Booking it: Library budget pondered

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Dan Goeddel / Staff Photographer The Rare Books Inventory Project expands student access to historical texts at a minimal cost.

Dan Goeddel / Staff Photographer
The Rare Books Inventory Project expands student access to historical texts at a minimal cost.

Pius XII Library and the Medical Center Library receive roughly $5 million for materials annually. About $3 million of that goes specifically to Pius, the rest of the money either shared between both libraries or dedicated specifically to the Medical library. Pius’ materials budget is used to buy books, subscriptions and literature important to a research university.

“Databases could be a collection of journals, or it could be a graphic database, or it could be business data,” Jane Gillespie, a subject librarian, said. “It’s kind of a complex landscape.”

The Collections Management Group, composed of the 11 subject librarians working at Pius, is in charge of buying and maintaining the databases available to SLU students. Gillespie heads the group.

“There’s a historical component,” Gillespie said concerning how they decide what to buy. “Sometimes professors want specific journals. Some things are just standard… We might look at usage statistics, that’s the only way we’ve been able to get new materials, really.”

While the shift to digital publication has altered the way many publishers do business, it hasn’t resulted in a decrease in prices, largely due to packaging requirements, annual maintenance and upgrading fees. Yet, according to Gillespie, the library hasn’t seen a significant increase in their budget for roughly 10 years. Maintaining a strong collection of information has become more troublesome over time as the price of goods continues to rise while the library allotment has remained the same.

“I think this is a very good library,” Gillespie said. “We try to support a diverse constituency. But overtime, your purchasing power erodes… Inevitably we’re going to have to start cancelling more things just to keep up with inflation.”

According to Gillespie, it’s not unreasonable for publisher pricing to increase by 5 percent annually. Considering that rate against the total Pius Library budget of $3 million dollars would mean a pricing increase of $150,000 each year.

“[With more money] we would be able to take advantage of multiyear deals and opportunities when they come up,” Gillespie said. Factors other than inflation, such as adding new graduate programs, also increase the price strain on the budget.

Funding for library databases was increased by $500,000 in a midyear adjustment in Fiscal Year ‘13, which followed a $410,000 cut last year. According to David Heimburger, vice president and chief financial officer for SLU, the money was returned to the library, with an increase in the allotment, due to the University receiving more information about the critical nature of the funding in maintaining a strong collection of databases.

“I’m not sure how the decision got made… but during the budget process there was nothing brought to our attention about reestablishing that budget for the libraries,” Heimburger said. He was informed of the cut and its adverse effects after hearing concerns from faculty at the Jan. 29 Faculty Senate meeting.

The CFO stated that the great majority of new spending in Fiscal Year ‘14 went towards moving the law school downtown and to increasing the compensation pool for faculty and staff. This resulted in the denial of nearly all other new spending requests made across the university.

However, Pius has been working to expand student access to valuable historical information through the Rare Books Inventory Project. The RBIP started in 2004, and the program is intended to place descriptions of all the library’s rare books online. The project focuses on student involvement, with one student a semester working five hours a week to transfer pertinent information – such as the title, author, publication information and pagination – from historical texts to the online database.

This allows students to easily find what the rare books collection has to offer by going through the SLU Libraries website. According to Kate Moriarty, rare book catalogue librarian, 70 percent of the rare inventory has already been catalogued, and they hope to finish the project within the next few years.

“It’s an opportunity for students to learn,” Moriarty said. The RBIP is also a good experience for students interested in language, history and in dealing with primary documents that they wouldn’t receive in the classroom. The only extra cost for the project is paying Moriarty and her student worker for their time.

Examples of the documents available in the collection are “Considerations on the Modern Opinion of the Fallibility of the Holy See in the Decision of Dogmatical Questions” written by reverend Charles Plowden, or the “Spiritual Exercises” by Saint Ignatius Loyola in various translations.