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Charge

The University Library Committee (ULC) reviews, consults on, advises, plans for, and receives reports and recommendations on the performance of library services, automation, budget, administrative structure, and allocation of resources. Responsibility for keeping the faculty informed of major issues and for creating opportunities for the faculty to discuss priorities also falls to the committee (See Faculty Policies and Procedures 6.46 B).

Challenge

Our university libraries today face a number of difficult problems rooted in part in the severe budget constraints imposed on them, and in part in forces operating beyond the university. Library collection budgets have remained flat at the same time as library use and the demand for library services have multiplied exponentially, new and costly electronic forms of information have become widespread, an explosion in publishing activity worldwide has occurred, and inflation in the cost of new materials increases annually by somewhere between 10 and 20 percent. The result is that, unless immediate action is taken, hard choices will have to be made over the next biennium that will significantly detract from the quality and standing of UW library resources.
Over the past five years campus libraries have seen a steady increase in demands on collections and services. During this time the number of books circulating increased by 10 percent, the number of visitors to the library increased by more than 20 percent, and inter-library borrowing increased by more than 20 percent. The number of training sessions offered by library staff rose 46 percent, and attendance at these programs increased 54 percent. Yet, staffing levels in campus libraries have decreased during these same years as a result of university-wide downsizing.
As opposed to five years ago, when electronic publications barely existed, our libraries now spend approximately 10 percent of their acquisitions budget on electronic services (a figure that is at the low end of the 10-14 percent spent by our peer universities). There is a widespread but false belief that electronic information provides savings to libraries; in reality, in addition to the need to meet the seemingly endless demand for access to electronic services, electronic acquisitions drive up total acquisitions costs. In many cases vendors or users require that traditional paper versions be collected simultaneously.
Data from the Association of Research Libraries indicate that journal (serial) prices have increased almost 140 percent over the past decade, while prices of books (monographs) have increased 58 percent. In 1995/96 prices of serials increased on average by 13 percent, and in 1996/97 by 10 percent. Nationwide, these price trends have caused a rather substantial reduction in book purchases in order to maintain ever-more-expensive serials. Locally, these price increases have forced our libraries for many years to engage in significant cuts in library acquisitions.
The library administration has pursued a variety of innovative and well-considered measures for cost-saving in an attempt to lessen the impact of these cutbacks on our collections. But given (as currently appears to be the case) that in the forthcoming biennium the university's libraries will continue to operate with a flat collection budget, the fallout from the financial crises of libraries can no longer be effectively contained. Without additional budgetary resources the next two years will witness significant cuts in the core collections that Wisconsin faculty and students have come to assume will be there for them to conduct their work, directly threatening Wisconsin's position as one of the major research facilities in the country.
ULC devoted most of its attention during the period covered by this report to how our libraries should grapple with various dimensions of this crisis, both in terms of the budgetary constraints imposed on them and the increasing demands for services that the libraries must face.


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Last modified July 7, 1998

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