Challenges for Academic Libraries in Difficult Economic Times

A recently released guide from the Research Information Network reveals how academic librarians are experiencing and responding to ?nancial cuts in the current economic climate. Using data which was gathered in the UK and internationally, and which was then explored further during late 2009 with focus groups of senior librarians, the guide examines the ?nancial position of libraries, their strategies for dealing with challenging economic circumstances, and the value of libraries.The report reveals that, after a decade of growth in budgets and services, academic librarians now expect a sustained period of cuts over the next three to ?ve years. Directors from across the sector reported that they were being asked to model cumulative cuts of between 5% and 10% a year.The scale of these cuts means that librarians are having to reconsider the kinds and levels of service they can provide in support of their universities' missions.  The study reports that librarians across the sector are looking very closely at the costs of the 'big deals' and how they might be reduced. As a consequence, there is increased interested in national site licences covering the whole of the HE sector.Other reductions being considered include opening hours, subject support for academic staff and students, and information skills training.The report acknowledges that, in the very long term, it is possible that open access may help to reduce the pressure on library budgets. However, for the next three to five years at least, open access initiatives will continue to represent additional burdens on libraries, while the costs of running repositories, or paying publication fees, are not being offset by any significant reductions in subscription costs for scholarly journals.The guide stresses that library directors from across the sector are keen to use the current financial difficulties as an opportunity to rethink what the library does, and to do things differently. But as yet there are few concrete proposals that will transform services or yield large-scale savings. The report concludes that sustaining world-class information services is of fundamental importance to UK universities. Libraries and their directors have a critical role to play, but they cannot do it all themselves. Leadership and partnership with champions from across the HE and information sectors will be critical to sustaining the outstanding position of UK universities.