Libraries’ “inadequate” budget causes cuts, prevents planning

Lauren Grobe

The budget for UT libraries has remained at $30 million for the past 10 years, inhibiting growth in technology and academia, said Chris Carter, library director of organizational effectiveness. 

The libraries are currently facing issues of insufficient funding, increased subscription rates from large publishers and an inability to make scholarly work accessible to all. The budget also doesn’t account for inflation, so the library’s buying power actually decreases every year the budget flatlines, said Carter.

“We’re constantly making determinations about what resources are lower priority and higher and paying for the highest priority ones,” Carter said.

The lack of funding caused the libraries to make cuts in staffing, and UT libraries communications officer Travis Willmann said the libraries only kept absolutely necessary staff positions. To address the libraries’ funding and resource issues, Maurie McInnis, executive vice president and provost, assembled the Task Force on the Future of UT Libraries in 2018. The task force’s report is currently being evaluated by the task force chairs, who will submit their findings to the provost this month. 

“I think the big question that everyone should be asking is, ‘Why isn’t it a priority that we have a strong research library that supports faculty and students and research staff?’” said Jennifer Ebbeler, Department of Classics associate professor and task force subcommittee chair.

The task force’s creation coincided with another research library’s budget woes: The University of California system broke their deal with the world’s largest academic publisher, Elsevier. UT also has a contract with Elsevier, and according to faculty council minutes, UT libraries vice provost and director said she anticipates changes to the relationship with publishers.

Subscriptions to journals from publishers like Elsevier increase by about 5% every year, Carter said. The UT System is unlikely to cut ties with Elsevier when the contract expires in 2021, he said, because the UC System made this decision under different circumstances. Elsevier still has a strong grip on the prices of journals, which negatively affects the libraries, said Ebbeler.

“The publishers just have them by the neck, and they can just charge them whatever they want,” Ebbeler said.

These high subscription rates come at a time when open access is dominating conversations in academia. Open access would make an article free of charge for everyone, not just journal subscribers.

Ebbeler said that universities are likely to still pay the high subscription fees because many authors cannot afford to pay to publish their work in a journal themself. This author processing fee is even more
expensive to make an article open access, which Ebbeler said gives publishers control.

Willmann said while the libraries face challenges, they are still able to pursue new projects, such as a new database geographical information system.

“We’re very reactive to the change in learning styles and the currents in academia and scholarship,” Willmann said. “Things are constantly shifting.”

The biggest problem for the libraries’ future is people not knowing the real situation, Ebbeler said, as most of the staff, faculty and student body are in the dark about the libraries’ condition.

“There’s this whole second and third level of conversations,” Ebbeler said. “We’re at the level of not being able to pay for things, and the faculty doesn’t seem to understand this.”