North Texas Daily

Library funded but financial future cloudy

Library funded but financial future cloudy

Library funded but financial future cloudy
February 27
00:48 2014

Joshua Knopp // Senior Staff Writer

When thousands of students and faculty rallied to save Willis Library within just a day of hearing about a $1.7 million shortfall, they were responding primarily to a miscommunication. But that doesn’t mean the library is in the clear.

The university learned in early November that their method of payment for library employee benefits, which add up to $1.7 million, was going to fall through. Library dean Martin Halbert was initially told in a Nov. 13 email that the library would be responsible for those benefits retroactive to Sept. 1. Provost and vice president for academic affairs Warren Burggren said this was a miscommunication, and what really happened was the university was changing which pocket employee benefits are paid out of.

Halbert said the library has since been reimbursed with Higher Education Assistance Funds. Though these funds can only legally be used to buy new books and materials, Halbert shifted other funds away from those areas to fill the gap.

“We were informed rather abruptly that we would have to absorb $1.8 million more per year,” Halbert said of the incident. “That was what really led to that rapidresponse from the students and faculty, and that was very gratifying.”

According to libraries administrative coordinator Susan Paz, the library has about 130 employees who receive benefits.

Burggren said syncing up employee benefits with the department’s primary source of funding is the simplest, most efficient way to run things, and is a transition other departments have undergone. He said 98 percent of the library’s budget comes from student service fees.

Burggren said he was encouraged by student response to the apparent funding gap, and the university is committed to making sure there won’t be an actual shortfall.

Administration took a hit last week when vice president for finance and administration Andrew Harris and senior associate vice president for finance Jean Bush both resigned. Burggren said after replacements are hired and next year’s budget starts being drafted, the library won’t lose any function, though he’s not sure how the school is going to do it.

“Since the library is now assuming the costs of benefits, we’re going to make that up this year through central funds,” he said. “We will keep the library whole this year. When we get our new budget officers in place, those are going to be prime discussions.”

Keeping the library functioning at-level may take more than steady support. Halbert said the costs of academic journals and online material are steadily rising, but the library service fee has stayed stable at $16.50 per tuition hour since 2004.

26_Library.0152.Pisciottano

The library is funded primarily by this fee and part of the technology use fee, which stands at $13 per hour.

Halbert said it will take an average of $500,000 more per year for the library just to tread water.

Halbert pointed to a University of North Carolina scholarly article from 2005, which examined the “serials crisis.”

According to the article, the volume of scientific research has been increasing dramatically over the past decades, as have the variety of scientific fields of study.

Because they need to be published in an academic journal to be taken seriously and want their studies spread as widely as possible to do the most good, universities and scientists had been giving their research away for free.

And because there was so much research that no single journal could fully replace another from the universities’ perspective, each academic journal essentially had a monopoly.

“The publishers could basically jack up any prices they wanted to, and they did. Why wouldn’t they?” Halbert said.

Halbert said UNT must maintain subscriptions to these journals to keep up with research universities. In a typical year, 1.5 million people go in and out of the library, but commercial material is accessed online between 5 and 6 million times per year, Halbert said.

“That stuff, although it’s heinously expensive, that’s the core of scientific work at the university,” he said.

The library is also underfunded compared to its peers. According to a presentation Halbert made for the Board of Regents in May 2013, UNT’s library has consistently been more than $10,000 behind other Texas emerging research universities which, the school aspires to compete with.

UNT is looking at a budget crunch in the near future, having gone as far as hiring auditors to look at the school’s finances. Like many other university libraries, Willis has been caught between rising journal costs and funding that can’t keep up. All bills are paid for this year and university officials say they will be paid into the future.

But nobody knows how just yet.

Center photo: Student’s walk past banners promoting the library on their way to and from class on Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Dana Pisciottano / Intern Photographer 

Feature photo: Business undeclared sophomore Austin Snyder utilizes Willis Library for studying during midterms. Willis Library offers resources and a quiet space for students. Photo by Dana Pisciottano / Intern Photographer 

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