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Saturday, May 15, 2021

Western Libraries plans new budget to reduce expenses

Western Libraries houses a vast collection of academic journals. // Photo by Caitlin Cohen
Western Libraries houses a vast collection of academic journals. // Photo by Caitlin Cohen

Due to budget shortfalls for library resources, Western is formulating a plan to reduce its 2016-2017 expenses by $315,000. In order to do so, the university has come up with a list of roughly 3,600 subscriptions to various journals that could potentially be cut.


Western’s planned budget cuts are due to its failure to adjust for the rising price of journal and database subscriptions.  The rise in price is a result of escalating vendor prices that have compounded at an average of 6 percent annually, Dean of Western Libraries Mark Greenberg said in a letter.

In order to find a method to solve the immediate problem of insufficient funds, the Senate Library Committee was tasked with finding a solution.

Jeff Purdue, the librarian for colleges, departments and programs at Western, said  once the feedback is received from each department, it will be sent to the library where the librarians will deliberate over which subscriptions will be kept and which will be cut.

“We have a 15 percent buffer built in so we can keep about 15 percent of those suggested titles to keep,” Purdue said. “If what people want to keep falls under 15 percent we can keep them all. If not, then we have to look at all of the criteria, all of the reasons they give and weigh what are the most compelling reasons.”

In the fall of 2015, the Committee formed the Sustainable Access Task Force — comprised of 12 members from various colleges within the university — to develop a method that would decide which journals and subscriptions would be cut in the 2016-2017 school year. The Task Force also created guidelines to lead to the reduction of expenses in the future.

Infographic by Janae Easlon
Infographic by Janae Easlon

Once the criteria is finished, the Task Force will send a report to the Dean of Libraries and the Senate Library Committee for review and feedback. The final recommendations from other staff members are due no later than the end of May so that the university’s library staff can carry out the changes in June.

Western Libraries projected the budget gap to be $1.1 million by 2021 if no cuts were made. For that reason, the Task Force recommended 15 percent in cuts for the 2017 fiscal year along with an annual process for future cuts, including 10 percent in the 2018-2019 fiscal years and 5 percent for both fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

According to their report, the Task Force decided the most fair and efficient way to cut subscriptions down was by cost per use.

However, there are some departments whose journals are far more expensive than others, on average. For example, according to a periodical price survey of 2015, the average 2015 price for Chemistry and Physics was greater than $4,000, while Language & Literature and Music journals were below $400.

“The library’s commitment to providing access to information will remain no matter what.”

Clarissa Mansfield, Communication Manager for Western Libraries

While many subscriptions will not be renewed, students could still have access to the unsubscribed journals. In the Task Force’s report, one of the guidelines they created stated the student’s access to resources might be delayed, but not completely reduced, with the thought being delayed access to journals is preferable to no access at all.

The only impact of subscription cuts is the “mode and timeliness of resource access will likely be impacted,” according to the Task Force’s report.

With the libraries proposed system, articles or journals Western is no longer subscribed to can still be found and requested through the Interlibrary Loan (ILL).

“RapidILL is a valuable resource for Western students, faculty and staff,” Director of Scholarly Resources & Collection Services and co-chair of the SATF Mike Olson said. “Using RapidILL, approximately 87 percent of requested journal articles arrive to our users within 13 hours.”

Brook Love, an assistant professor for environmental sciences and a member of both the Task Force and Senate Library Committee said while the Task Force has found a solution to Western Library’s immediate problem, this is still part of a much bigger issue.

“We need to have a funding model for our library, which takes into account that costs go up every year,” Love said. “If we don’t have a funding model that includes some inflation then we’ll have to continue cutting journals every year, which is unacceptable.”

Dean of Western Libraries Mark Greenberg agrees the plan cannot be long term.

“This isn’t sustainable,” Greenberg said. “What we’re doing right now is not good for the university. Cutting library resources isn’t good for any university and it is the absolute last thing that we want to be doing. We would much rather be having a conversation about how to spend new money, how to do something really exciting with new money.”

In order to have that conversation, the university needs to accumulate more money or there needs to be a major shift from commercial model journals to open access model journals.

LIBRARYCommercial models allow users to subscribe to the journal, pay its annual rate and then have access to its content. In other words, the readers pay for the cost of the journal. The other model is called open access, where the author pays to have their journal published, with costs ranging anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000. This model allows anyone to read it for free.

Love said the open access model is the most efficient way to save money.

“If we had more availability of funding to pay to publish our articles in open access, then it would eliminate some of this problem in the system,” Love said.

While this may be true, Greenberg said open access won’t be the immediate solution the university is hoping for.

“Will open access solve our problems tomorrow? The answer is no,” Greenberg said. “But open access, if adopted as a new model for scholarly publishing around the world, will make a huge difference.”

Greenberg described open access journals as the equivalent of climate change. If all countries but one are trying to reduce their carbon footprint, then the benefit is rather limited, he said. Everyone needs to get on board to make a difference, and open access journals are the same way, Greenberg said.

In order to push for open access, Western, along with many other schools, has opened an “institutional repository” called Cedar, where faculty, students and departments can publish their articles and reports in an open access form.

Regardless of what cuts are made, Communication Manager for Western Libraries Clarissa Mansfield wants everyone to remember the library has a commitment to save student’s resources.

“The library’s commitment to providing access to information will remain no matter what,” Mansfield said. “We have that commitment and it is about access and that will never change no matter what the financial situation is going to be. It’s going to change how we do things, but we really have that commitment.”



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