Library and Archives resource cutting “affecting” learning and research at Laurentian

By Jessica Robinson, Editor-in-Chief

Concern is growing among faculty and students, and especially among staff from the Laurentian Library and Archives, that the current resources budget is requiring immense cuts that may in turn affect the quality of learning and research at Laurentian.

The Graduate Students Association sits on the Library and Archives committee, and succinctly summarized the state of resources budget in their recent newsletter.

As stated in the newsletter, “the 2016-2017 budget for the Library and Archives is projected to result in a $500,000 deficit, which will mean even more significant cuts this year; all of which must come out of the $2,300,000 that would be required to simply sustain the current journal subscriptions.”

“$200,000 of that deficit has been carried forward from 2015-2016, the result of a decision that the Library and Archives’ savings on personnel would not be allowed to be applied to the acquisitions deficit that remained after the cuts implemented.”

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Dan Scott, associate librarian and chair of Library and Archives, shared his concern over this decision to ignore personnel cuts as a way of working towards a zero-deficit at the September 2016 Senate meeting, but to no avail.

“In many cases, the impact won’t be immediately noticeable,” said Scott of the recent cuts. “The 319 journals that we didn’t renew are, in some ways, a fairly small set compared to the journal suites that we purchase, which might have thousands of journals held. And we did focus on trying cut the under-utilized or not very heavily used items.”

But it will certainly be more noticeable as we focus on new programs being introduced to Laurentian, all of which will require new and different resources.

“As we focus on new programs, like the French side of the engineering program, or adding physiotherapy and occupational therapy to human kinetics, those sorts of proposals are harder to support if we’re unable to add resources to support the higher level of utilization and consumption that we anticipate [will be necessary],” Scott said.

“It’s a bit of a quandary that we’re in, where we don’t have the money to try and support the faculty and the students in their teaching and learning and research needs as we go forward.”

What’s more, the budget set for Library and Archives is a “stable budget”, meaning it isn’t expected to increase at all over the next few years, even as inflation continues to occur.

“Unless the administration plans on significantly cutting programs—and our history has shown that we tend to add programs and add demands for more resources—it’s not a great position to be in, looking towards the future,” he said.

Library and Archives is having trouble arriving at a zero-deficit even for this academic year, as they’ve already gotten rd of most databases that would be deemed under-utilized. Now, they are forced to look at databases above the cost-per-use equation threshold.

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“For example, one database that we looked at had a cost-per-use of around the same as if it were individual requests that students and faculty made through inter-library loan for the same articles. The problem is that that database had 6600 uses, and there’s no way that students and faculty will make that many manual requests for individual articles; they’ll just turn elsewhere,” Scott said.

“So there’s an impact on the quality of research that students might use as we cut more of these threshold-level resources, because it’s natural for humans to pursue the path of least resistance.”

As Laurentian Library and Archives makes more cuts, students and faculty may find themselves turning to other schools or outlets for resources. And while Dan Scott does not think this borrowing will impact the university’s reputation as a research institution, he is worried that it will skew the data our Library and Archives has about which journals are in highest demand.

“Instead of accessing the paper directly from the library’s collection or using the free but slightly longer interlibrary loan service, they [might] opt to ask a colleague at another institution for a paper or use an alumni account,” said Scott.

“With the library’s usage and request data less accurate as a result, once we are in a position of being able to add resources again, we many not realize that a resource has been in demand. So there are negative consequences when the library is unable to directly supply the resources needed for research.”

Scott said that he hopes to ensure that the Library and Archives are a key element of the next strategic plan at Laurentian moving forward.

“We need to recognize that research and learning does not occur without the resources on which knowledge is built,” Scott said.

In the mean time, faculty and students continue to be frustrated with the limiting of resources readily accessible at Laurentian.

“This is evisceration [and very] problematic,” said Dr. Janice Liedl, history professor at Laurentian University in a Twitter thread regarding LU’s resource cuts.

“My lab is the library and my students can’t replace that with Google.”

Connor Koch, who graduated from Laurentian University last year and is currently pursuing his Bachelor of education here, echoed the sentiment in the same thread.

“Not sure how I would have gotten through [my] B.A. without the [library] resources I had. Very upset at this ‘solution’,” Koch said.

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