I’ve just left a course committee meeting in which the representative from our library broke the news that they are looking at possible cuts to journals after being ordered to “aspire” to make 10% cuts in spending by the head of Information Services.
Lecturers in the committee were dismayed at this news. Journals are a vital resource that ensure both lecturers and students can keep abreast of developments in their academic field. Staff questioned the need for such cuts since it has not been communicated to them by management that the university is facing any kind of budget crisis. The ‘aspirational’ nature of the order suggests that Information Services, and possibly other departments, are being asked to make cuts purely for their own sake regardless of their impact.
Cuts to journals could have far-reaching implications beyond the loss of useful resources. The new funding model being brought into universities places significant emphasis on the amount and ‘quality’ (read: profitability) of research put out by each institution. This is part of the wider effort to convert the academy into a factory whose output must above all else support the demands of capital. Without access to the full breadth of current research and debate through the journals, our lecturers and research students will struggle to meet the assessment criteria for ‘relevance’ and ‘impact’ being laid down by the funding bodies, creating a vicious circle of poor funding and limited research that will impact the reputation and academic rigour of our university.
The libraries representative stressed that no cuts have actually been decided at this stage. They have simply been asked to plan for them – a deceitful sleight-of-hand that could see cuts forced on the basis that speculatively planning for them ‘just in case’ has ‘proven’ there are possible ‘savings’ (i.e. cuts) to be made. The planning has been complicated by the fact that publishers often tie the libraries into long-term contracts which would cost more to cancel than continue (the famous aircraft carrier scenario, as one lecturer put it), and also tend to bundle several publications together in one contract, so that unpopular journals cannot be dispensed with to save money without losing the more important ones in the same bundle.
George Osborne’s 3.5% increase in VAT is also hitting the library budget. Printed matter is not subject to VAT, but the electronic versions of journals are VAT rateable and this leaves libraries in a double-bind – they hadn’t budgeted for the extra expense, but they can’t avoid it because of the way publishers bundle e-journals together with the print subscriptions or as filler for the bundles.
Other possibilities being mooted to meet the savings target – which amounts to a around £4,000 – include buying in fewer copies of existing books, meaning more will be put on desk loan and 7-day loans and it will be an even worse struggle than it already is to obtain certain key titles; not duplicating titles between libraries, meaning even more inter-library loans; or simply buying fewer new titles. None of these scenarios are acceptable.
Questioned are being sent via the hierarchy at present but in the meantime we must begin to think about how to apply pressure on the University management and fight this assault on the quality of our education.