March 14, 2012

Cornell Library Collections Lag Behind Peers’, Professors Say

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From 2005 to 2010, the median increase in funding for digital and print collections for the top 10 research libraries in the U.S. was 35.6 percent. At Cornell, however, funding for these expenditures increased by only 1.7 percent, according to a report by Cornell’s University Faculty Library Board.At a Faculty Senate meeting Wednesday, some faculty members expressed concern over this discrepancy and worried that the Cornell library’s collections are falling behind those of peer institutions.The University’s library materials budget for 2010 was more than $7 million below the median expenditure of top 10 research libraries in North America, according to the UFLB report.In 2010, the median expenditure of top 10 research libraries in the U.S. — as ranked by the Association of Research Libraries — on research materials was $23,496,098. Cornell spent only $16,473,369 that year, according to the report.At the meeting Prof. Abigail Cohn, linguistics, presented a petition outlining what she said were concerns with the discrepancy in these figures.Prof. Mary Norton, history and chair of the University Faculty Library Board echoed Cohn’s sentiments. “To me, the library is one of the great jewels of Cornell, and we are falling further and further behind our peer group in terms of acquisitions,” Norton said.The report presented figures by the ARL that ranked libraries based on expenditures in proportion to the number of faculty members, students and Ph.D. fields at each institution.According to the UFLB report, in 2010 Cornell was ranked 43rd in expenditures proportional to faculty members, 15th to students and 35th to Ph.D. fields among the 116 research libraries as assessed by the ARL. Cohn said that these rankings do not match with a resolution approved by the University in May 2010 as part of its Library Strategic Plan for 2011-2015. The resolution reaffirmed the University’s goal to move Cornell toward becoming a university with a top 10 research library as measured by its virtual and physical library resources.“The Strategic Plan is a goal, but it hasn’t been implemented yet,” Cohn said. “To put it another way, we think that, in terms of funding, that each and every year our collection budget needs to stay competitive with top 10 ARL institutes.”Cohn said that although President David Skorton and Provost Kent Fuchs are working with college deans to make library fundraising a priority, their efforts have not sufficiently addressed the library’s collections development. The UFLB plans to circulate an online petition to faculty to highlight the importance of the library and the need for sufficient funding, Cohn said.  “The goal of this is to pool our voices as faculty and highlight the critical importance of library by addressing it to the deans and the trustees,” she said. The petition aims to raise the Cornell library system to a position among the top 10 research libraries, in accordance with the May 2010 resolution. According to Cohn, failure to maintain funding for collection development at the appropriate level might result in broader, University-wide consequences. “If we aren’t able to start funding the collection development at the appropriate level, then over time we will not have the best library and won’t be successful in bringing the best faculty and students to Cornell,” she said. Cohn said she hopes the petition will also increase awareness on the critical condition of the libraries. “All of us tend to take the libraries for granted,” she said. “We don’t realize how critical financial investment is to maintain an excellent library.”

Erica Boorstein contributed reporting.

Original Author: Manu Rathore