cut earlier on because we just didn’t have enough money,” Brown said. “The hours were extended for the Gateway, and that money came from the fact that we had one or two people who left the university entirely. Now we had money from salary savings, and the Gateway got extended. Going into the spring I think some of the hours are still going to be reduced. We are looking for money to be able to cover that, and I don’t think it’s going to change, but it could.”

Still, the cuts in hours are no doubt making it harder for those students who prefer the calm environment of a library to get their research and studying done. One library supervisor, who prefers not to give his name, observed that Langson recently saw a rise in students during the day when the Gateway Study Center was closed, but as these hours have been extended, things are back to normal.

Kelsey Wong, 20, Nursing Science, said: “The cutback of hours is the only thing I’ve noticed. I come here a lot. It is pretty much my main place to study. I heard they are not having the libraries open 24 hours for finals week this year, and that is going to suck… A lot! If I study at my apartment, my roommate will come in every ten minutes and interrupt so I don’t know how that’s going to work out.”

Though there does not seem to be many complaints among students about loss of other services in the library system, reductions in funds have necessitated additional cuts as well. For example, they have switched from being available in both electronic and print journals, to just electronic journals, but luckily the electronic sources seem to work for people. This way information may be accessed even if the building is not open. They have also had to place a hold on purchasing books.

Brown said: “We haven’t been buying as many books in the first part of this fiscal year, so that’s July through this month. We’ve been receiving books automatically, but we haven’t been purchasing as much as we have in previous years so we saved about 30% potential cost on that. We’re just waiting until the budget is balanced on our end before we do a bunch of purchasing.”

Another cost saving area has been cuts to certain databases after it was discovered that some of the information was available in several places. Some subscriptions, for example, are shared with all 10 UC campuses, but were also available as exclusively UCI resources. The libraries were thus, in this instance, able to reduce costs without actually losing services.

In this regard, the libraries are furthermore trying to understand how they can potentially share more things between all campuses within the UC system. However, it does not solve the overreaching problem.

“We’re hoping sharing will work for some materials,” Brown said, “but ultimately it comes to a point where you can’t necessarily share. Some things everybody needs.”
So far, the libraries have tried to avoid serious cuts by looking ahead and planning for cuts that seemed inevitable. According to Brown, the savings implemented this year are probably only about of what is needed, and a ten percent cut in the materials budget will most likely be needed.

“We are also looking at next years financial outlook,” Brown said. “It does not look that good either so we might actually have to do some cuts. We’re actually going to feel bad next year. But we are in the process right now of planning for that.”

He believes that the libraries will soon enter the much trickier process of eliminating areas that people really want to keep. Until now, the libraries have made cuts only to areas which could be covered up to some extent, but the focus has shifted to try to cover only what is needed right now.

“People,” he said, “must realize that they might not have everything that they would like in the future. We will have to deal with that when we get to it. Right now we have to try to build a system that will work regardless of what comes down the road.”

Another issue that the UCI libraries will soon have to deal with is how to make up for the hiring freeze. This year several library employees have left the staff permanently, and there are no one to replace them.

“We actually projected this out,” Brown said. “There is a point where we simply do not have enough people to do certain things and that’s going to be a problem. If we continue to lose people we may not be able to function.”

One such example is the print journal section on the second floor of the Langson Library. Keeping the journals in order takes about three hours a day, work that used to be done by student workers. Now it is up to regular staff to sort the journals, but several days in November, the job went undone because some of the staff was out sick and there simply were not resources to cover for it.

“If it’s something we cannot do on a regular basis, people are going to start to notice,” Brown said. “You might say, ‘Well it’s just a journal, how important could that be?’ But when you are looking for it and it’s something to do with your homework, that’s one of those areas – if you can’t find it - where you start running into problems.”

But while Langson, Science, and Grunigen are by far the biggest collections in the UCI system, there are much smaller programs trying to keep up with the budget cuts as well. At the Arts Media Center (AMC), Ross Whitney, Director of AMC, is getting by on a modest budget of just $17,000.

