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WVU Libraries’ Collection Budget Priorities

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
June 6th, 2022
University Library circa 1910
University Library, circa 1910, West Virginia History OnView Collection

Few would argue that academic libraries have changed radically since 1902 when Stewart Hall was the WVU Library. What hasn’t changed is the Libraries’ commitment to WVU’s land grant mission and the study, teaching, and research of the faculty, staff, and students. One not-so-obvious change is the WVU Libraries’ focus on providing access to resources, as opposed to owning them. The explosion of research and new publications means no single library or library system can own everything the institution might need (even with the help of generous donors,) but through carefully curated collections and the power of interlibrary loan, libraries provide access to what faculty, staff, and students need. The focus on access is accompanied by a just-in-time approach, in contrast to the former just-in-case plan. (When the libraries purchased new books, videos, etc., because we thought they might be needed some day, this was a just-in-case plan.)

The emphasis on access vs. ownership and just-in-time vs. just-in-case acquisitions models are responses to the WVU Libraries’ annual reduction in buying power coupled with increased demand for new types of resources. The WVU Libraries’ budget has been flat or decreased since FY20. Over the same period, the average inflation rate for scholarly journals was 5.9%, 5.03% and 2.5%, resulting in over 13% in cumulative price increases (Ebsco Periodical Price Survey 2022). Yes, this sounds alarming, because it is, but it would be even worse without our many generous donors. The income from established endowments currently accounts for 5% of our collections spending.

In light of these budget realities, the WVU Libraries have established five funding priorities:

  • a commitment to increased investment in open access initiatives;
  • cost sustainability through multi-year contracts with modest inflation rates;
  • increased support for library consortia and statewide initiatives such as WVer (West Virginia Electronic Resources);
  • ongoing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals;
  • and better discoverability platforms.
Student using a computer
Evansdale Library, 2018

How will these funding priorities benefit the WVU faculty, staff, and students? Investments in open access initiatives such as the Open Access Author Fund and the Cambridge University Press Read & Publish Agreement encourage WVU authors to publish in open access journals by reducing or eliminating the author fees. These articles are immediately available to a world-wide audience, not just those who are affiliated with an institution that can afford to subscribe.  (See the full list of WVU’s open access agreements here.) Increased support for statewide initiatives aligns with WVU’s land grant mission, combining WVU’s buying power with that of other state-assisted colleges and universities, which results in more access to better information across West Virginia. Our memberships in regional consortia such as PALCI, CRL, and GWLA increase our buying power through competitive contracts. Our DEI priorities connect users to underrepresented voices. A diverse collection benefits the entire WVU community by representing different viewpoints and ensuring all micro-communities see themselves reflected in the Libraries. Investments in Ebsco Discovery Service and WorldCat Discovery make more quality content available through a centralized search interface. These interfaces are particularly helpful for undergraduates, and benefit faculty and staff engaged in cross-disciplinary research.

Student with laptop
Downtown Library, 2018

In addition to these five funding priorities, the Libraries also closely monitor all current subscriptions for usage and value to our community. When a subscription is identified as under-performing, we consider whether interlibrary loan might not be a more affordable means of access. What is an under-performing journal, from the Libraries’ perspective?  If a journal costs $1,000 per year and users access ten articles, the cost-per-use is $100.  Wait a minute — aren’t those ten articles important to the scholar?  Yes!  But those ten articles can be obtained through interlibrary loan at a much lower cost. By canceling under-performing journal subscriptions, funds are freed up for resources that support new programs and areas of study, new faculty requests, the ever-growing demand for streaming services, and the Libraries’ ongoing efforts to build a more diverse and representational collection, aligning with WVU Guiding Principle 7. The scholar still gets the needed articles, and the money saved from under-performing journals can be put to more effective use.  In the final analysis, the WVU Libraries seek to be the best possible stewards of the collections budget while fulfilling the University’s mission.

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