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UCSD Begins Closing Libraries, America Suffers

By Taylor Marvin

UCSDs Geisel Library, one of the few not closing.

UCSD's Geisel Library, one of the few not closing.

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.

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6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Chris C. #

    The libraries could easily be saved if the UCSD administration wanted to make the tough calls. Eliminating the ballooning administrative apparatus (specifically, axing auxiliary VPs and consolidating the administration of each college), redirecting the $500,000 in funds for the Black’s Beach lifeguards that they somehow came up with, and cutting extraneous across the university. A.S. too could show that it actually cares about students by offering to save at least one of the libraries instead of say, putting on a few shows next year, but I doubt anyone could even imagine such an intelligent use of student fees.

    May 23, 2011
  2. Taylor Marvin #

    @Chris: I agree. Library closures cut into the core academic status that is UCSD’s main source of prestige. I find it difficult to believe that some creativity within the administration couldn’t allow them to remain open, at least temporarily, and the expense increases associated with administrative bloat is a huge long-term problem for public education in general.

    May 24, 2011
  3. Megan Magee #

    I think one creative way to help keep the libraries open would be to get Housing and Dining involved (the only department to my knowledge which turns a profit on its services). Adding snacks, coffee, or even full meal services inside of CLICS, IR/PS, and Scripps and redirecting these profits to the libraries would, if run intelligently, do a great deal to keep the libraries open. Plenty of hardcore UCSD students can’t stand to leave to get a bite anyway. I’m sure the admin wouldn’t go for this for one reason or another (probably can’t redirect H&D funds for some legal reason), but I think it would save at least one library facility. BTW, I started thinking about this idea after learning that movie theaters make most of their profit on high priced snacks, not movie tickets.

    May 26, 2011
  4. María D. Bolívar #

    The amount needed is ridiculous compared to how the university keeps its administrators. A university that dismantles its student base, its faculties and its libraries becomes a corporation unbranded… generic.

    May 28, 2011
  5. jim smith #

    Let’s be clear: The closure of facilities and/or consolidation of branch libraries on academic library campuses does not mean, the collections and services for delivery of that content or the content itself will be unavailable. Archival materials will be relocated and made available. Of course, any digitized materials can be accessed by virtually anyone affiliated with the institution, if a subscription is required. These changes on campuses across the country are taking place because of digitization and user behavior. On campuses, certain libraries no longer have enough in house use to justify the high cost of maintenance. Campus and library administrators know this and have delayed making the hard choices because of the obvious: People will lose their jobs–the unemployment rate is already high. Nonetheless, the dire budget crisis in California is forcing the issue.

    September 18, 2011

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