Re: Invoking Cloture (Again) on "Serials Crisis = Library Underfunding -- Dan Lester Stephen Clark 25 Sep 2002 15:53 UTC

-------- Original Message --------
Date: Wed, 25 Sep 2002 08:15:06 -0600
From: Dan Lester <>
Subject: Re[2]: Invoking Cloture (Again) on "Serials Crisis = Library
            Underfunding -- Albert Henderson

Wednesday, September 25, 2002, 6:27:01 AM, you wrote:
SC> -------- Original Message --------
SC> Date: Wed, 25 Sep 2002 06:56:24 -0400
SC> From: Albert Henderson <>
SC> Subject: Re: Invoking Cloture (Again) on "Serials Crisis = Library
SC>    Underfunding -- Dan Lester

SC>         Well, there's the problem. Libraries would not be
SC>         taken for granted if libraries would demonstrate
SC>         (a) how often they fail to satisfy patrons' needs
SC>         and (b) how their failures undermine sponsored
SC>         research and undergraduate studies.

This is an interesting idea.  I don't know of any libraries that count
and report on their failures.  I'm not quite sure how I'd do it, but
I'll think about it.  We do record the very small number of
interlibrary loans that we can't obtain, but those typically are
things that we couldn't purchase even if we had the money.

Since I spend a few hours a week at the reference desk, I know that
there are a very small number of patrons that we know aren't
satisfied, but most of those aren't scholars, but community members
who are unhappy that we don't have a complete genealogy library,
including some book published about great grandpa in Pennsylvania in

One of the problems is that of any service business, that you don't
know of most of your failures.  Most restaurant patrons won't register
a complaint about the poor quality of the food; they simply won't
return, and worse yet may bad mouth your place to their friends. I'm
sure some of that happens in libraries as well.

SC>         As a model, the Justice Departments supports police
SC>         budgets with such failure (crime) statistics. Dean
SC>         White pointed out some years ago in his LJ column.

I've always appreciated his writing, and must have missed or forgotten
that one.  But that comparison brings up another problem with failure
statistics.  You'll never eliminate all failures in the library, nor
will you eliminate all crime.  The law of diminishing returns requires
you, at some point, to quit trying to eliminate the last remaining
problem.  Note that I'm not suggesting we've reached that point, just
that it is an issue.

SC>         A dramatic failure occurred during the Cold War.
SC>         National politicians sat up and took notice when the
SC>         Soviet's launched Sputnik. There were Congressional
SC>         hearings, Presidential panels, a national research
SC>         program into dissemination, and so on. Moreover,
SC>         major research library funding grew at that same
SC>         pace as academic R&D -- what I call 'parity.'

Good point.  Perhaps unfortunately we need some shocking event to give
things a boot.  Most of the shocking things happening lately don't
seem to be doing anything for libraries, though.

SC>         The phrase "governmental waste" comes to mind.

Of course it does.  But I'll challenge you to find much waste in the
vast majority of academic libraries.  Within libraries there are
always things that some of us think shouldn't be done, or should be
done.  My pet peeve in this library is a task that I consider
meaningless that takes a couple of person-days a month.  Eliminating
it might get a few books on the shelves faster, but wouldn't buy us
any more materials.

SC>  > SC>         Like physicists, librarians would be well served
SC>  > SC>         by parity with other research spending. Do
SC>  > SC>         librarians have a "science policy" advocacy? Is
SC>  > SC>         there even a science policy statement?
SC>  >
SC>  > If the answer to either of those questions is positive, I don't know
SC>  > of such a policy or statement.  I'd be glad to be informed to the
SC>  > contrary, of course.

SC>         These rhetorical questions can be answered with
SC>         a simple 'no.' I have been looking for such a
SC>         statement for many years.

I didn't consider them rhetorical questions.  I honestly don't know of
one, but that doesn't mean that ALA or other bodies haven't created
one.  Since I'm not involved in organizational politics any more, I'm
not up on those things like you are.

SC>  > I know that ALA, ACRL, and ARL have lobbied in Washington, and have
SC>  > spent significant numbers of dollars (including those from my 35
SC>  > consecutive years of membership fees) on these things.  Like so many
SC>  > things, it is hard to know if you're successful.  Maybe we'd be worse
SC>  > off if they'd not lobbied.  Maybe they've done a lousy job.  Maybe it
SC>  > is an impossible job.  I don't know.

SC>         What have they done with all that money?

I couldn't tell you exactly what they've done, since I don't do
national political stuff.  I've only talked to legislators and others
on the state level. But I still don't have any way of knowing whether
they've helped or hindered libraries, since we don't know what would
have happened if they hadn't done what they do.

SC>         Getting adequate financial support will continue
SC>         to be an impossible job as long as the professional
SC>         leadership fails to articulate the need to recognize
SC>         libraries as a part of R&D, in terms of budgets and
SC>         spending.

