Recession may force cuts in library jobs and services

Scholars are being warned to brace themselves for reduced access to new books, says Hannah Fearn

October 15, 2009

Cash-strapped university librarians fear they will be forced to axe staff, reduce library opening hours and cut journal subscriptions as the recession bites.

A survey of librarians working in UK universities, carried out by Ipsos MORI, found that library managers expect to have to cut a range of services for students and academics, which they say will lead to a decline in the quality of service.

Opening hours may have to shorten, while fewer staff would lead to pressure to increase the number of self-service facilities, such as issuing and returning books.

The study also says that fluctuations in the value of the pound have caused problems, inflating the price of journal subscriptions and the cost of essential IT hardware.

The findings follow a separate study by the Research Information Network, which was reported by Times Higher Education in May.

It warns academics to brace themselves for "severe cuts" in access to new books and journals.

Toby Bainton, secretary of the Society of College, National and University Libraries (Sconul), said the fall in the value of the pound "has had serious consequences for digital material", which is often priced in dollars or euros.

"Digital resources are the life-blood of research, and libraries are crucial to the student experience," he said. "Protecting libraries' contribution to students' learning will be a challenge."

Martin Lewis, director of library services at the University of Sheffield, agreed that the impact of the downturn had been significant.

"We have had this double whammy: the usual increase in the price of journals in line with inflation, coupled with the impact of the fall in the value of sterling.

"I think this is new territory for us, having to cope with the loss of our buying power."

He said the financial problems faced by libraries were contributing to the growing popularity of open-access publishing among academics. "There is more interest now in looking at alternatives than there was in the past," Mr Lewis said.

The Ipsos MORI research was commissioned by Sconul and the Joint Information Systems Committee.

A briefing paper produced by Jisc says libraries are looking at reducing staffing costs before cutting services.

Sheffield is aiming to trim its staffing costs by 10 per cent over the next three years, and is looking at introducing self-service facilities for students.

However, its main library is still open 24 hours a day, and Mr Lewis said opening hours would be protected if at all possible "because the student experience is so important".

Jisc advises university libraries to form partnerships to increase their bargaining power with publishers and suppliers. However, Mr Lewis said that many had already taken this step, and that their financial worries remained.

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com.

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