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Library committee warns of jeopardy to library collections

STANFORD -- Budget cuts threaten the status of the Stanford library system as one of the nation's top 10 research collections, English Prof. David Riggs told the Faculty Senate on Sept. 26.

Under uniform criteria established by the Association of Research Libraries, the Stanford collection in the last 25 years advanced from the "instructional" category to the "research level," by definition a collection that supports graduate education and original scholarly research.

That shift is "an extraordinary accomplishment that most faculty members take for granted," Riggs said.

Stanford's science collections rank at the top in nearly every important subject area, and curators have been trying to remedy the humanities deficit through a strong acquisition program. However, severe budget cuts on top of last year's 16 percent reduction eventually could jeopardize all that.

Presenting a report from the Faculty Senate Committee on Libraries, Riggs said the library system -- Green, Meyer and the branch libraries -- could manage next year only if cuts are "modest."

"All bets are off" if the library is treated as an administrative unit and heavily cut, he said.

Robert Street, vice president for libraries and information resources, echoed Riggs, saying a second cut of 16 percent would translate to a nearly one-third reduction in library support in two years.

This would fundamentally change the nature of the collection and the library's mode of operation, he said.

Slower service

Since staff cuts made during last year's "repositioning" effort, the cataloging backlog has doubled, the time to reshelve a book has doubled to five days, and most gift materials cannot be processed, Riggs said.

Associate Prof. Mary Wack, English, strongly protested the service reduction, which also has led to more books being inaccurately shelved.

"A book misshelved is lost," she said. This leads scholars to submit search requests that lead to longer lines at the checkout counter and further waste staff time, she said.

She also complained about the cataloging backlog. To short-circuit the backlog, staff members place many new books on shelves by date of acquisition instead of fully cataloging new material in the Library of Congress numbering system.

While researchers can find the books' acquisitions numbers by "browsing" the card catalog electronically, the system precludes subject-based browsing in the stacks.

"It is absolutely crucial" that books be fully cataloged, Wack said.

Street told the senate that library staff members are trying to deliver the same level of service they provided before positions were cut.

Political science Prof. Stephen Krasner said the problem was even worse because reductions were made to a staff that had not grown in the last decade.

In its report, the Committee on Libraries wrote that it is "idle to suppose that Stanford University Libraries can save money by asking these individuals to become more productive. Many of them are nearly burned out already."

Statistics show that the library system is extremely efficient relative to peer institutions, the committee said.

Collection development

Discussing collection development, Wack told the senate that the Stanford Bookstore now has a better selection of current books in her field than the library.

"Is this a harbinger of things to come?" she asked.

Collections targeted for development, according to Riggs, include British literature, Asian Studies, African American studies, environmental studies and Jewish studies.

And additional pressure will be added, he said, if the Hoover Institution stops collecting in the areas of Latin American history and the Middle East.

Continued support for all those programs will be difficult, and the libraries may have to stop maintaining some collections at the research level if it wants to upgrade others, the library committee said.

The committee has authorized cancellation of 85 percent of serial subscriptions in Meyer undergraduate library to divert funds to Meyer's retrospective and current multicultural collections and to support growing demands on the media collection.

English Prof. Ronald Rebholz asked Riggs if the search for an associate vice president and director of libraries had been abandoned. Riggs said the issue of long-term leadership would be taken up after the library is told the size of its next budget cut.

"The provost was overly optimistic when he thought the library could be cut 16 percent," Rebholz said.

"We seem to be losing one of the greatest scholarly resources we have."



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