Committee chair: Make library a priority at University of Montana | Local

The Mansfield Library has lost 30 percent of its workforce since the 2016 fiscal year, and it plans to curtail hours come spring 2018, according to a report from the library dean at the University of Montana.

Funding for collections has dropped 31 percent from the 2013 to 2018 fiscal years, said the report from Dean Shali Zhang. Yet she does not believe UM can meet its teaching and research needs without more money for collections.

“To achieve this goal, UM administration must stop ongoing cuts to the library collection funding,” the report said.

This week, University Library Committee Chair Meradeth Snow said she was dismayed the library was omitted from UM President Sheila Stearns’ draft report on campus priorities. The report came out of an academic and administration program evaluation at UM that’s intended to help direct spending.

Stearns said the omission was an oversight, and Snow said she’s hoping to see the library identified as a key unit on campus.

At this week’s Faculty Senate meeting to discuss the president’s report, Snow said the library is necessary to the intellectual vitality of the campus, and she pointed to an earlier recommendation calling for investment in the library as a unit that supports student achievement.

The recommendation is in a report that was marked as a draft Friday, and it wasn’t clear if the final version included the library. But the dean’s report notes the task force that reviewed programs identified collections as a No. 1 priority for growth at UM.

“The library has just taken such a big hit that we had been hoping to be recognized in some way,” Snow said Friday, a couple of days after she commented to the Faculty Senate.

The process to set campus priorities had identified decisions by the president as an outcome this week, but the president issued draft recommendations and reflections. Members of the Faculty Senate described the report as “vague,” and it wasn’t clear Friday how the library will fare as the campus continues to address budget challenges.

Stearns has said UM must reduce spending on personnel in order to properly fund other needs on campus, and she has specifically named the library at least once. In an email Friday, UM communications director Paula Short said the library is “vital to our institution.”

“In particular, the intersection of student success and retention with the resources and mission of the library remain mission-critical,” Short said. “However, the library — like the rest of the institution — will continue to have resource constraints as we work through our budget challenges.”

It wasn’t clear if any staff replacements at the library would be considered mission-critical. Stearns also has noted UM spends nearly 90 percent of its operating budget on personnel as opposed to an ideal amount in the 70 percent range.

This week, the campus finalized voluntary severance offers to staff aimed at saving money, and the library dean’s report anticipated losing additional staff as a result. In an email Friday, the president briefly addressed library staffing.

“As with all vital sectors of the university, as some staff leave, replacements will be considered in a case-by-case basis,” Stearns said.

Library Dean Zhang could not be reached through voicemail Friday. However, she compiled the report noting the 30 percent workforce reduction, or 22.95 full time equivalents, and she noted other changes ahead for the library.

“The current plan is to close the library building at midnight, rather than 2 a.m., beginning spring 2018,” the report said.

The report noted UM receives inflationary cost increases from the state, some 6 percent to 8 percent, but the library has not received its share, and it has had several rounds of cuts, including some $600,000 this year. It also said collections influence where graduate students choose to study.

“A diminished library collection has campus-wide consequences,” the report said. “Revenue is generated through grants received by researchers on campus whose studies require and are developed through literature reviews … “

Snow, also a faculty member in anthropology, said the committee has received feedback from students opposed to the shortened hours because “quite a few” use the library at those times. Generally, she said the cuts to the library have been troubling.

“It’s been very difficult to watch,” Snow said.

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