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Like Nails on a Chalkboard
April 20, 2007 - 2:58pm


It’s old news that many libraries suffer for lack of money. After September 11th, Hinterland’s investment portfolio tanked with the rest of the economy, and the state cut funds across the board. Some of that is coming back, but years of budget shortfalls and inflation have had their effect.

In fiscal year 2006 alone, HU cancelled 300 periodicals subscriptions. Some of those journals and magazines were “unique”—unavailable in other ways, such as online—and some were not. According to records, Playboy, which cost the uni $29.97, was canceled but is still available. That’s good; I’m sure students are reading it for the articles.

Each of us will value what’s in our own interests and field. Not to pick on anyone’s specialty, but Structural and Multidisciplinary Organization sounds sufficiently specialized that the $2,294 it cost each year was probably better spent elsewhere. On the other hand, the Times (London) Index, which is unique, seems necessary to a school that says undergraduate education is important. And what do you do with the Journal of Mathematical Sciences, which costs an astounding $8,118 but is unique?

Individual departments are permitted to pitch in money to their libraries without future obligation—what’s called “non-recurring commitment.” Some departments are better off than others, as you might imagine. You should see the difference between the engineering and comp lit libraries.

Overall, Hinterland’s budget for university libraries’ expenses and equipment (not including staff and faculty salaries) has only kept up with the CPI rate of inflation since FY '01-02. That doesn't take into account more holdings and bigger facilities to be maintained, more choices in acquisitions, and more customers (which means more wear and tear). Hard decisions must be made, and it’s inevitable, perhaps, that current holdings, many of which will never be digitized or available in any other form, will get less care than they should. The picture at right was taken in the stacks of our biggest campus library. Many aisles look this way, and worse. Somewhere in one of the piles shown is an original 18th-century Spanish-language manuscript. I won’t use that text anytime soon, but to know that it’s down there in the dust bunnies and shoe grit makes my skin crawl.


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