Medical library experiences cutbacks

Anticipating a third round of staff layoffs, Duke University Medical Center Library is bracing itself for yet another fiscal year of budget cuts, which translates directly into a smaller library staff, reduced hours of operation and fewer in-house resources.

The financial setbacks are part of a nationwide trend that administrators do not expect to change until 2006.

The first major budget cut occurred during the 2002-2003 fiscal year, when the library's budgeted net expenditures decreased by 11 percent from the prior fiscal year. Pat Thibodeau, associate dean for library services, said two more cuts are on the way for FY 03-04 and FY 04-05, effectively reducing the library's original FY 01-02 budget by more than 25 percent to $3.2 million.

Thibodeau further noted that these severe budget cuts contrast sharply with the trend of steady budget increases through the 1990s and will have severe implications for DUMC Library.

"While the cut on paper is about $1.1 million over the three years, the loss of library revenues that are used to support operations and increases in salaries have meant much deeper cuts in operating expenditures," she said. "The budget should flatten and stabilize in fiscal year 2006 at $3.2 million, but it will still have to cover inflationary costs and salaries within that budget."

Thibodeau said that although only four staff members were fired over the span of the first two rounds of layoffs, the library's staff size has dropped nearly 20 percent as a result of positions being frozen after some employees retire or leave. Thibodeau hopes to continue avoiding more actual layoffs but remains realistic as the third round of staff cuts approaches.

"We are only now beginning to evaluate what will happen in the third round and I am hoping that through attrition and the closing of a vacant position I can limit the number of layoffs," she said. "However, we have very little turnover in the library and not a lot of impending retirements."

Dr. Edward Halperin, vice dean of the School of Medicine and administrator in charge of DUMC Library, said that while the budget cuts are occurring, a number of other major trends are also converging upon medical school libraries nationwide. "Each trend, individually would constrain the budget. All [of the trends] in combination, however, are placing severe strains on the enterprise of medical school libraries in the United States."

One such trend, Halperin said, involves the massive proliferation of "frightfully expensive" medical journals and the rising prices of these journals, which have grown 215 percent over the past 15 years. The library has only been allocating enough funds for an inflationary target of 3 percent.

Thibodeau also said these rising journal prices have made the Library resort to canceling journals to maintain its core collection, and cutting books, audiovisuals and many other operating accounts to try to keep up with the journal expenditures.

"If journal prices keep rising, however, we will simply not be able to keep up," Halperin added.

He also pointed to the changing role of the medical library as students, doctors and researchers begin to take advantage of the electronic access to the library's resources.

"Use of the library building is slowly decreasing," Halperin said. "As electronic books and journals become more popular, and as they can be accessed from the clinic, the laboratory and the home, it is less often necessary for a user to physically enter the library."

Although Thibodeau is quick to point out the positive side of electronic access, the dearth of users physically in the library facility is also the culprit for the library's floundering revenues from photocopy services and interlibrary loans. Halperin attributed the decreased revenues to the increased use of electronic resources that can be accessed and printed from many locations external to the library.

Added to these pressures is the reality that DUMC, a major source of the medical library's financing, is undergoing a period of financial hardship. DUMC, like many medical centers nationally, has been under increasing pressure from decreased reimbursement for clinical care, rising malpractice rates, increasing technology costs and rising labor costs. These forces leave DUMC with less money to allocate to the medical library's budget.

"The Duke Hospital, like most health care facilities, had to identify ways to reduce operating costs and started rethinking all its support service formulas, including their contributions to the library," Thibodeau said. "Almost all the units in the vast medical center complex are facing rising costs, decreasing revenues and tighter and tighter budgets. And we are all standing in line for the same pot of dollars, which is becoming smaller and smaller due to decreasing clinical dollars, tighter research funding and less investment income."


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