Essay on Challenges for Libraries

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Pages: 21

Challenges for academic libraries in difficult economic times
A guide for senior institutional managers and policy makers
March 2010

In association with

The focus groups which form a key base of evidence for this guidance were facilitated by Professor David Nicholas and Dr Ian Rowlands of the CIBER team at University College London, along with Dr Michael Jubb from the RIN.
The guide is available at Hard copies can be ordered to distribute to colleagues, email

1. Summary 2. Introduction 3. The financial position of libraries 4. Library strategies 5. The value of libraries 6. Conclusion Further information and resources 4 6 7 9 16 17

1. Summary
This document is based upon data gathered in the UK and internationally, which was considered by senior librarians in a series of focus groups held in late 2009. It explores how academic libraries are experiencing and responding to financial cuts.
There are four core messages: 1. After a decade of growth in budgets and services, librarians now expect a sustained period of cuts. Library budgets have risen over the past ten years – although not as much as overall university income and expenditure – as both the volume and range of library services have expanded. Librarians from across the higher education (HE) sector now expect budget cuts over the next three years. 2. The scale of the cuts means that libraries must rethink the kinds and levels of service they provide in support of their universities’ missions. The scope for further simple efficiency savings is small, and so librarians are having to think more strategically about: • the balance of expenditure on information resources on the one hand, and staffing on the other. The balance varies significantly across the sector, and there is a close relationship between staffing and service levels whether and if so how to sustain existing kinds and levels of services while at the same time developing new services to meet new needs. Many libraries across the sector are considering cuts in services; but they need to ensure that staff focus more on user-facing functions, and to develop a more detailed understanding of the costs of their activities the squeeze on book budgets, and how to meet the student demand for core texts. E-books could help ease this problem, but publishers’ policies on pricing and accessibility are inhibiting take-up, and

• the costs and sustainability of current levels of journal provision. Cancelling large numbers of titles or a whole big deal will give rise to considerable opposition. But librarians are looking at various options to reduce the costs of their current portfolios.


3. Library directors from across the sector are keen to use the current financial difficulties as an opportunity to rethink what the library does, and to do things differently. But they have as yet few concrete proposals that will transform services or yield large-scale savings. • They are seeking to develop a closer understanding of the relationships between library activities on the one hand, and learning and research outcomes on the other. Library directors are increasingly keen to find ways to demonstrate and communicate the value of their services in achieving institutional goals. They have been developing new kinds of services to support institutional missions, but lack of resources may constrain further development. Support for open access initiatives, for data curation and preservation, and for training staff and students in a rapidly-changing information environment are all at risk. They want to develop deeper co-operation with libraries across the sector. Such cooperation is probably the only way to achieve significant cost savings while at the same time sustaining momentum in developing new services to meet the needs of their users.

4. Library directors need the…