The Future of the Library

A Letter to Colleagues On the Crisis of the Collections Budget

From the 1996-97 Committee on Library Academic Senate, Leon Litwack, Chair

The library system on our campus has reached a critical juncture in its history, and we believe you should be informed about the gravity of the crisis it faces.

Since 1990, the purchasing power of the collections budget has declined by 22 percent, inflicting serious harm on the Library and reducing it to a level inconsistent with the needs of a leading university. The Berkeley Library has fallen behind its peers, while the demands on its collections and services far exceed those at the libraries of the major private research universities with which it is compared.

In rankings by the Association of Research Libraries, Berkeley has fallen since 1984 from No. 1 to No. 10 in the acquisition of books and from No. 2 to No. 4 in the acquisition of journals. Staff and the invaluable services they provide have also been cut; the number of Berkeley librarians has decreased by more than 33 percent in the past six years.

In a difficult struggle to maintain its primary role of support to academic programs on campus, the Library has done its utmost to implement the necessary cuts in areas that are least disruptive. Thus you may not have experienced the direct effect of reductions in services and collections, but your attention is necessary now before the situation gets worse.

Earlier this year, in response to concern expressed by the faculty, Chancellor Tien announced three one-time allocations to Library collections. This is an important step in the right direction, and the Library Committee warmly welcomed the chancellor's interest and initiative.

But these allocations do not augment the Library's permanent collections budget, nor do they allow for inflation. (Given the inflation rate of 8.8 percent in academic publishing this year, the purchasing power of the current 1996-97 collections budget will decline by 2.8 percent beyond the cumulative decline since 1990-91.)

During 1996-97, the Library operations budget (which includes librarians' salaries) has had to absorb a $600,000 cut from the Vice Chancellor and Provost's Office.

After Chancellor Tien made his three-year commitment, the provost declined to renew the one-time-only funding of $500,000 the Library had received from that office. Clearly, a more unified commitment to funding the Library is needed.

Pressure to leap headlong onto the bandwagon of the Digital Age also complicates matters. We recognize that modern information technology is important, more so to some academic departments than to others, but we do not believe in downgrading the quality of our printed collections.

Damage now is likely to be irreparable. Monographs not purchased and subscriptions dropped are seldom, if ever, restored. The result is reduced access to the best of contemporary scholarship, a reduction that affects educational and research opportunities for students and faculty now and in the future.

The quality of a library rests not only on the quality of its collections but on the expertise of its staff. A staff reduced both in numbers and in its average level of experience is less able to assist undergraduate and graduate students and faculty engaged in research and teaching.

Positions for professional librarians and bibliographers must be filled by fully qualified individuals in order to provide essential services, to maintain the quality of the printed collections and to support the development of electronic resources. We must try to restore a ratio between librarians and faculty comparable to that at our peer institutions.

A decline in the stature of the Library represents a decline in the intellectual life and reputation of the university. Unless this decline is checked and reversed, we believe it will have a significant impact on faculty recruitment and retention, as well as on educational programs.

If the campus does not explicitly consider its options, certain directions will be established by default. It is the faculty using the Library who must make the critical decisions about its future direction.

Berkeley Librarian Peter Lyman has outlined strategies for coping with the funding crisis in a document entitled "Problem Statement on Strategic Planning for Library Collections and Information Resources." We urge faculty to make their views known about this document -- available from the office of the Academic Senate (call 642-7213) -- and more generally about the need for a secure funding source for collections and operations.

Protecting the excellence of the Library demands a firm and vigilant commitment from the faculty. The bargaining position of the Library needs to be strengthened in the annual competition for endowed funds, and it must become a special priority of the chancellor.

The Academic Senate Library Committee, charged with advising the chancellor regarding the administration of the Library, welcomes your thoughts about immediate and long-term concerns, based on your own experiences and needs.

Please address your reactions to the chair of this committee by campus mail or email We promise to act on them and bring them to the chancellor's attention.

We also ask you to urge the chancellor directly to raise the target for the Library in the capital campaign fund from the current $25 million to $60 million.

Finally, we ask you to raise the issue of the Library in discussion with the administration about faculty retention, and faculty and student recruiting.

