Never mind world-class, the WSU library system isn’t even average in terms of collections, budget, staffing levels and salaries when compared to peer universities.

“We are at the bottom in all of these measures even when comparisons are made which account for differences in institutional size,” states a recent report to the Faculty Senate executive committee.
WSU libraries need about $1.5 million more each year just to bring them up to par with peer land-grant institutions, and significantly more to reach the levels of Pac-10 universities or other AAU-like institutions, said Cynthia Kaag, outgoing interim dean of WSU libraries.

For more than a decade funding for the libraries has not kept pace with inflation, she said, even as there has been an explosion of online academic journals and increased book publishing as well.

Purchases drop
Over the years, the libraries have instituted a number of cost-saving measures, including subscribing to more electronic journals and joining with other institutions to buy journals at reduced rates. But, she said, the libraries have hit a wall and cannot support the demands of a research university without more money.

“You don’t do research and graduate education without the scholarly journals,” she said. “Access to information underpins it all. We are in an information age and libraries are the information centers.”

According to Kaag, WSU libraries have been forced to stop subscriptions to more than 4,000 journals in the past 10 years.

Volumes of journals and books purchased by the library fell 39.5 percent from 35,929 net in 1996 to 21,738 in 2006. The number of monographs purchased declined from 17,255 in 1996 to 17,096 in 2006.

Short-term fix
And, Kaag said, last summer college deans contributed more than $200,000 from their own budgets for a one-year subscription to save nearly 1,000 journal titles that were in danger of being cut.

That really helped, said David Gaylord, a professor in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, “but what’s the solution going to be in summer 2008? The problem is still going to be there.”

Gaylord has served on various library committees since arriving at WSU in 1984 and has seen the situation deteriorate from bad to worse.

“Other faculty members and I have been fighting for a stable funding source for the library for 20 years,” he said, one that allows it to build its collection instead of continually cutting.

“If we allow this particular foundational pillar of the university to rot, we do so at our own peril,” he said. If WSU wants to attract top faculty and graduate students, it needs to provide them with library services that allow them immediate access to the information they need, whether it be research published in the United States or anywhere else in the world.

”World-class research institutions cannot afford to place limits on what the faculty and students should expect to find readily available in the libraries,” he said.

Priorities for AAU
Ken Struckmeyer, chair of the Faculty Senate, said the senate has been very concerned about library funding, but in the past other issues had higher priority. Now, he said, as the Regents are calling for WSU to move into the ranks of AAU-like institutions, the libraries might get more support.

 “With the new goals, (the administration) might have to move libraries higher up on the list,” he said. The question is, where will the money come from?

While Gaylord and Struckmeyer have long supported the libraries, others on campus have been indifferent. Kaag said she was dumbfounded by one faculty member who wrote on a survey that he didn’t use the library much anymore — he did most of his research online.

“He had no clue that his access to all those online journals he used was being paid for from the libraries’ budget,” Kaag said.