UCSD Begins Closing Libraries, America Suffers
By Taylor Marvin
UCSD, facing an unprecedented budget shortfall, has announced that it will close four of the six major campus libraries. Administrators justified the necessity of the closure in a mass email sent out this morning:
“Earlier this year, we communicated to the campus community that significant and continuing budget cuts could lead to the closure of four of the Libraries’ facilities.
While we have not yet received our final budget allocation, we have been informed that the Libraries will need to absorb at least a $3 million cut for 2011/2012, which leaves us no choice but to move forward with these closures and consolidations.
Unfortunately, these closures and consolidations will impact our ability to provide UCSD faculty and students with the quick access to resources and services they have come to expect from the Libraries. In addition, the closures will lead to a significant reduction in study space forstudents, with a loss of approximately 800 study seats.”
From an administration standpoint, it’s hard to see what other options were available. The UCSD library system were already asked to cut roughly 25% of it’s operating budget over the last four years, and with the majority of UCSD libraries’ expenses come from operations costs like staffing it’s difficult to see how these could further be reduced without closing individual libraries entirely.
Still, it is difficult to imagine the closures will not have a negative academic impact on UCSD students. While the libraries’ academic resources are intended to remain available in digital form during the transition, the study spaces lost are irreplaceable. It’s often difficult to find study desks on campus during peak hours as is, and severely reducing available spaces will make this more difficult. Many students, myself included, are basically incapable of studying at home because of the myriad distractions available outside of the controlled environment of the libraries. If we’re not able to secure the reduced study spaces in the remaining libraries, our grades will decline. While mitigating poor student impulse control isn’t strictly the responsibility of the university, the library closures are evidence that the California budget crisis is beginning to cut away at the core academic assets of the California public university system. Given California’s deep structural impediments to functioning governance the fiscal challenges facing the public university system are unlikely to go away, and deeper academic cuts are likely forthcoming. A world-class university system is one of California’s few remaining public achievements, and its decay would be a tragedy both for California students unable to afford a private university education and American national competitiveness as a whole. This suggests an interesting public policy dilemma: if states are unable to fund the elite public universities that benefit the nation as a whole does the federal government face any responsibility to step in and preserve these schools’ academic assets? Of course, this isn’t feasible in the current US fiscal climate, but if debt-restricted state budgets prove less quick to recover than the federal government this question will grow more relevant. Even temporary reductions in human capital growth imposed by poor university education can lower potential national GDP decades later, and California’s continuing inability to fund the public good of university education is likely to have significant adverse effects on American society far into the future.
National effects aside, the closure of UCSD libraries sends a strong signal to high-achieving American high school students: the UC system is not the place to be.