Research Libraries Increase Spending on Digital Materials

October 08, 2012

Spending by research libraries appears to be rising, especially for digital materials, according to new data from the Association of Research Libraries.

The data are part of the association's Library Investment Index, which ranks the association's member libraries each year based on total library expenditures, salaries and wages of professional staff, spending on library materials, and the number of professional and support staff.

The upward trend for the 2011 fiscal year was the first in several years. The economic downturn in 2008 and the tight budgets that followed caused a drop in spending on all of the index's categories, said Martha Kyrillidou, senior director of the association's statistics and service-quality programs, in an e-mail interview. She added that it "remains to be seen if this is a temporary reversal or a true shift to sustain itself more than a year."

Harvard University remains the clear leader in the index, outspending the runner-up, Yale University, by more than $36-million. The main spending difference lies in staffing—Harvard's libraries employ nearly twice as many people as Yale's.

Other libraries dropped significantly in the rankings. The University of Texas at Austin, for example, fell from its 10th-place ranking in the 2010 fiscal year to 23rd place in 2011. The number of library staff members at the institution dropped from 415 to 387, and salary expenditures fell by $2-million, the index shows. Travis Willmann, spokesman for the University of Texas at Austin libraries, said the data the association used may contain "anomalies" in professional salaries and other areas that affected the university's ranking, and that the library may ask for a correction after further review.

Despite data disputes, librarians agreed that an increased demand from students and professors for digital materials has affected staffing needs and budget planning. "You see libraries investing less in people, and that to some extent is reflective of our user population," said Ms. Kyrillidou. "They want to be more self-sufficient."

Many university libraries have seen growth in their acquisitions budgets as this demand increases, said James G. Neal, vice president for information services and university librarian at Columbia University. At Cornell University, over 60 percent of the library's materials budget goes toward e-content, and "half of that amount goes to just three publishers," said Anne R. Kenney, university librarian, in an e-mail interview.

Catherine Hamer, associate director for user services at the University of Texas at Austin libraries, said that the rising costs of online journals and database subscriptions means that "just maintaining access to what we already have requires an increase in expenditures." Over the last decade, the university's spending on physical materials dropped and then leveled off, while electronic expenditures have climbed, Mr. Willmann said.

This shift toward digital has also changed the types of positions university libraries seek to fill. "ARL libraries, when they have a vacancy, are taking a hard look at what that position has done in the past, what the library's needs are," and rethinking and redefining positions, said Mr. Neal, of Columbia, a former president of the association.

The free fall of staffing numbers in recent years has stopped, Ms. Kenney said. Cornell University lost 59 library staff members between 2007 and 2011, but the university expects a "fairly stable" number of full-time staff moving forward. "We certainly do not anticipate an increase in staff numbers but do expect more shifting based on needs," she said. "Staffing is showing a shift away from lower-paid staff and generalists to higher-paid experts."

The association stresses that the index is not a measure of a libraries' services, success, or the quality of their collections. The index also does not take into account factors such as regional cost-of-living variations, institution size, or the range of disciplines and programs an institution offers, Ms. Kenney pointed out. However, the index is a useful way to track spending as faculty and students' demand for library services continues to grow, Ms. Kyrillidou said.