Library in limbo?

Librarian worried for the future of services while being forced to do more with less compared to other institutions

Jessica Klymchuk, News Editor Ω

VP advancement Christopher Seguin says TRU ranks low because of its comparison to research universities with more expensive library demands. Jessica Klymchuk/The Omega

VP advancement Christopher Seguin says TRU ranks low because of its comparison to research universities with more expensive library demands. Jessica Klymchuk/The Omega

TRU is spending less of its operating budget on the library than universities it’s choosing to compare itself with.

A report from the office of the VP admin and finance in May of 2013 ranks TRU last out of 16 other universities for library funding for the fiscal year of 2010/2011.

The report shows the percentage of operating expenditures by area for selected Canadian universities.

TRU spent 2 per cent of the operating budget on the library, while UVIC spent 5.5 per cent, UNBC spent 5 per cent, the University of the Fraser Valley spent 3 per cent and the University of Lethbridge spent 4.6 per cent.

In 2011, TRU spent at least one percentage point less of its operating fund budget on the library than any of the 16 selected universities.

“This is kind of a case of apples to oranges,” VP advancement Christopher Seguin said. “Or young apples to old ones.”

“Many of the other universities we compare ourselves to have specialized collections and specialized archives and we don’t have those or the need to spend money on them,” he said.

Acting upon intelligence from associate VP administration and finance Paul Manhas, who was unavailable to comment on the matter, Seguin characterized these universities as research universities with models TRU is heading towards. He said several of them have a growing population of PhD students, while TRU is still looking to build its masters programs.

According to Seguin, the library receives its funding based on departmental needs for resources. He used the trades department as an example of a department that has very little need for the library. Seguin pointed to larger universities, like those with a school of medicine and who are more-focused on research, as those that require a larger share of the overall budget. He also noted that the library will see an increase in funding due to the demands created by new the law faculty.

“We have a research portfolio that is growing and that will translate to changes in our spending patterns,” Seguin said.

In the 2010/2011 fiscal year, TRU spent $2,779,393 on the library and in the annual budget for the 2013/2014 fiscal year, allocated $2,875,749 for the library.

Kathy Gaynor, who acted as interim university librarian from January 2012 to July 2013 and has been employed in the TRU library since 1999, said TRU is going to have to consider investing in the library if it’s serious about realizing its research goals.

“It’s no big secret. We’re the least-funded library out there, and the university is going to really have to invest in this place,” she said.

“I don’t think we could survive another round of budget cuts.”

The library receives its funding from the block allocation, a government grant that hasn’t seen an increase in five years.

“Because of the block allocation freeze in recent years and the reduction in budget across the university, there hasn’t been growth for the past five years, but that applies to all our areas,” Seguin said.

Gaynor said the library is understaffed, with six librarians to the 15 she says comparably-sized universities have.

“If one person calls in sick, we have a hard time keeping services open,” she said.

In addition to staffing, a large portion of the funding goes to electronic resources, which are just as expensive as their print counterparts.

The library cancels database subscriptions based on things like price, quality of content and usage by students, Gaynor said. Because they see a 20 to 50 per cent price increase on resources annually, many of the savings in cancellations are used simply maintaining current resources.

“We can only cut for so long until we start cutting into things that people are using, and that becomes a problem,” she said.

“We’re really stuck in a difficult spot where the demand is there for resources, but the funding hasn’t matched.”

TRU is currently undergoing a budget model review, which could reflect specialized departments’ need for resources, such as law and communications.

Seguin said that the reason TRU is comparing itself to other research universities is because of how the university’s research portfolio has been expanding recently, and that this will be reflected in spending patterns.