Collections Coordinator; Area Studies Team Leader, Librarian for African Studies and International Development Studies- UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library
Beginning with the national and global economic crisis in 2008, most US academic institutions have suffered significant decline in funding from public and private sources, including revenues from endowment investments. Compelled to manage with fewer resources for programs and operations many inevitably scaled back budget allocations to departments and consolidated some units to reduce administrative and other costs.
Research libraries have taken their share of institutional budget reductions, often resulting in profound changes—internal reorganizations, new definitions of mission and goals, readjustment of balance between acquiring and licensing research materials, on the one hand, and on the other hand, providing instructional and research services to their users. “Doing more with less” has become a trendy catch phrase, though whether it reflects fact or just a grand aspiration remains to be determined. For instance professional librarian and support staffing levels have fallen drastically in many institutions—in some cases by up to thirty percent—mostly through attrition. As vacant positions have been lost, repurposed or suspended indefinitely. Librarians are often required to take on additional responsibilities in order to help cover essential services and new digital programs. This practice results in the diminution of dedicated services in their primary responsibility areas.
With less time and funding devoted to developing collections and resources in area and international studies (in one case materials budget was reduced permanently by 35%) many research collections are losing the ability to distinguish themselves from each other. For bibliographers covering the developing world, unlike their counterparts in West European or American studies, there are no comprehensive and reliable databases or lists from which to select materials for acquisition. They must work with several—sometimes over-lapping—vendors to build their collections without duplication. They must also supplement the vendor offerings with their own targeted acquisitions whenever they can travel to their world regions. However, opportunities for such travel have been drastically reduced through a combination of internal budget cuts and reductions in US Department of Education Title VI area studies funding.
Although not all of the major African studies programs depend on US Department of Education Title VI funding, most do, and recent cuts in these grants have made an adverse impact on the ability of the academic programs to sustain key components such as language teaching and learning, and financial assistance to augment their library collections. For decades Title VI funding through the national resource centers (NRCs) has enabled specialist librarians to supplement institutional funding in order to acquire rare materials and primary sources and to collaborate with other institutions in building, preserving and providing access to shared collections. Title VI has made it possible for grantees to sponsor acquisitions trips to targeted areas of particular interest to their institution, helping to develop new specializations and strengthen existing ones to ensure local continuity.
Librarian – faculty partnerships at the national level have yielded mutually beneficial results. The Archives/Libraries Committee was the first committee established by the African Studies Association. Librarian members of the association later assumed responsibility for the committee, which eventually became known as the ASA sponsored organization Africana Librarians Council. The ALC has provided a dependable forum for national and international collaboration in developing shared African studies scholarly resources for over five decades. Under its umbrella, the Cooperative Africana Materials—formerly ‘Microform’—Project (CAMP), and the Title VI African Studies Center Librarians Group have coordinated and executed primary source preservation and access projects with government and institutional archives in West and East Africa and the United Kingdom in the last twenty years. Capacity building in Africa is an ongoing goal which has already delivered training for technical staff and state of the art equipment for continuous production and training.
Contrary to the general perception of some library decision makers, many worthy research publications from developing countries are not, and may never be available in digital form. Area studies humanities and social sciences faculty and librarians know this from personal experience but the latter have a difficult time convincing administrators of the need to support print acquisitions—especially print journals—as much as they support digital collections in terms of staffing and financial resources. For example, graduate students (master’s and doctoral) in the humanities, and to some extent in the social sciences, responding to the annual LibQUAL+ survey on quality of library services and user experience often indicate frustration with inadequate print collections. Journal runs are abbreviated due to cancellations, and books may not be available for purchase beyond the first year of publication because publishers lack the capacity for warehousing or electronic print-on-demand.
Access to existing area studies electronic content is never guaranteed, even when such content is available to be included in a subscription package. Within electronic journal packages from major vendors—EBSCO, Elsevier Science Direct, SAGE—to which academic libraries and consortia routinely subscribe, area studies titles are often disadvantaged and in constant danger of being dropped. Due to the relatively small numbers of their primary users these titles are often deselected by the complex formulae on which libraries rely to determine the “value” and “impact” of a publication within a particular discipline. Specialized area studies journal aggregators, such as South Africa’s SABINET, a provider of full text peer reviewed online journals content, are being undercut by large international content providers which purchase business interest in African academic publishers and then impose unfavorable conditions on Western customers. For instance, some South African journals that US institutions could acquire through SABINET are now only accessible through Taylor and Francis at a cost increase of three hundred percent or more. Meanwhile, materials budgets for African studies are not keeping pace with such abrupt inflation and the most frequent solution is discontinuance of the subscription and loss of current content.
Thus, while the digital revolution has substantially increased opportunities for access to previously obscure area studies content and scholarly communication, some of its unintended consequences have been detrimental to area and international studies scholarship and resources. The relative autonomy and freedom for organic development that was enjoyed by area studies collections in the pre-digital age have given way to more centralized controls that do not always favor these areas.
In light of these developments, faculty – librarian partnerships that have worked well and established strong foundations for African studies in the past must become a priority once again. CAMP, the ALC Title VI African Studies Librarians Group and the Title VI African Studies NRC Directors Group have formed an efficient mechanism for international collaboration with libraries and archives. What remains is for the ASA and its members, both individual and institutional, to ensure that these partnerships receive the organizational recognition and support they need to ensure success into the future.