Weak dollar forcing library cuts

The value of the Canadian dollar, and the collection of an academic library, on this side of the border, go hand in hand. That is to say, as the Canadian dollar falls, so do new purchases and serial subscriptions for Western Libraries.

This was the message Catherine Steeves, Vice Provost and Chief Librarian, delivered to university Senate last week as part of her first annual report. Among the items she addressed were the creation of a strategic plan for Western Libraries, as well as substantial budget concerns.

“The decline of the Canadian dollar, as you can imagine, has had a significant impact on our acquisitions budget,” Steeves said, noting 85 per cent of the libraries’ $14.1 million budget is spent in American currency.

Consider it this way: For every cent the Canadian dollar drops, Western loses $100,000 in buying power. The value of the dollar against U.S. currency has dropped to 71 cents as of Jan 27, where it currently sits.

“That is a significant loss in purchasing power. If any of you have planned trips to the United States, you will have a sense of that. If you have limited your cross-border shopping, you will have a sense of the dire impact this can have,” she explained.

What’s more, libraries continue to fight a battle against increasing publisher prices – something that has been an ongoing issue for some time, Steeves added. Publishers generally increase list prices by 6 per cent annually and, while Western Libraries engages in collective negotiations to “sweeten the deal,” going forward, this won’t be enough to sustain the breadth of the collection.

“We’ve been able to negotiate increases of 3-5 per cent. Add that to the currency problem, and there’s a significant short fall,” said Steeves, adding some publishers have offered extended contracts with lower increases but in the long run that is “a drop in the water.”

As a result, “to manage a significant projected deficit,” Steeves continued, Western Libraries has had to take immediate action to reduce expenditures in the current, and upcoming, fiscal year.

With what Steeves described as careful consideration of the academic community needs, Western Libraries found a short-term savings of $315,000 by freezing new serials subscriptions, reducing book purchases and identifying serials for cancellation that will have relatively low impact on students and researchers.

“This first round is the easy round. Most of those decisions were not as difficult to make – what we call low-hanging fruit, because they were print subscriptions where we also have online access, or they were online subscriptions where we also have online access through aggregator or database projects,” Steeves explained.

The list of cancelled titles can be viewed on the Western Libraries news feed, lib.uwo.ca/news/2015/, and subject librarians can answer questions members of Western’s academic community may have about specific titles. Many of the titles identified for cancellation in this initial round will not cease until the new subscription year begins, and many titles will continue to be available via other sources.

“But from this point forward, there will be significant cuts that will be required of us. We will start to feel the impact of those decisions pretty acutely and so our subject librarians are going to work with criteria they’ve established to ensure the decisions they make support our academic programs to the best of our ability, and reflect the value of the publications and the use of those publications,” she went on.

As part of a long-term budget strategy, Western Libraries will review all book, serial and database expenditures to find additional ongoing savings.

Subject librarians will identify resources for prospective cancellation through March. Lists of resources identified for cancellation will be shared, along with the supporting evidence. Librarians will ask for community feedback on titles under consideration for cancellation and members of the academic community at Western will be consulted in order to minimize impact on teaching and research.