UNC-Chapel Hill plans to cut $ 5 million from libraries, prompting questions over funding priorities
When Professor Tamlin Pavelsky was a young graduate student, he was among the last generation to research Xerox items in the library.
Today, as a faculty member in the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he’s used to finding journals online with the click of a button.
“One of the great advantages of living in our time is that we have access to all of this information, very quickly and very easily,” Pavelsky said.
He says he often searches for a detail in an article online, drops a line in a research paper or grant proposal, and moves on.
As UNC-Chapel Hill cuts its library collections budget over the next two years, this ease of access will end.
UNC-Chapel Hill has not had a balanced budget for a decade. Add to that the revenue losses from the pandemic, and the university is now making operating cuts of 7.5% overall. The university announced in January that it would begin a plans to control its operating and personnel expenses.
The university announced in a campus-wide email last week that it was slashing its library budgets by $ 5 million over the next two years in a larger effort to balance the overall budget of school. This budget cut in particular has some to question the strength of UNC-Chapel Hill as a research institution.
Libraries will compensate for lost subscriptions with loans
Nerea Llamas is the Associate University Librarian for Collections Strategy and Services. She says the UNC library collections budget, which pays for new books and journal subscriptions, is expected to increase from $ 15.5 million to about $ 13.7 million this academic year.
Then UNC libraries will experience a further reduction of $ 3 million in operating expenses the following year. If most of this comes from collections – as has been the case this year – the overall collections budget would shrink by almost a third in two years.
“Even saying we’re taking this big cut – and it’s a big cut – we also have programs in place, we have services in place that will help us provide researchers with the content they need,” said Llamas.
Libraries have stepped up their interlibrary loan services to obtain materials from other institutions, after years of smaller collection cuts to cope with inflation.
“At this point, we’ve long, long ago canceled all nice newspapers,” Llamas said. “We are now starting to dig the core of our journal collection. “
University officials say the critical need to balance the university’s budget in addition to the continued inflation of journal subscriptions forced the decision.
“The exorbitant cost of scholarly journals is a challenge for all research libraries, and Carolina is no different,” UNC-Chapel Hill spokesperson Carly Miller wrote in an email.
Llamas says that with the help of interlibrary loans or by purchasing the items researchers need on demand, the service is still quite fast.
“Sometimes the items are available within two to three hours,” Llamas said.
“But, you know, that’s the difference between maybe waiting a day and waiting a second for an article,” Pavelsky said.
He says that day could make a difference when the deadline for a grant proposal is reached. If the library drops subscriptions to the journals he uses frequently, Pavelksy could pay to subscribe from his own salary.
My lab group just talked about it. There are certain journals that we need to have access to. If they are canceled, I will pay for an individual subscription. So I suspect that this painful but perhaps necessary move will actually shift costs from the university to its faculty.
– Tamlin Pavelsky (@uncglobalhydro) October 1, 2021
When news of the cuts hit social media, commentators compared the $ 5 million library cuts to:
- The university’s $ 2.5 million settlement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans over the Silent Sam monument – which a judge overturned.
- North Carolina state fiscal surplus of $ 6.5 billion.
- The $ 3.5 million salary of football coach Mack Brown.
- Significant gains in UNC Chapel Hill investment funds in 2020.
- Salaries of vice-chancellors.
- The new Carolina Gaming Arena for esports.
- UNC-Chapel Hill breaks record of $ 1 billion in federal research grants.
“If we are this great research university, one of the top 10 for federal funding, and yet we cannot afford to have access to our faculties to the latest research in some of the best journals, what is it? what does that say about us? Pavelski asked.
“I don’t mean to say it’s not a necessary thing, given fiscal realities,” Pavelsky added. “But, I think that should make us all take a step back.”