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UNB libraries hit hard by low Canadian dollar

UNB recently announced that the university libraries will be receiving an additional $231,000 in university contingency funds in order to match the rising costs of academic journals, but but it is not a long term solution according to the librarians.

The announcement came after an earlier $750,000 funding boost last spring, making a total of $981,000 in library contingency spending between 2015 and 2016.

“Strong libraries are the pillars of our campuses and are crucial to the success of our students, our faculty and our researchers.  I am pleased they are receiving this support,” said UNB president Eddy Campbell in a letter to the university community.

Joanne Smyth is the head of reference services for the Harriet Irving Library (HIL); she said the funding is, in effect, a bailout for the library.

“It looks nice, and it is – it brings us to a break even point.”

Even still, Smyth said, the extra money is a band-aid solution to an ongoing problem.

Libraries have long been accustomed to the costs of academic journals increasing with inflation.  Normally libraries could adjust for these costs, but because of the low Canadian dollar, and because the majority of journals are published in the United States, purchasing power has been crippled.

Smyth said the HIL is effectively in a structural deficit, and that a long-term reassessment of the library budget will be needed to address rising costs and the low dollar.

“We are looking for ongoing, reliable, regular funding,” said Smyth.

Campbell said that providing longer term funding is difficult when times are already tough for university. Recent drops in enrollment have already cost the university $8 million in tuition revenue.

Frozen government-operating subsidies, poor enrollment and tuition freezes for in province students have crippled the university’s biggest sources of revenue. The university is left to budget numerous faculties and programs while income shrinks and operating costs inflate.

“The struggle is the cost of education, the source of revenue, and the quality of the education. If you could take the politics out of if I think everyone would agree the quality of education comes first,” said Campbell.

Campbell personally approved of the additional funding, and said that library resources are critical to the UNB community.

“There are many people who would tell me their programs are in need of resources, they need more fulltime faculty … It’s a balancing act,” he said.

Campbell continued that the university would be looking for additional funds for the libraries, both in upcoming fundraising campaigns as well as through further discussion with the government.

He is hoping to establish a multiyear funding agreement that will outline further government funding and tuition costs.

The UNB board of governors will be meeting in May to discuss next year’s budget.

“We’re doing our best to make the right decision for the university community,” Campbell said.

In the meantime the HIL will be looking at any cuts it can make while affecting quality as little as possible.

The HIL recently announced it would be cutting its journal reference resource Web of Science.

“What we’ve done is take out this data base, but the actual journal content, we still have access to,” said Smyth.

“We are having to pull back at some of our resources and really take a hard look at where we can cut.”

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