March 16, 2010

University Considers Library Consolidations

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A Library Strategic Planning Task Force public forum in November concluded that a lack of faculty input and interest in the handling of the budget constraints was problematic. But in the months since the forum, faculty have begun to take a larger role in the outcome of the library system, and the administration has taken steps toward making decisions about how to reorganize the library.

According to Anne Kenney, University librarian, library administration has been working with college deans to develop a framework for exploring possible library consolidations and conducting individual library reviews. Reviews are scheduled to be complete as early as this week for the Veterinary School and Entomology Libraries and June 1 for the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, the hotel school, and business school libraries.

After the reviews are completed, Provost Kent Fuchs will analyze them and make a decision based on the newest budget figures. In a worst-case scenario, Kenney said she is planning for a five- to 15-percent cut, but hopes to “be pleasantly surprised.”

A University library board has traditionally acted as the faculty’s main liaison to the library administration. The board –– made up of twelve faculty members from various disciplines –– meets monthly with Kenney to discuss policies and inform Kenney of the faculty’s needs and concerns.

However, according to Prof. Charles Brittain, classics, the board has previously done a poor job of informing faculty members about decisions and accepting input, as was the case with the 2009 selling of Uris’ duplicate collection to Tsinghua University in China.

“[The board was] very big on telling and not so much asking,” Brittain said.

Prof. Mary Beth Norton, history — who has been a member of the library board for the past four years — said the lack of communication with faculty was largely due to the dull tasks of the board.

But the group’s work has changed dramatically since Norton became chair of the board in the fall.

With the University’s recent focus on Reimagining Cornell and budgetary issues, Norton said the library board is taking on many more financial discussions than she is used to.

“What was once a sleepy board was awakened by these serious issues,” Norton said.

The “awakening” is largely due to the flurry of reports and task forces in advance of the University’s upcoming restructuring. These reports suggest some drastic changes for the library, including the consolidation of some of the University’s 18 unit libraries to reduce operating costs and bolster the library’s total budget.

Until the University’s new budget is released, many faculty members are speaking up to try to influence what happens to the libraries.

In December, Brittain and Prof. Jonathan Culler, English, approached Kenney with the idea of creating a committee to address the specific needs of humanities faculty. “We knew this was a crucial time for the library and we wanted our concerns to be heard,” Brittain said.

In January, the Humanities Research Collections Committee was approved by the library administration and has been meeting with Kenney for the past five weeks.

The committee is made up of representatives from every humanities department. Brittain, Culler and four others make up an executive council, which meets directly with the library administration. According to Brittain, the first order of business is choosing which collections to move from Olin Library to Uris Library to occupy space opened when 95,000 books were sold to Tsinghua University in Beijing last semester.

“So far it’s been extremely interesting and productive,” Brittain said of the committee. “It’s the only committee I’ve ever been on which seems to be worthwhile.”

The HRCC is not the only committee to get involved, Kenney said. Similar committees have sprouted around campus, most notably in the unit libraries that are being considered for consolidation. Kenney said she welcomes the support from these groups because “it is always better to have interest than apathy when dealing with a situation like this.”

While each individual committee has its own focus, most seem to be clamoring for the maintenance and improvement of the collections budget, which supports physical books, electronic sources, online databases and a medley of other materials pertinent to research, Kenney said.

According to John Saylor, associate librarian for scholarly resources and special collections, who has worked at the library for 37 years, cuts to the collections have never before occurred. “The University shouldn’t start now,” he said.

Assistant Vice Provost John Siliciano said he agrees with Saylor that the top goal for the budget was to remove as little as possible from crucial resources like the library.

“Our hope is to get savings out of the non-academic components of the University so that we can preserve and enhance crucial resources like the library,” Siliciano said.

In addition to consolidation of some unit libraries, Siliciano said other options include exploring reductions in areas such as procurement, energy conservation and managerial overlaps between different departments.

Original Author: Andrew Boryga