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Save our library, reinvest in our collective future

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OCTOBER 26, 2022

The library is the beating heart of the campus. There is nothing more central to its research and teaching mission at a large college. No college can expect to have a worldwide reputation or to attract top scholars from around the globe without a world-class library. It can take up to centuries to build the collections that make up a great library. But unfortunately, it takes just years to decimate them. For 15 years, the libraries at UC Berkeley have been starved of resources, ultimately diminishing collections on campus that were built up for more than a century. This is a dereliction of our duty to future generations of faculty and students. 

This was the central message of the Commission on the Future of the Library convened by the administration itself, complete with its own handpicked outside experts, in 2013. Having detailed the degradation of the library’s collections, staff and services, the Commission on the Future of the Library recommended an additional $13 million of annual funding for the library, which that year had received $40 million. Even that additional funding would have not restored the library’s budget in 2008, which was approximately $58 million. They also recommended an additional $5 million of one-time funding to help rebuild collections.

Yet the administration’s response to its own commission only met its recommendation less than halfway. In a response to the Commission on the Future of the Library’s requests, it reported to commit just a further $5.6 million a year, although it had optimistically hoped faculty — whose pensions, salaries and benefits were also being degraded — would donate an additional $500,000 a year to library funds as well. So in 2014, with this additional $5.6 million funding, the library still received $11.5 million less than it had in 2008. After 2014, the administration failed to meet even this minimal pledge. 

This year, the library received $44.5 million, which is $2 million less than its budget in 2014 and $13.5 million less than its budget in 2008. The cumulative shortfall from the campus not meeting its commitment since 2014 is $20.7 million. When you factor in 3.7% annual cost increases from salaries and subscriptions, the cumulative shortfall since 2014 now amounts in real terms to $88 million. 

For 15 years, the library has been bled dry. And yet at the same time, it has faced growing demand from a student population that has risen by 30%. The library has squared this circle with the usual round of austerity measures: cutting services, collections and staffing. It has also been compelled to spend down its reserves and it has tried to cut costs by closing libraries around campus. The current plans to close more branch libraries across campus is simply rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. It does not address the structural problem of defunding. It normalizes it.

We are all aware of the resource constraints on campus, but this is not a question of the absence of funds. Rather, the question is regarding how they are distributed. The campus is not just subsidizing Cal Athletics more than $25 million a year. It is also committing millions of dollars of campus funds to its growth programs. We see this in the development of The Gateway building for campus’s planned college of data science. Only $320 million of the total projected cost of $550 million has been raised by philanthropy, leaving the campus with a bill of $230 million in the unlikely event construction costs do not rise. We know nothing about how much the upcoming development of Moffett Fields will cost the campus. 

The defunding of the library has been an active choice by the administration who have chosen to invest in other projects. Yet it is a choice we as faculty and a campus can no longer afford to take. How can the campus expect to attract the best faculty with an impoverished library that is evidently unable to provide collections that would allow us to train the next generation of scholars and students? How can the campus keep on expanding enrollment when it cannot ensure a library capable of providing those students with a quality education? And how can the campus expect to retain and attract the skilled librarians capable of maintaining a library for future generations when it is so understaffed and underfunded?

Last week, a packed meeting of the Academic Senate unanimously voted to urge the administration to restore support for the library in line with the minimal — and arguably inadequate — commitment it made in 2014. When you account for inflation, that would mean the library’s annual budget would rise by $17.5 million to $62 million a year.

Above all, the library must remain an utmost priority for our campus now and for generations to come. Faculty and students now have to make sure they can not abstain from hearing the voice of faculty and refunding the library. 

Berkeley Faculty Association is the progressive and independent voice of Berkeley faculty. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

OCTOBER 27, 2022