I think that the professional leadership does that.  When I was
director of an academic library in another state I fought vigorously
with a VP for Finance over getting a percentage of the research grant
overhead for the library, specifically to support purchase of needed
materials in the areas of research the grants were in.  His response
was very candid: "I'm counting on that $50,000 as a part of the total
budget for the college.  If you go over my head and win the battle
with the president or the board, and get that $50,000, I'll simply cut
the rest of your budget by that same amount.  You'll have fought a
battle, pissed off a lot of people, including me, and gained nothing
for the library."  He was right.  I chose not to fight that battle
over his head.  He'd been there over 30 years, was the real power on
the campus, and had the president and the board in his pocket anyway.
I don't think I could have articulated it any better. Not too long
after that I left for my present job, since I burned out after almost
a decade of fighting that kind of battle.  I know many other current
and former library directors who have faced that same burnout after
years of fighting for money.  At this point I'm enjoying doing a
straight "library geek" job instead.  Perhaps the next generation of
library administrators can do a better job.

SC>  > As noted above, I don't think it has been fiddling.  We've been
SC>  > busting our collective asses on this, even when we don't know if it
SC>  > has done us any good or not.

SC>         I wouldn't defend them, particularly since we
SC>         seem to agree they have no policy on science and
SC>         no advocacy to support recognition of science
SC>         libraries as part of R&D.

I'm not defending anyone.  As noted in my response above, it is a very
difficult job, and I don't know how to win it.  If having policies
will help, that's great, and I'd certainly support the creation of
such.  In my experience, however, any documents created by ALA are
immediately viewed with suspicion by higher administrators, since
they're seen as self-serving means to help the librarian "build an

SC>         It would be spending parity with academic R&D. R&D
SC>         generates the 'information explosion' that libraries
SC>         are expected to disseminate. Libraries enjoyed
SC>         parity during the 1960s. They they fell far behind.
SC>         Check out the graph in my article, "Science in the
SC>         twilight zone; or, are science libraries related to
SC>         science?  Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship.
SC>         [No. 20, Fall. 1998]
SC>         <>

I just looked at the graph, and understand your point.  However,
things have changed greatly since 1995.  No, we've not had giant
increases in budget. We have had great improvements in technology that
allow us to rapidly obtain distant resources, thus greatly improving
our ability to deliver the information that scholars need in a timely
manner.  We've also permitted scholars to access much of the
information they need from any location in the world. I realize that
many publishers are finding these changes as difficult to deal with as
many librarians and scholars do.  Overall, however, I'm hearing a
great many positive comments from the physicists and chemists with
whom I work, comments that I've not heard until the last couple of
years.  We haven't greatly increased the budgets for those
departments, but we have greatly increased our ability to get them
what they need.

SC>         In spite of the support of many science leaders
SC>         and politicians -- evidenced by the Science
SC>         Policy Act of 1976, library leaders dropped the
SC>         ball.

No argument, but I can't do a thing about what happened a quarter
century ago.

SC>         Instead
SC>         of advocating adequate spending, we find enthusiasm
SC>         for cutting budgets: lots of rationalizing about
SC>         resource sharing, the promise of technology, "access
SC>         not ownership," "just in time not just in case," and
SC>         so on!

I don't know of a library administrator that has EVER advocated
cutting budgets.  As noted above, resource sharing works, and works
very well.  Library resource sharing is a century old, and has always
worked. Technology has simply allowed us to get better information
about what others have and to obtain it much more quickly. Although it
may not make a publisher happy, if I can avoid subscribing to a $6000
per year journal and obtain articles that a chemist I work with needs
within a couple of days, he's happy and I'm happy.  Yes, we pay a
heavy copyright fee of $50 or more per article, but that's much better
than subscribing to a journal that would collect dust most of the
time.  This is a journal in a field in which only one person on
campus is interested, and for which he can, and does, review the
tables of contents on the web. Every institution has a number of
similar examples.

SC>         Yes, it's easy to get the attention of policy people
SC>         when you say you can cut costs. This is why I feel
SC>         that the professional leadership in library science
SC>         belongs to the 'enemies of the library' as described
SC>         by Crawford and Gorman in FUTURE LIBRARIES. I think
SC>         libraries deserve a leadership that can step up when
SC>         the going gets tough.

I agree that getting good leaders is tough. I also know that in any
political/administrative organization one has to find a balance
between fighting and knowing when to quit. Even McArthur lost his job
from not shutting up when he "should have".  A friend high up in the
technology business states it as "you have to get along, or you get
along to somewhere else".

Thanks for the new ideas. I'm going to talk to some colleagues about
ways we could measure our failures.  I'd also appreciate suggestions
from other list members who might have read this far.  Perhaps that
should be started as a new thread instead of as yet one more response
on this one.


Dan Lester, Data Wrangler 208-283-7711
3577 East Pecan, Boise, Idaho  83716-7115 USA  Stop Global Whining!