Guest column: ‘Drive to 25’ needs to improve library funding

EMILY WINE | Guest columnist

The stated aim of President Schulz’s “Drive to 25” is “to be recognized as one of the nation’s top 25 public research universities, preeminent in research and discovery, teaching and engagement by 2030.” Without a well-funded library, this goal is out of reach.

The WSU library system is currently ranked 108th among research universities, well below the average budget of $21 million, said Joel Cummings, head of collection development with WSU libraries. The library budget has not been restructured since 2003 and has increased very little since the 2008-2009 academic year, he said. Rampant inflation of journal subscriptions costs by journal companies has resulted in a library budget with only 68 percent of the purchasing power it held it 2008-2009. As a result, subscription packages are cut nearly every year.

Cummings projects that $500,000 to $600,000 worth of online journal subscriptions will be cut for the upcoming academic year. Despite frequent cuts, this is the first time that widely used journals such as SAGE, Cambridge University Press, Institute of Physics and The Oxford University Press are on the chopping block. These and other packages were chosen to be cancelled based on online usage data, price and inflation patterns, citations by WSU authors, publications by WSU authors and faculty feedback. Unfortunately, the current cuts disproportionately impact certain disciplines, such as physics and the social sciences.

However, this underestimates the depth of the crisis. Cummings estimates that within five years 90 percent of newly published titles would be inaccessible if funding remains unchanged. Full access to journal titles is vital for the primary university functions of teaching, learning, research, and collaboration, the very principles espoused by the “Drive to 25.”

Cummings is confident that Interlibrary loan, ORBIS Cascade Alliance and other alliances between university libraries will ensure that journal titles will remain accessible. In addition, he expects that Interlibrary loans will continue to arrive within one to two days following the request. However, during winter break when library employees are on furlough, the wait for Interlibrary loan texts may increase.

One immediate effect of the library funding shortage is the inability of the library to fully support new degree programs. Currently, any graduate student admitted to a new degree program will see an asterisk at the bottom of the page stating that the university cannot guarantee access to library resources.

At present, little is being done to remedy the dire library funding situation. Looking ahead, it is important that the university analyze its goals. We implore President Schulz and the WSU administration to place the WSU Libraries at the top of their priorities. At the moment, the “Drive to 25” is a moonshot, and in order to land on the moon, the university cannot afford to shortchange integral programs like our library system, which is an engine of innovation for all disciplines.