What is at stake is no less than the heart and soul of our teaching and research program and the academic standing of this university. That standing, we believe, will be largely measured by the quality of the collections and the extent to which they are readily available for browsing and reflective perusal.

A Clarification Of the Library Budget Response

From the Vice Chancellor and Provost, Carol T. Christ

Professor Litwack and his committee have written eloquently of the threat our Library faces, a threat it shares with all major research libraries in the country. There is no question that action must be taken to sustain the capacity of our Library. The only question is how to do it. Clearly the most important factor in shaping the choices in front of us is the budget.

Since the letter from the Committee on the Library refers to the Library budget, I thought it might be useful to clarify the budget actions that have been taken in regard to the Library.

Over the entire period of budget reductions, the collections budget has been exempt from any cuts and has received a number of one-time augmentations, as resources have permitted. The operations budget of the Library has taken cuts, like the budgets of every other campus unit.

The final set of permanent budget reductions on the campus were allocated in 1995-96 and 1996-97. (The campus has been using one-time central funds to spread out permanent budget reductions over a number of years rather than taking them all at once.)

For the reductions allocated to units for the years 1995-97, the chancellor made the decision to exempt the faculty budget and all other provisions for instructional positions from cuts. The reduction on the remaining portion of the budget was 6.2 percent, to be taken over two years. This cut was allocated differentially across the campus.

The Library's reduction was 5 percent over two years, less than the average cut. The Library requested, and was granted, permission to take 25 percent of the two-year cut in the first year, or $189,288, and 75 percent of the cut in the second year, or $567,863, so that it could have the time to plan organizational changes to implement the reduction. Hence the committee's $600,000 figure.

In 1996-97, the Library also received $1.737 million in one-year allocations, $1 million from the chancellor's Bridge Initiatives for collections, $585,000 from the vice chancellor and provost, and $182,000 for minor capital improvement projects. The Library thus did continue to receive the vice chancellor's temporary augmentation of $500,000. However, the strategy developed with the Library was to shift the funding source of the collections augmentation to the chancellor's Bridge Initiatives, and double that amount, and use the vice chancellor's $500,000 augmentation for other high priority needs.

By providing this budgetary clarification, I do not mean to minimize the Library's funding problems, problems that we have tried to mitigate as best we can within the limits of campus budgetary flexibility and priorities.

I agree with the committee's assertion that our Library, like all research libraries, is in a state of crisis. The causes for this crisis are many, and its solutions need wide and thoughtful discussion, both on the campus and among research universities.

Brian Hawkins, the vice president for academic planning and administration at Brown University, has made a succinct statement of the problem. "In the 15-year period from 1981 to 1995, the library acquisition budgets of 89 of the nation's finest schools nearly tripled, and in real dollars increased by an average of 82 percent.

"...These increases may seem impressive, and they represent major commitments on the part of these universities, but the reality is that the average library in this elite group lost 38 percent of its buying power during this period....In these 15 years the inflation rate for acquisitions was consistently in the mid teens.

"...If these trends continue, by the year 2030, the acquisitions budgets of our finest libraries will have only 20 percent of the buying power they had just 50 years earlier.

"The problem is international in scope, but the solution has been relegated largely to research institutions because historically they have developed the largest, most complex and oldest collections. The 89 schools that were analyzed represent nearly 40 percent of all library acquisitions of the more than 3,200 colleges and universities in this country.

"...Our great universities are losing their library buying power, and none of these historical sources of revenue can keep up with the increases in cost."

A recent Mellon Foundation report reached a similar conclusion. It found "The rapidly rising prices of materials, the continued increase in the number of items available for purchase, the fact that university libraries seem to be acquiring a declining share of the world's output."

Hawkins goes on to assert that with pressures on higher education to cut costs even more, the problem of sustaining our libraries is probably even worse than he has predicted.

He concludes "...the impracticality of continuing to build large, costly, warehouse-type structures to shelve printed materials, thus replicating collections that exist elsewhere -- these and other developments cause one to ask whether established practices, which are already eroding, can be continued very much longer."

The committee's letter gives a Berkeley perspective on this international problem. It is one that deserves all of our best and most careful thought and energy.


Copyright 1997, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
Comments? E-mail