Thursday, 15 April 2010

Challenges for libraries in difficult economic times

The slim booklet Challenges for academic libraries in difficult economic times published by the Research Information Network in March 2010 has probably been read and digested by senior managers in university libraries. It is, unfortunately, likely to be of equal relevance to librarians in other sectors.

Over the last 10 years UK universities' net expenditure on libraries has grown from £322m to £550m, although as a percentage of total university expenditure it has fallen from 3.0% to 2.1%. Universities have also expanded the volume and range of their services and made efficiency savings in this period. Now, 52% of university librarians are expecting budget cuts of around 10% in the next two years.

The scope for further efficiency savings is small so universities have to think strategically about:

  • The balance between expenditure on information resources and staffing
  • A greater focus on user-facing functions
  • A move to E-books to save costs on core texts combined with negotiating better deals with publishers
  • A major renegotiation with publishers over the price of electronic journal subscription deals.
  • Income generation

Other aspects include the need to find ways to demonstrate and communicate the value of library services in achieving institutional goals. Deeper co-operation with libraries across the sector is also being investigated. All this is set against the background of the continuing digital revolution and the growing power of students as consumers.

Most of this will be familiar to public librarians and to those in the commercial sector. The need for strategic thinking, reengineering of services and successful change management is common to all. The RIN report concludes:

"Co-operation and partnership - with other libraries; with other information service providers; and with the staff, students and senior managers of their host universities - will be watchwords for libraries as they develop their strategies for the future."

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