During a time of belt-tightening and financial instability across the UC system, the McHenry Library underwent a massive reconstruction. Funding for the project was allocated over a decade ago, and now, after its completion, the library is grappling with limited fiscal resources.
“It’s hard,” senior librarian Ginny Steel said. “I’m concerned about the future, and what will happen if we receive any more budget reductions.”
The project of reconstructing McHenry Library has been in progress since before money was the paramount concern for the university.
“The original plan for this project started in the early ’90s,” Steel said. “The library then was operating on restricted materials, few electronic resources, and not enough space for stacks. The other big concern was that the library rated poor in terms of the seismic capacity of the building, a serious safety concern the university had to address.”
But with the reconstruction finally finished, the question of whether or not the university will be able to operate at full capacity is a concern librarians are facing.
Elizabeth Cowell, an associate campus librarian, stressed the importance of libraries’ availability for education.
“We are here for the students and staff, committed to maintaining the current levels of accessibility and resources,” Cowell said. “But under current [budget] restrictions we can’t staff the university like we used to.”
Rather than wait for university funding improvements, library administration has been proactive in working toward generating external funding.
“We’ve raised a lot of money for the new furniture and equipment that you see in McHenry now,” Steel said. “The way it works on campus, is there are development officers assigned to each program division, such as the library. Their payroll, however, is split between university relations, who provide the officers, and the library 51 percent of salary paid by University Relations and 49 percent paid by the library.”
Private donations from mostly alumni and former faculty, according to Steel, have allowed libraries to sustain current levels of accessibility. Measure 42, which passed in the 2009-2010 school year, also has allowed some partial hiring and hour extensions.
But it might not be enough. Steel said there have been shortfalls over the past four years.
“I don’t have the exact number, but we’ve lost approximately 30 positions just for library staffing, which puts more stress on us because we run both libraries seven days a week, many hours a day, with less staff,” Steel said.
In the 2012-13 school year, the Measure 42 legislation will be re-voted upon, but there is potential for its expiration.
Though some are hopeful that the libraries will receive additional funding in years to come, many senior staff prepare for worst-case scenarios.
Ken Lyons, a longtime member of the library staff and Union Representative for the UC American Federation of Teachers, believes the state of the libraries couldn’t get much worse than it had become without jeopardizing the value of the libraries to the students.
“Staff in both collective planning and reference branches of the library is already stretched as thin as possible,” Lyons said. “A big issue we’re trying to get attention to right now is that UC librarians are compensated as much as 20 percent lower than our California State University sister schools.”
This same issue occurred during the funding crisis in 1992, but with the more recent budget restrictions, the flexibility of the department to adapt has already been removed due to the large remodeling.
“In response to the budget tightening, we’re trying to do strategic planning to assess which sources get used the most and which aren’t commonly accessed.” Lyons said. “The issue that we’re running across is that a lot of the resources we have aren’t common sources for most students, such as research materials. We have 200 audible databases, for example. I don’t think most students are even aware of their existence.”
In 2009, the university issued the 34 percent cut to the UCSC library — as seen in most other departments as well — to be carried out over the next four years. Now as the cuts come into place, databases like this may seem less valuable to the staff looking for places to cut. In addition, reconfigured positions have become a new trend for library positions.
“We have a lot more people contacting us with questions on how to begin research, but a lot of these questions are through email and chat, not necessary people coming to the reference desk, which has commonly been the resource for answering these questions,” Steel said. “In response, we’ve cut back on hours that we staff the reference desk, and changed the model for how we answer questions.”
Lyons actively manages the reference desk and has seen this shift in student research habits as well.
“We have seen less students coming to the reference desk for help. Students seem often overwhelmed by the expansiveness of the library itself,” Lyons said. “Although we have more online resources like the redesigned website to direct students, resources like reference desk librarians are invaluable to the accessibility of the library.”
Though no direct layoffs have occurred in the 11 years Lyons has been with library services, the number of full-time employees has decreased dramatically and attrition (the cancellation of retirees’ positions) has continued steadily since budget restrictions were approved.
Though the remodeling of the McHenry Library has been a valid project and offers students an expansive, almost luxurious interior, the future outlook of library staffing and hours of availability could certainly be in trouble.
Steel hopes the libraries can continue their current levels of availability for students, even with the future budget looking increasingly slim.
“We want this space to meet the needs of students and faculty,” Steel said. “We think of this as a community space and a space for collaboration, so if students have ideas of things they want to see, we’re interested to hear those ideas. That’s why we’re here.”