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$850,000 from provost’s office prevents library, online journal cuts

By Alexander Kim, October 9 2014 —

Students were at risk of losing access to thousands of online journals, e-books, indexes, abstracts and reference tools due to a $1-million shortfall in the university’s library budget.

University of Calgary libraries and cultural resources (LCR) was nearly forced to cut around $600,000 worth of electronic resources last month. Cuts for nearly $320,000 in new print books and cancellations of roughly $60,000 in print journals were also planned.

But the office of the provost restored the shortfall when they gave LCR $850,000 in September. As a result, most of the cuts won’t happen.

“The quality of the library’s collection will be maintained,” said vice-provost of LCR Tom Hickerson.

Associate university librarian Helen Clarke said most of the $320,000 pulled from the print books budget and money for around 4,600 new books was returned. The budget will be fully restored next year.

The $1-million shortfall was caused in part by inflated subscription prices. Hickerson said publishers raise prices every year and since they own important journals, the university has limited leverage in negotiations.

Clarke estimated that inflated subscription prices cost LCR around $500,000 this year.

“In the long-run publishers will keep increasing prices. This is not a sustainable model. It can’t be sustained and something’s going to have to give,” Clarke said.

Hickerson said the falling value of the Canadian dollar also contributed to the budget shortfall. Most publishers trade with the U.S. dollar. A weaker Canadian dollar means the U of C has less buying power.

The value of the Canadian dollar decreased from about $0.97 USD to just above $0.90 USD from October to March 2013, the end of the university’s fiscal year.

As of Oct. 8, the Canadian dollar is valued at $0.90 USD.

“Coming into this year we knew we were going to be paying for all these subscriptions with the devalued dollar,” Hickerson said.

He added that the library had about $800,000 less to spend. He said it will get worse if the Canadian dollar continues to lose value.

The library will still unsubscribe to some electronic resources that don’t get used. Clarke said these cancellations amount to “a few thousand dollars” and will free up cash to buy new subscriptions.

LCR will also cancel $60,000 in print journal subscriptions. Clarke said this is a response to overwhelming preference for online versions.

Clarke said the library’s situation is challenging, but she is optimistic that it can be improved.

“It’s not a sustainable situation, but we have to be hopeful. Scholars need to communicate and they are going to find a way to do it and the library will find ways to support that,” Clarke said.

Hickerson and Clarke both said the university is fighting against increasing costs by supporting open access initiatives.

LCR has an annual budget of approximately $30 million, with $13 million allocated to maintain the print and electronic resources collection.

Hickerson said that upwards of 70 per cent of that is spent on electronic resources. The university’s current subscriptions provide access to 77,538 online journals as well as e-books, multimedia and other electronic publications.

The rest is spent on print materials. An average of over 25,000 books are bought every year. The library purchased 22,391 print books in the 2014 fiscal year.

Provost and vice-president academic Dru Marshall said in a statement that the U of C places a high value on its print and online resources at the library.

“There is a strategy in place for protecting us from budgetary concerns and we are currently looking into ways to ensure collections are protected going forward,” Marshall said.

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