Libraries do their best to adapt to changing times, but the times are not always kind to them.
The library system at Yale, along with other Ivy League universities, has focused increasingly on digital media and collaboration in recent years. Recent innovations include Borrow Direct Plus — a service that allows students to borrow books from other university libraries on-site — and a new search system for the library catalogue website. But despite its best efforts to expand and innovate, the library has been affected by significant funding cuts.
Yale’s collection spending budget, for instance, was cut significantly between 2009 and 2010 in light of the economic downturn. While data from 2013 shows that spending has neared pre-recession levels, the library is still grappling with the inflation of collections media — the rate at which the price of materials is continuously increasing.
“Add in the cost of digital collections, the cost of library collection inflation,and the increasing number of new book and journal titles that come out every year,” University Librarian Susan Gibbons said. “Our overall purchasing power had dropped significantly since the [fiscal year 2009].”
Director of Collection Development Daniel Dollar said that last year, 65 percent of overall collections spending was allotted to digital media, and 35 percent was reserved for print media. This breakdown, however, does not account for the spending of Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library or of the Law Library, he added.
Gibbons said the shift to a focus on digital material impacts disciplines differently. In the field of medicine, for instance, spending was 92 percent digital — whereas in the arts and music, spending was 12 percent digital.
The increasing predominance of digital media was inevitable after the emergence of the Internet, Gibbons said. This shift is the product of a necessary long-term “evolution,” she said, as students become more reliant on technology.
Georgetown University professor and former provost Jim O’Donnell GRD ’75, who will be moving to a post as university librarian at Arizona State University, said that aside from buying digital material, it is also important to digitize existing print holdings.
“The challenge today is for us to know just how to bring the mass of what we have in print culture forward in a way that assures its survival,” he said. “Just saying ‘digitization’ isn’t enough, when you have to be sure that the digitized thing is in a standard format, will be looked after and preserved, and will be made knowable and accessible to a larger audience.”
Helder Toste ’16 said he detected an increasing focus on digitization at Yale — especially at the Beinecke, where librarians are on a “rampage” to digitize some of their holdings prior to its renovation.
But an anonymous source affiliated with the library expressed concerns about the library’s growing focus on digital materials.
“The problem with electronics is that they don’t last very long, and many e-journals charge a fortune. It’s sacrificing 10 or 12 print titles just to buy one electronic journal,” they said.
While digital content is indeed more expensive than print, Gibbons said a vast amount of print materials are still coming into the library.
Dollar said e-journals are typically priced by the number of potential users of those journals and require complicated licensing agreements. He added that journal pricing is increasing at an inflation rate higher than that of books.
In 2012, Gibbons said the average inflation rate was 4.9 percent for books compared with 6 percent for journals. Because of this inflation, she said, the library’s purchasing power “erodes over time” for both print and digital material.
The organizational structure at the library is changing to account for the growing focus in digital media.
“What the digital world has meant is that we have to build a second set of staff [at the library],” Gibbons said. She added these staff members are crucial for the acquisition and cataloguing of digital content.
While the number of staff working in print media have decreased, the number in digital has increased, Gibbons said. In striking a balance between print and digital media, some current librarians have had additional training in digital media, while other positions have been created.
Bibliographic Assistant for the International Collections Support Services William Larsh said he speculated that a greater reliance on Borrow Direct and interlibrary loans also makes the library more electronic-based.
Gibbons said since no library can purchase everything that is published, these partnerships allow for libraries to think of themselves as one collective library, or an “ecosystem.”
Dollar said all academic libraries are affected by an increasing inflation rate on books and journals, which continues to go up by 5 to 8 percent every year — while their funding does not increase by the same amount. Dollar added that these restrictions have driven librarians to more narrowly target their purchases to meet the exact needs of students and faculty for their research and learning.
Still, Gibbons said Yale is still in a privileged position with regards to purchasing power.
“In North America only Harvard purchased more collections than we do. We can’t really cry poor,” Gibbons said.
Gibbons added that in light of recent increases in the University’s budget, the library system should expect to see gradual increase in its endowments — which are currently the only means by which collections acquisitions are funded.
Borrow Direct was launched 1999.