Access to 10 databases provided by the library ended on July 1. These cuts were made to allocate funding to staffing the understaffed library.
Eric Ruckh, the interim dean of library and information services, said that $1.8 million of the $3.8 million library budget is spent on electronic acquisitions. Over 95 percent of the total acquisitions budget is spent on electronic databases.
“The largest part of our acquisitions are used to support electronic resources,” Ruckh said. “The amount that we’re spending on electronic resources has been growing incrementally by way of inflation and beyond for many years.”
Out of its college library peers in Illinois, Lovejoy Library is the most underfunded. Ruckh said that in the past, the electronic acquisitions budget was sustained by letting staff positions go unfilled.
“The library right now is understaffed, critically understaffed. It’s understaffed to the point where basic operations are threatened,” Ruckh said.
Ruckh said in the past, there were eight employees doing the work to make resources in the library, physical and digital, discoverable. Currently, there are three employees doing that work.
“They are pressed to their limits. If we lose one critical person, we might lose access to really basic functionality in this library,” Ruckh said.
Ruckh said decisions on renewals were made by looking at cost per use and overlaps of information.
“Some of the databases we cut are covered by other databases and titles. We tried as best we could to think about cost per use and other alternative coverage,” Ruckh said. “Is that enough for a robust collegiate collaborative process? No, but we had to start somewhere.”
Kristine Hildebrandt, a professor in the English department, said her colleagues had some concern about the number of resource uses reported regarding the decision to make cuts.
“They were using some kind of a click model, how many times these resources had been clicked on. A lot of faculty weren’t sure where those numbers were coming from, because they felt like if their own use and their own teaching and their own classes had been counted that the click numbers would be higher,” Hildebrandt said.
A consultative process to decide which databases should be renewed is in development to be tested in the fall. Decisions about renewals were made before this process was available because if the library had waited, funding would not be able to be internally transferred from electronic acquisitions to staffing.
“An annual review process would have multiple data points, would understand and be aligned to norming use against student populations and faculty research, and it would be collaborative,” Ruckh said. “That is, it would involve faculty from outside the library on conversations about databases.”
Allison Thomason, chair and professor of the history department, said she understands Ruckh’s choice in restructuring the budget, but that the losses of certain databases hurt students.
"When we lose America: History and Life, which is a really important indexing database for students to do research, and faculty, but mainly our students at all levels -- from undergrad, to our majors, to our masters and doctoral students -- it is a very important tool and it hurts to lose it," Thomason said. "We're doing everything we can to try and get it back."
Hildebrandt said she feels the Oxford English Dictionary and Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts were the most important databases to her teaching out of the cuts made. She said the Modern Language Association database is still a good alternative resource, but has its challenges regarding the study of linguistics.
“[MLA] gives you much broader responses outside of linguistics. So LLBA has always been more focused and specific to linguistics and language studies,” Hildebrandt said.
Thomason said Ruckh has been incredibly transparent about the cuts made, and that he said that no decision is irrevocable.
“We had a meeting with Dr. Ruckh yesterday and it made the faculty feel supported by [him.]” Thomason said. “He’s one of us too, he’s a historian, so he understands the importance of research tools, and our point again was just to make sure these cuts are made equitably according to program needs.”