Where are the numbers? The impact of the economic recession on university library and IT services

Lorcan 2 min read

‘The impact of the economic recession on university library and IT services’ [pdf] is a report by market research company Ipsos Mori for several UK higher education organizations. A summary and a briefing paper are also available.
It documents possible approaches to cost saving based on interviews with librarians and directors of ICT services. I was slightly surprised at the bullish tone in the opening sentences of this headline statement about libraries:

One thing is clear: most librarians we spoke to are not yet feeling the ‘pinch’ of the recession on their services. There is a clear sense that the library occupies a protected place as the ‘beating heart’ of the institution and most feel the impact of the recession has currently been contained to small, easily managed budget cuts – for now. At the same time, however, there is a sense of vulnerability and a growing concern that libraries may be seen as an easy target for savings and efficiencies whenever required by the institution (given their book funds are typically the largest concentration of uncommitted funds within the University budget) while they struggle to meet ever changing student and academic staff service demands. [The impact of the economic recession on university library and IT services PDF]

Especially as the summary spoke about “an acute sense” of vulnerability.
It notes ‘solutions’ under the following headings: self-service, consortia, renegotiating contracts and planning subscriptions, shared services and outsourced services, library staff, monitoring satisfaction and impact on students. I didn’t notice much discussion of the report when it appeared (September 2009) but I doubt that anybody was very surprised by very much that they read in it.
There are a couple of recommendations in the Foreword by JISC which seem a little ahead of practice. For example, it is suggested that among the opportunities that “are at universities’ disposal to realise efficiencies and cost savings” is the adoption by HE library consortia of shared Library Management Systems (LMS). It is also suggested that open access “should help mitigate increased costs in journal subscriptions”. Neither of these is likely to be an immediate source of cost savings given the current state of play, whatever about the longer term.
However, in reading the report I became increasingly aware of a strange gap, particularly in a report prepared by a market research company. There are hardly any numbers. There is discussion of downturn, of shifting investment, of trends – but hardly anywhere is there an attempt to quantify these. Above all, I wondered if there were a sense of how big the discussed budget cuts were likely to be. This may be institution-specific, but without a sense of scale the whole discussion had a sense of unreality.

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