Library budget cuts somewhat explained

Books are returning to the “New Acquisitions” shelves at Dalhousie libraries, but the money for them is being redirected from unknown sources.

Since September, confusion has surrounded this year’s library budget cuts. In short: new books are coming in again, journals are still facing cuts, and reports will be released by Dal librarians and administration soon with more concrete information gathered in a central location.

The full story is a little more complicated.


First Petition

Library acquisitions have traditionally been protected from standard cuts in Dal’s budget, but this year they took a one per cent cut totalling $64,000.

Dal Libraries have taken a 3.5 per cent budget cut along with the rest of the university’s faculty and service units.

While new acquisitions at the library were halted on Oct. 1, they have since started again.

However, a total of 409 serials and databases are either being cut or have been cut from the Kellogg, Killam Memorial and Sexton libraries.

The Dunn Law Library faced the loss of 161 subscriptions between April 1, 2012, and Oct. 17, 2013.

While the Dalhousie Libraries website says that some subscriptions will only lose one form of access – either print or digital – it’s unclear which subscriptions will still be available in what forms.

It’s also unclear for now where money is being redirected from to fund new acquisitions.

“There’s enough money about that I’m confident. I’m not going to put the university into receivership by getting new books,” says VP Academic and Provost Carolyn Watters. “You can’t just exactly say it’s going to come from account one, two, three, four.”

Dal libraries have been making their way around, from hours cut to journals being discontinued. Numerous groups have sprung up to challenge the budget.

Reports from Dal librarians on the current state of libraries and sustainability plans including what to cut will be released over the next few weeks.

While there was a complete freeze on acquisitions effective Oct. 1, it has since ended. “Everybody needs the confidence that the library acquisition budget is not at threat,” says Watters, “and that we have a plan to make sure this particular kind of cataclysmic event is not on the radar screen.”

Dal library budget cuts became a hot topic on campus in September when students organized against reduced weekend hours at the Killam.

The library had reduced its Friday and Saturday hours from closing at midnight to closing at 6 p.m.

On Sept. 28, Dalhousie Science Society president  Emma Herrington announced a petition against the change in hours after speaking with library administrators and Dal president Richard Florizone.

The petition quickly grew in popularity, with several hundred students joining and sharing the information.

That week, Marlo Mackay, communications coordinator for Dal libraries, commented on the cuts on the libraries blog, The Libvine.

“We made this decision very reluctantly, due to a significant reduction in the Dal Libraries’ budget this year.”

The post said the hours would not have been changed “if there were alternatives.”

Herrington announced on the petition’s event page that 1,045 signatures were collected on Oct. 3.

Dal Libraries made the announcement Oct. 8 that, in response to student feedback, the hours would be immediately reinstated. They said they  would explore how they could lower expenses in other ways.


Bigger Problems

Students and faculty  started talking more and more about the  budget cuts and organizing their own events after Herrington’s success.

Mackay posted again on Oct. 24, beginning with the misunderstandings of Dal Libraries’ “initial attempts to communicate the recent cuts to the library.” Mackay said the misunderstandings have resulted in a misperception that the Dal Libraries “will not be purchasing any new materials this year.”

She explained that there will still be a one per cent cut to the acquisitions budget but that $5,741,510 will still go towards new acquisitions this year, and next year’s collection will continue to be invested in as well.

“It is true that some lines in the acquisitions budget have already been spent out for this year,” says Mackay in the post, “but that is because we have already purchased access to 84,000 e-journals, approximately 1,000 print and e-books, and more than 50 materials in other formats, such as DVDs, maps, etc.”

A Facebook group titled “Stop Dalhousie’s Library Budget Cuts” was created Oct. 27 and hundreds of students joined almost immediately.

Posters against the cuts started appearing on campus walls. The Gazette followed the cuts across several articles and a letter to the president. Members from across the Dal community reached out to administration.

On Oct. 28, Watters sent an email to all Dalhousie students and faculty for an update on “the Dalhousie Library’s budget situation, of which there has been some significant discussion recently among both students and faculty.”

“I’m always a little reluctant to send emails off to students because the messages go to spam channels,” says Watters, “but in this case there were so many odd numbers running around that I thought I’d better just say, definitively—there will be books.”

The email says the university’s library has a $5.7 million acquisitions budget, and that the budget has fallen short due to a decline in purchasing power.

The decrease was attributed to “the value of the Canadian dollar, inflationary costs and a one per cent budget cut.”

Later that day, the Stop the Dalhousie Budget Cuts group voiced dissatisfaction with the email in an open letter.

The group complained of vague terms, no explanation being given for where the money to cover the acquisitions budget would come from, and that the “library budgets were even being cut in the first place.”

“Dalhousie is an academic and research institution, and thus the library is the focal point,” said the group. “To have a university with a diminishing library network is inexcusable, especially with an increased salary of the Executive and a large student body paying copious amounts of tuition fees.”

A letter was written the same day to Dr. Florizone by the four chairs of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences: Robert Summerby-Murray, Krista Kesselring, Julia M. Wright and David Matthias.

Their letter says that while most FASS disciplines are “book disciplines,” the library’s purchasing of FASS-related print books has dropped from just over $400,000 in 2008-09 to less than $245,000 in 2011-12, to about $182,000 in 2012-13.

They had been told FASS book funding would be frozen at the current year-to-date level of “about $52,000.”

“The crisis in the library is not in the budget,” says the letter, “but in the damage that short-term budgetary problems are causing to a 200-year-old investment in Dalhousie’s research capacity and reputation as an institution of higher learning.”


Administrative intervention

The cuts were on the agenda of the Oct. 29 Board of Governors (BoG) committee meeting that Watters and Florizone both attended. It was discussed that libraries had indeed stopped purchasing new books and journals on Oct. 1, and there had been a cut of $62,000 to library acquisitions this year.

