by Kathleen Scalise
A new Blue Ribbon Committee on the Library has been appointed by The Vice Chancellor and Provost Carol T. Christ to educate the campus on library issues and, along with the Library Committee of the Academic Senate, bring to the faculty possible solutions.
"Inflation, the explosion of information available and electronics-which haven't effectively replaced much yet but are an add-on for the library-are a triple whammy that has put all research libraries everywhere in trouble," said Anthony Newcomb, dean of humanities and chair of the blue ribbon committee.
Add to this Berkeley's years of staffing cuts and a base budget that has slipped with respect to comparable universities, and you have a library system that needs to reassess and rebuild, said Newcomb.
Described by some as the most precious cultural resource west of the Mississippi, the Berkeley library system has been and remains highly rated.
Once ranked second in the nation, it is now fourth overall, according to the Association of Research Libraries, which bases its rankings on a composite of factors including budget and collections.
The stunning size of the Berkeley collection and breadth of PhD programs it supports are the very factors that contribute to both the high ratings and the library's current dilemma.
"We're trying to support an exceptionally large and diverse academic program," said Mike Rancer, the library's director of financial planning and administration.
"Our collections budget has been growing slightly, but purchasing power has dropped....Berkeley has added many doctoral research programs, our peers haven't.
"The universities we compete with have far fewer programs. PhD programs are a good measure of library impact. Graduate students don't have access to these materials privately, so they make demands on the library."
Discipline by discipline, the impact of inflation on library purchases varies. But one professor in East Asian Studies bemoaned well-funded book purchases at the University of Michigan.
"Why should Berkeley, looking out over the Pacific Rim, fall behind a landlocked mid-western university without our otherwise excellent East Asian connections?" he asked.
Collections are not the only concern. The library staff has incurred cuts of more than 20 percent over recent years, mostly through early retirement programs and attrition. Now, said Marianne Constable, chair of the Academic Senate Library Committee, the effects of these cuts are being felt in service. Though the library has tried valiantly to minimize the effects of cuts in operations and has pursued cost-efficient innovations in maintenance and management, she said, faculty dissatisfaction with services is growing.
Constable, an associate professor of rhetoric, cites inaccessible materials and the replacement of trained reference librarians with temporary help and students as among the problems her committee hopes to address in the coming year.
In addition, "persistent rumors as to proposals to close and/or consolidate branch libraries suggest areas in which faculty need to be informed and prepared to participate in more open exchange," she said.
Another often-heard complaint on campus is that digital projects are swallowing too much of the available money. "If you take the position that there is no responsibility to acquire electronic materials, then digitization has taken somewhat from print collections, though not hugely," said Newcomb. "But that point of view is a little troglodyte, a little Luddite, isn't it?"
University Librarian Peter Lyman points out the library spends less than 3 percent of the state-supported collections budget on digital materials, largely on reference databases and materials requested by the faculty.
"Our special digital archive projects for the humanities in the Bancroft Library are almost entirely supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Mellon Foundation," he said.
Lyman hopes to continue obtaining new resources to fund digital and other projects. A systemwide digital library initiative moving ahead this year will help, as will private sponsors such as the upcoming Pacific Bell Information Gateway in Moffitt Library.
Other ideas are being solicited by the blue ribbon committee, which held its first organizational meeting Aug. 18 and plans to meet with departments across campus over the next semester.
In the end, though, "the faculty has to realize that the library is to some extent its responsibility," said Newcomb.
"I'm donating $12,000, Tony Newcomb from his own bank account, and I hope this will help encourage my fellow faculty members to help the library. If we want to have a good library. we cannot always rely on the state to totally fund it."