While it’s easy to get caught up in everything that’s happening right now, one crucial action at Binghamton University has slipped under the radar. The BU Libraries is receiving yet another budget cut. After receiving a $450,000 cut in 2018, a staggering $1.4 million will be removed from the BU Libraries’ budget. Both print collections and digital database and journal subscriptions are expected to be reduced. This also comes less than a year after the loss of BU’s ScienceDirect contract, which removed a major resource for accessing research and scientific journals. The cuts will also mean that library hours of operation will be reduced, and a hiring freeze will remain in effect indefinitely. There was no B-Line Announcement or Message from the President in order to inform students of this action. The announcement was made available only through the library page on BingU News.
While the cuts are coming from the BU administration, the libraries are left with little guidance, having to make decisions about what material will get cut on their own. This forces the BU Libraries’ administration to prioritize materials from certain fields of study over others. As of right now, 13 collections have been cut from BU Libraries’ resources, with 10 of them relating to research in humanities-related fields such as art and journalism. This imbalance has the potential to put pressure on already struggling departments and could leave students without legal avenues for accessing academic journals.
However, there is no word as to what will be done with existing print collections that end up being cut from the University or when they will be removed.
With so many aspects of studying and research being digitized, it is understandable that in-person, print collections would be one of the first things to go. However, cutting down on an already-reduced digital library and database system in the middle of a pandemic, where many are studying remotely, will only make things worse for students. Cutting digital research resources at a tier-one research institution doesn’t seem to make much sense.
The BU Libraries’ staff and administration should be commended, as they are working hard to make the best of a bad situation. Jill Dixon, associate University librarian for public services and collections, and her staff have held town hall meetings for interested parties to express concerns, air grievances or learn more about information important to them. It is clear that no one is happy with these cuts, but the BU Libraries’ administration has made it clear that they want feedback in order to help library users. It doesn’t help that BU has not been widely advertising these meetings to the community either.
It is clear that these cuts are a result of financial hardship facing the University, a hardship that existed before, but was made much worse as a result of COVID-19. However, if BU is taking cuts to something as essential as libraries, what’s next? Where will we draw the line? Libraries, and education as a whole at BU, cannot be given the chance to grow if they are constantly receiving less and less funding.
It is also safe to assume that a $1.4 million cut to library services was not an overnight decision. BU’s administration knew they were in debt, as they briefly mentioned in their fall reopening plans. Another hiring freeze was implemented and BU President Harvey Stenger asked all departments to reduce expenditures wherever possible. BU needs to be honest with students and fully explain what sort of financial shape the school is in. As we’ve said time and time again, students, who are giving a significant amount of their time and money to this institution, deserve to know exactly where that money is going and how it is being managed in an upfront and honest way. While in some ways, there is little control to be had over private donations that are provided under strict circumstances, BU must take a long, hard look at its priorities before it starts up another construction project or expense that will take away from students’ quality of education. Libraries and access to information should come long before an expensive, aesthetic remodeling project.
As of now, cuts will have to be made no matter what. All other options must be examined before we begin cutting essential resources for students. Increased transparency will allow for students to hold the administration to better financial practices and can even push for the changes they want to see. Should funding be made available elsewhere, such as if the Campus Citizen Review Board is able to reallocate funds from the University Police Department (UPD), these resources should be allocated to our libraries. BU needs to listen a lot harder to what students need and rely on during these difficult times, as many would prefer an outdated building front with easy research access compared to the alternative.