The UCD Library has witnessed dramatic cutbacks in resources in recent years, with both staff numbers and the amount spent on books and journals being sharply cut by the university.
The Tribune can reveal the amount of staff in the UCD Library has declined year on year for more than five years. Consistent cuts in the college budget has seen library staff numbers steadily decline from a high point in 2007 where the library employed 214 employees. Figures for staff dropped to 171 in 2010 and then dramatically down to just 148 in 2012. The number of staff employed as of 2015 in the library was 137, as either contract or casual staff.
The amount UCD spend each year on books, journals and periodicals for the library has also steadily declined over the course of the last five years. The UCD financial statements from the college bursary office (head of Finance) obtained by the Tribune shows in 2010 the college spent €4,792 on new books and renewing journals. This figure however dropped sharply to €3,135 in 2011, and further to €2,442 the following year. The spend from the college over the last three years has recovered slightly, plateauing out at €3,101 for 2015. But the average spend on new purchases for the library and additional journal subscriptions from UCD is still down by over €1,700 compared with figures from five years ago.
UCD lecturer Tobias Theiler, from the School of Politics & International Relations described the cuts to books and services in recent years as “quite catastrophic” for the college.
The effects of these cuts on academic life in UCD Dr Theiler explained were serious “not just for students, but also for lecturers, since many of the books and journals we use were no longer available” he stated. The situation he noted has improved or at least “stabilised” in the last two years. He said he now found “the library [as] being more willing once more to follow up on suggestions for book purchases.”
On the issue of UCD cutting back on library staff the lecturer said it depends on “whether the cut-backs affected front-line staff or middle and upper level management.” He outlined that a reduction in the top and middle layers of bureaucracy and management wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, “as UCD isn’t exactly suffering from a shortage of managers” he claimed. But he estimated that “as in many other areas the cutbacks were mostly on the front line.”
Compared to other Irish universities the resources and materials available in UCD’s library lags behind, considering it is the largest college in the country. Students in Trinity have access to 350,000 e-books through their library connect account, compared to the 261, 890 used by students in UCD. Trinity are also registered to 350 databases of academic literature and research, whereas UCD have access to 323.
One member of staff working in UCD Library spoke to the Tribune and confirmed that “UCD library is understaffed and underfunded.” The source (who wished to remain anonymous) explained that “the narrative of “do more with less” has gone on for so long that ‘less’ is the new normal.”
They outlined the effects of the continual withdrawal of funding to the library from the university was hitting students hardest. “Cutting funding to the library means fewer staff keeping the library running, [and] less money to spend on developing the collection” of books and volumes, they stated. And they added “ less money to spend on online resources and journal subscriptions”.
The source was critical of how genuine UCD were towards supporting one of their key outlined objectives – supporting learning. They said that “if the University administration truly cared about fulfilling the objectives of their strategic plan they would support the library with increased staffing and funding”.
They felt strongly that the orientation of the university was moving fundamentally in a different direction to what was needed, and that key services for students like the Library were not a priority. “The central goal of the library is to continue to provide the best possible service to all patrons and there is so much more the library could be doing, and wants to do to support patrons if we were just given the opportunity and financial support from the University” they stated.
Trinity’s collection of volumes and books is the most comprehensive across all Irish universities, with six million individual books available to be ordered by students. Although this figure is inflated as Trinity are a library of copyright for Great Britain and Ireland, and are obliged to hold a copy of each book published in each country.
In contrast UCD Library offer a selection of 841,756 print volumes to its students. This disparity in resources between Ireland’s two biggest colleges is more pronounced considering UCD have a far greater number of students than their old rivals. 18,000 students in total were enrolled in Trinity last year, compared to the 32,000 registered in UCD.
In some cases the UCD Library do not have access to the required courses texts for students at all, as due to the withdrawal of funding the library undertook a period of de-selecting journals it had subscribed to. Students have also commonly found when using the OneSearch library engine that it only brings them a host of reviews of the article they are looking to find, as UCD does not have access to the article itself.
The decline in funding means the library are also settling for cheaper options of licensing and accessibility when subscribing to journals or publishers. For example, certain e-books the library have access to can only be viewed online by one user in UCD at a time. This is the case for a core text for one final years Politics & International Relations class.
Student Aoife Galvin from that politics class outlined her shock at the new policy of limited accessibility. “With the amount of books we’re expected to get per module, with the prices they are, it’s nice when one can be viewed online (which is extremely rare)” she said. “I couldn’t believe when I saw I couldn’t access it. I never saw that [restriction] before and didn’t know that this could happen. It’s ridiculous. If it’s online you’d automatically expect or at least presume it’s available to all at any time” she stated. The cutbacks in library materials and resources just “shouldn’t be the case” for a university like UCD Aoife said.
Jack Power | Editor