MU Libraries to curb acquisitions in tight budget

Tuesday, August 28, 2007 | 6:51 p.m. CDT; updated 6:15 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — MU Libraries anticipates a $600,000 shortfall in its materials budget for fiscal year 2009 due to rising inflation and book costs coupled with a stagnant budget.

As a result, the libraries are reducing this year’s acquisitions by 30 percent. “That’s in order to soften the blow,” said Director of Libraries Jim Cogswell.

State funding for universities has been on the decline for several years, and the cost of journals, books and online databases has outstripped the rate of inflation for decades, Cogswell said.

“Even in a good year when the university and the libraries receive a 3- to 5-percent increase in our overall budget, we can expect that the increase in library materials will go up, usually in double digits,” he said. “Over time, you get what amounts to, in this case, a $600,000 deficit that we’re projecting for the next year.”

That figure is roughly one-tenth of the library’s total acquisitions budget of nearly $6 million, Cogswell said, “so, yes, I would say 10 percent is significant.”

The library’s operating budget has also been flat for at least the past four years, increasing just 0.59 percent between 2006 and 2007. “It’s a sad story,” Cogswell said.

Cogswell said MU administrators will try to minimize the losses for the libraries that are deemed most important campuswide, such as the life sciences and hard sciences libraries, but every library will face reductions.

The short-term impact of the shortfall is that students and faculty will face either the unavailability or the lessened availability of needed materials. Long-term consequences would likely reach further than MU. If certain materials are unavailable at the university, MU students and faculty will borrow those materials from other institutions that could start — and, in some cases, already have started — charging MU for borrowing more than it’s lending, Cogswell said. Additionally, Missourians in general lose educational opportunities when their schools don’t provide a variety of books and journals, he said.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” Cogswell said, “but it also means, quite apart from the students and faculty here, it’s a loss for the state.”

Cogswell said he plans to meet with Chancellor Brady Deaton and Provost Brian Foster to come up with a plan to address the budget problems. One possibility is passing more of the cost of the libraries onto students via a new student library fee or by increasing the percentage of the information technology fee that the library already receives.

Foster said if MU pursues an increase in student fees, students would have a say in the matter. He also said that consolidating various libraries to increase revenue under the Compete Missouri project, a three-year financial plan expected to generate $7 million a year by July 2008, is a possibility. However, he said, “it’s unlikely it would save very much money.”

Despite the stagnant budget, the libraries have been able to maintain or increase other services, Cogswell said. Ellis Library is now open until 2 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, thanks to proceeds from the Bookmark Cafe, a coffeehouse inside the building. About four years ago, Jim Nutter and family, of Kansas City, gave $1 million toward the Information Commons, a 22,000-square-foot area in the library that includes more than 100 computer workstations and seven study rooms. Funding from the information technology fee, a per-credit-hour student charge, helped install new iMacs in the Information Commons last January.

But Cogswell said those efforts may not be enough in the coming years.

“There are more good things that can happen, but we can’t continue to do it if we just keep pulling rabbits out of the hat and robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Cogswell said. “There are only so many lattes that we can sell over at the Bookmark Cafe in order to fund some of the new things that we want to do here.”

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