Usually the library’s acquisition line doesn’t run out until February, so for this to happen in October came as a surprise to administration.

At the meeting, Watters asked the librarians to prepare reports on how library needs can be met until February.

It was announced that it would take two weeks to review the libraries, then another three to four weeks for an action report on sustainability, including what the next cuts will be. Florizone updated his Tumblr to give an update after he received emails about library acquisitions and the topic came up during his 100 Days of Listening sessions.

“Provost Carolyn Watters and I are gathering more data to understand the situation and determine any potential solutions,” said Florizone, “and we’ll give an update in the next week or two.”

The Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) announced in an open letter on Oct. 30 that they are “troubled by the effects that budget cuts have on our education and the student experience,” explaining strong library services are a priority of the DSU.

“Information about what decisions are being made and why is not always easily accessible,” wrote DSU president Sagar Jha. “As the main stakeholders at Dalhousie, it is difficult to meaningfully participate in these decisions without being aware of the financial realities.”

The letter says a report released earlier this year by the Dalhousie Faculty Association (DFA) suggests “the university had quietly transferred $85 million from the operating budget to the capital budget over ten years.”

It goes on to say former DSU president Jamie Arron had been told at a past BoG meeting that “capital expenditures are not just buildings: library books are also capital expenditures and the University surely doesn’t want to stop buying books.”

“The DSU is troubled by the irony of this statement considering the present situation,” says Jha.


Complaints and confusions

At a Dalhousie Arts and Social Sciences Society (DASSS) meeting on Oct. 30, library budget cuts were the main topic of discussion.

DASSS council and society members in attendance vented frustration with Dal budgets.

Dal student Matt Musgrave said a student collective started Oct. 27 after some were discouraged by the lack of a movement.

Musgrave said students were going to classes, handing out letters and asking students to sign them for when they would be delivered to Dr. Florizone.

The letter format was also posted on the Stop Dalhousie’s Library Budget Cuts Facebook page.

The beginning of the letter reads: “I, ___________, am writing to you to voice my concerns and frustrations with Dalhousie University’s current budget allocations. The issue that worries me most is the $600,000 budget cut to our library budget.”

The figure of $600,000 being cut to either the library’s operating budget or the acquisitions budget has shown up in various places. Watters says she can’t imagine of where that number came from.

The Stop Dalhousie’s Library Budget Cuts group links to a Dalhousie Gazette opinions piece written by Jacob Sandler, “Little victory, big problem,” published online Oct. 17.

“As blog posts by Dalhousie librarians make clear, while library hours are being reinstated, there has still been a $600,000 reduction to Dal’s library budget,” according to the article.

Mackay says that as administrator of the LibVine blog, she has never posted this figure. She says some Dalhousie librarians may be keeping personal blogs, but that she has not seen or been made aware of any. She says no Dalhousie librarians are blogging in an official capacity for Dal.

Sandler has told the Gazette the number was presented at Oct. 8’s FASS faculty meeting.

Minutes for this meeting will not be available until the faculty approves them.

When a DASSS council member asked if it was possible for budget information to be distributed before meetings, VP Internal Kaitlynne Lowe said there is no good information to be found in any central location.

“Numbers are vague, numbers are not to be found anywhere,” said Lowe. “If you want statistics, you basically have to derive them on your own.

“Anything I’ve found has been (by) hunting people down. Find administrators, who in my view, once you find them, are terribly unconcerned with this,” said Lowe, “and see it as a tidal change within libraries and something we should accept. ‘It’s something that’s happened across Canada, it was bound to happen to us’. ”


Still protesting

One idea for peaceful protest posed at the DASSS meeting was a “read-in”, to be staged in the president’s office.

DASSS president Taylor Quinn said he had discussed the possibility of a student protest with Florizone, and that Florizone said he would approve of a protest “as long as it was based in facts.”

With official reports scheduled to come out over the next few weeks, some student action is still happening.

Anna Dubinski, president of the King’s Student Union (KSU), said at Oct. 30’s DASSS meeting that the KSU is 3000 per cent behind the DASSS’ stance against library budget cuts.

Dubinski said a student government round table is coming up in the province on Nov. 8, where she will have a say in terms of what’s on the agenda.

“We have a brand new government and this is the first time we’re going to meet with them,” said Dubinski. “The first thing they’re going to hear is that this is unacceptable, and we will be speaking to them about that as much as we can.”

In the meantime, Dal students can check out some of the newest scholarly work available in print form. Acclaimed Canadian author Lawrence Hill’s “Dear Sir, I Intend to Burn Your Book: An Anatomy of a Book Burning” showed up at the Killam last week.

1 Comment

  1. Quinn Harrington on November 7, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    Beautifully detailed analysis of the current debate – what’s frustrating me most is the lack of a clear priority setting by the administration. We need to see a strong statement from the directors of the University that clearly outline (preferably quantitatively) what the priorities of the BOG are. Soliciting opinions from the community to make unclear decisions after the fact is not enough. Florizone’s interest in a community driven school requires a reflexive process, in which proposals, not decisions, are the starting point for debate.

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Jesse Ward

Jesse, editor-in-chief of the Gazette, is a fifth-year student of journalism at Dalhousie and the University of King’s College. He started university with three years of experience writing for Teens Now Talk magazine, where he is now copy editor. Before writing a story Jesse likes to think about how his metal detector could finally be useful in researching this one, but there is never a way it could be. Jesse has produced writing and interactive features for and The Chronicle Herald. He may be followed on Twitter, @RealJesseWard, or from the Gazette office on Mondays around 8 p.m. to his home in West End Halifax.

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