“We get our budget from the School of the Arts,” Whitney said. And it is not much at all. Santa Monica City College spends that much on acquisitions alone. So that is our entire budget for staff and acquisitions, and other little things like phones and utilities.”

Because of such limited funds, the AMC resources, which include CDs, DVDs, videos, instruments, computer and recording equipment, and expensive software, are only available to students in the Claire Trevor School of the Arts.

According to Whitney, the biggest effect of the budget cuts is on equipment right now. This year the classes required new computers because the lab was filling up and some of the older ones did not support the most recent music software, and that money came out of the operating budget. This has never before been the case. And while a photocopier is really much higher on Whitney’s wish list, students come first.

“We’ve never had to buy computers before,” Whitney said. “Because we just don’t get an operating budget that can afford to purchase new computers every three years. But classes come first so we had to buy those computers. It is ridiculous that we had to buy them. It’s supposed to come out of the technology fund, always has, but obviously the budget cuts are real, there are less money, people are competing for it.”

The AMC has not escaped cuts in hours either, and just like the UC libraries, it is evening and weekend hours that are hit the hardest. Some weekends the AMC are not open at all.

An AMC student who wants to be known as GhostDogZ, 23, Studio Art, said: “The primary concern is scheduling conflicts. Considering we have classes to go to throughout the day, free time would be evening and nighttime. The fact that you cut an hour at night gives us less of a chance to work. So you have all this free time on your hands, but no access to the facilities you need.”

Student access is particularly important because it gives them access to more features and software than they would normally be able to afford, like Pro Tools, editing programs, and MuLab.

Part of AMC’s problem is that most of the things it needs are very expensive. When a voice lesson DVD went missing, Whitney did not have the $600 to replace it. The subscription for the $300-400 encyclopedias of world music has been discontinued. And Whitney decided to personally donate copies of Final Cut Pro and Shake.

Still, the most important thing for Whitney is being open for student access to computers and to materials. Because of the size of AMC’s collection materials, it only checks out to graduate students and faculty, but not to undergraduate students or the public. It is more of a research library, and as such, its services are pretty limited.

“That is not crucial for us as long as we are open for students access,” Whitney said. “I am still able to acquire things. Our dean was very sympathetic; he supports this facility because he uses it for his classes. So we’re hurting, but we’re surviving fine. We’ll be ok. It’s like living off of two meals a day instead of three.”

The Law Library, also located on the UCI campus, in is a similar situation to the AMC. Separate from the other libraries, the Law Library operate on a much smaller budget, and is open only to faculty and students in the law program. But unlike the AMC, which has been around since 1992, the Law Library opened on August 24th this year.

According to Sheila Fortman, Administrative Coordinator of the Law Library, the timing of the budget crisis does not favor the new library. Despite being one of the smallest law libraries in the nation, they are only able to expand their core collection at this time, and then only what is needed for the law school.

Staffing has also become an instant issue. The library cannot afford as many people as they would like to stay open, so hours have been cut before they were ever put in effect. Three students help out a total of 20 hours a week, during evenings and weekends, but even then, the Law Library is only just able to keep its doors open.

“It is hard because we are so new, we don’t really know yet what will happen,” Fortman said. “We would like to be open more hours and help more students and have more research librarians, but we just don’t have the staff for that.”

Next year the UCI libraries are expecting further cuts. It may get worse for them, but Brown is hopeful that that will not be the case. A lot of this year’s budget cuts were absorbed by areas that could get cut without greatly affecting any one program or group, but next year the libraries will not have not these areas to cut. They are depleted and cut down to their core.

So where will the money come from? Tough decisions will have to be made, decisions that, in Brown’s opinion, no one is likely to be particularly happy with. The hope is that it might be just a flat spot in funding levels that will get better at some point, but the reality is it could be bad for a while.

“You make a choice between two bad options,” he said, “and you try to do it without doing something that is devastating. So what we are trying to do is get to a point where things does not get any worse, at least it’s stable, and we’re able to protect the areas that people are using.”

For library hours go to: http://www.lib.uci.edu/about/hours/index.html
For AMC hours go to: http://www.arts.uci.edu/amc/

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