By Graig Graziosi
The rising cost of digital journal packages and the shrinking budget allocated to the William F. Maag Library are putting important research tools in danger of being cut.
Maag Library has been battling budget reductions since 1996, but current cuts have forced the library to begin dropping important academic journal packages. Making the situation worse, the prices of digital journals have been rising substantially.
“The sky isn’t falling, but it’s looking pretty dark,” assistant professor Susan Clutter said.
Clutter is an assistant professor in the Forensics department at Youngstown State University, and the chair of the Academic Senate Library Committee.
“When we were making good money in the 1990s, early 2000s here at YSU, we probably should have been raising that money [the library’s budget]. In 1996, I believe, the budget was $4 million, and it has been steadily declining from there,” Clutter said.
Though budget cuts due to economic factors have been a reality for the majority of public higher education institutions, YSU spends significantly less money per student on its library than other regional public universities.
The University of Akron, Ohio University, Kent State University, Bowling Green State University and Wright State University spend $184.50, $140.48, $135.59, $154.34, and $251.01 per student, respectively, on their libraries’ budgets. Youngstown State spends $76.97 per student.
The budget reductions to the library were manageable until this year, when cuts to widely used digital journal subscriptions, such as the American Institute of Physics, were implemented.
“Unfortunately, as we’re making these cuts, the cost of OhioLINK and other resources are rising astronomically” said Clutter. “Currently, these e-resources take up 65 percent of our budget.”
Academic journals, which publish original research by top minds in whichever field the journal covers, have largely converted to fully digital editions. As in the past, the journals are available through the use of a paid subscription.
However, with the conversion to digital, the university no longer receives physical copies from many of the services. This means if a journal’s subscription is cancelled, not only does the university lose access to any new publications, but also to the entire history of previously published works as well.
Other digital journal services, such as EBSCO, have raised their prices while dividing up their services, offering certain databases that had once been a part of the core service as “extras” to be purchased in addition to the core.
For the library to maintain the current level of access to EBSCO’s databases, it would be forced to purchase not only the core service at a price of $30,000, but also the extra packages at their own cost.
Making the decision to cut research tools, while difficult, is done with consideration to the students who would be impacted most severely by the cut. To determine this, Jeff Trimble, the head of Information Services of Maag Library, reviews usage data from the journals to determine which students from which majors are utilizing the individual databases.
“He tries to say, ‘Well, we have only five people in the women’s study program, but all of them are dependent upon a certain database, whereas STEM has ‘x’ amount of databases to pull from, so if we remove one of those, it won’t cause the entire STEM program to falter,” Clutter said.
Of particular concern to faculty and students, however, is the possibility that the widely used database JSTOR could be cut if there are further budget reductions next year.
“JSTOR makes up about 5 percent of the library’s budget, and generally when we have to make a cut we’re asked to cut between 5 and 7 percent. As unsettling as losing JSTOR would be, it is essentially all we have left to cut,” Clutter said.
For the majority of students and faculty involved in the humanities, losing JSTOR would be a major blow to their researching capabilities.
“For English, for history, for political science … for all departments under the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, they absolutely need JSTOR,” Michael Jerryson of the YSU Philosophy and Religious Studies Department said. “I’ve had students use this [JSTOR] for research for papers they’ve submitted to contests and won prizes for. … So, for me as a faculty member, it would hurt me, but for the students, it’s even worse. It would cripple their ability to do any outside research.”
Other faculty members are concerned with YSU’s ability to live up to its proposed image as an urban research institution if JSTOR is cut from the library.
“To lose JSTOR would pretty much end research for people like myself and those of us in the humanities … I don’t know how we can call ourselves a research university if you don’t have at least a minimally decent library that has those resources,” Mark Vopat of the Philosophy and Religious Studies department said.
The cost of losing a resource such as JSTOR would not only include derailing humanities research at the university, but would like also force professors to require textbooks or additional readings, a cost that would be passed along to the students.
“One way we can defray the cost of textbooks for courses is to point students to articles and journals in the library. If I can’t do that, then that means I have to buy textbooks, or I have to buy anthologies which are going far more expensive than just pointing students to the library resource,” Volpat said.
At a time when YSU’s enrollment is already suffering from low numbers, losing a resource that is necessary for faculty, undergraduates’, and graduate students’ research may cause some prospective students to reconsider attending YSU for their undergraduate or graduate school.
“I couldn’t think of a
way. … I could actually complete the [graduate school] workload without spending a ton of my own money on articles and journals. It would probably be more cost effective for me to go somewhere else that was more expensive that actually offered JSTOR and other research materials in the long run,” senior Raymond Wolfgang, an English major, said.
While the shrinking budget and the potential service cuts may seem catastrophic, Clutter, Trimble, and the rest of the library staff and the faculty who represent them remain confident they will find a way to survive the budget crises and provide students with a quality library on YSU campus.
“One thing we don’t want to do is scare anyone away. YSU is still a great school, and we have an amazing faculty. We’re just in a tough position right now with the budget. What it all boils down to is that we need more money,” Clutter said.