Friday, 31 May 2013

Library issues

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

Unfortunately Jenny and I have had a bit of a falling out over certain issues to do with the library. You may remember that Mike Rowe persuaded me to take over the departmental library link role from Patrick Murray. Jenny has been trying to get me to sit down with her and sort out the journal subscriptions and book orders but what with exam and coursework marking, the Hothouse away day and other things we didn't get round to it until the day before yesterday.

Because of the rise in journal subscription prices we have to make some cutbacks. The budget has been increased a bit but not by enough to preserve all the current subscriptions, let alone to add in some others on our wishlist. The added problem is that quite a few of our journals are now ordered through an intermediary rather than directly from the publishers, and what you get is a bundle of journals. You get this too with the big publishers like Elsevier. So you can't just take one or two less useful journals out of the package and get the cost down. In the end it all you can do is to remove some independently published journals, which doesn't have a big impact on the budget but does make it harder for us to access some potential interesting papers.

One thing that occurred to me is that while we do wish to refer students to papers in quite a few journals, there are some others that are really only looked at by members of staff in their research. I wonder really whether these journals should be paid for out of our library budget which is really supposed to support our teaching. It is possible these days to find out who is looking at the various journals as they are now nearly all online, so it would be feasible to identify who is reading what and ask researchers to find the funds to support the more specialist ones. I will need to talk to Mike Rowe about that.

So, after trimming a few journals from the subscription list it means that the share of the library budget going to journals still has to rise, leaving less money for new books. Jenny did point out that we do now have a huge collection of ebooks available and that quite a few of these were free. Bookboon, for example, has quite a good economics and finance section, including a couple of econometrics texts.

The problem with Jenny arose when she said that I needed to take a look at the books that the library wants to withdraw from the collection. Apparently, due to some algorithm that contributes to the university league tables, the proportion of books in the library collection that is less than ten years old has a positive effect on the league table score. Ideally, of course, this ratio would be increased by buying new books. But where this can't be done the only way to make the ratio bigger is to "retire" old books. When I looked at the big pile of books that had been set aside I was horrified. There were some absolute classic texts in there like Samuelson's Foundations and Georgescu-Roegen's book on entropy and the economic process. Surely we shouldn't be getting rid of these books? However, Jenny pointed out to me that neither of these books has been borrowed from the library in the last five years. And the library also needs space for student work areas so that was another reason to clear away some of the bookshelves.

I wondered if these books couldn't be put into a separate departmental library so that we could at least retain access to them when we needed them (assuming that we could find some space for it in our Business School building). But Jenny said that would be impossible. The university had agreed that there could be no separate departmental or faculty libraries, only the central one.

So in the end I gathered up several boxes of old books, including old editions of some texts still currently being used (it is always interesting to see how authors have adapted their books in the different editions published). Both my office at work and my work room at home are now overflowing with books - lovely for me but I guess I must also offer them to colleagues who might want them. I will prepare a list for them to look at.

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