Library missing key ingredient: people

by Lisa Guedea Carreño

Library Director (and former GC library student worker)

GC Class of ‘84

I read with interest Luke Zehr’s “Paradise Lost” in the February 24 issue of The Record. Please know that the library staff agrees with Luke and others who are frustrated about library hours this year: we too think the library should be open more hours for our students. In fact we had wanted to expand our open hours based on input from students last year.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have a choice in this matter. During budget planning for 2010-11, all campus departments were instructed to reduce student worker budgets by 25 percent. Many departments, the library included, lost regular staff positions/hours as well. There was simply no way to deal with these cutbacks without impacting hours.

We agonized over which and how many hours to cut, and we finally decided on the days when we have the lowest traffic in the building based on statistics reported though the exit/security gate. We trimmed a total of eight hours per week during fall and spring terms, a 9 percent reduction in open hours. We hoped it would be the least disruptive of the options we explored.

This year’s budget and staff cuts follow nearly a decade of declining financial support for the library here at Goshen College, a trend that parallels (more or less) the college’s enrollment and fiscal challenges. The cumulative effect of these reductions is that the library is now operating with 23 percent fewer staff, 23 percent fewer student worker hours, and 27 percent fewer dollars for materials, equipment, and supplies than we had in 2001-02 (see accompanying graph).

Until recently we found ways to absorb cuts in staff, student hours and budget with minimal impact on students.  We have re-prioritized, redesigned, reallocated, cross-trained, volunteered, squeezed, stretched, trimmed, pinched, tweaked, and done everything we can to shield library users from ongoing funding issues. I have spoken up and out on behalf of library users repeatedly – gathering and presenting data, feedback, standards and requests for what is needed and expected from a college library at a residential liberal arts institution like Goshen College. Despite my best efforts, however, the budget, staff and student worker hours we’ve lost over the last decade have not been restored.

So to the students and faculty who are disappointed with less access to the building and declining library service levels, I sincerely apologize. We want to give you better service than you have received this year. The bottom line, though, is that decisions about library funding are not mine to make, and there’s only so much the library staff and I can do to fill in the gaps left by frequent cuts over the last decade.

The library is more than just a building with a collection of resources. For building and resources to contribute most effectively to the learning process, people are essential. As with college itself, people are the key ingredient to making the library as useful as it’s meant to be. From staffing the front desk to selecting databases; from maintaining web content to tracking down materials from other libraries; from trouble-shooting technical problems to helping with complicated research assignments – people are necessary for the library to add value to the college experience.

Further budgetary and staffing difficulties are possible, even likely, and we’re asking students to help guide our decisions in the face of such challenges.  Please take 2-3 minutes to fill out an online survey about the library; the link is on the library’s home page and in the Communicator. Tell us which services and resources are most important to your college success. We value your input, and we want to hear from as many GC students as possible as we plan for next year and beyond in the Harold and Wilma Good Library.

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