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September 18, 1998 Volume 6, Number 2
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COVER STORY


Higher serial costs, weakened loonie decimate Library's purchasing power


The U of S Library could lose up to $250,000 in purchasing power because of the devalued Canadian dollar, says director of libraries Frank Winter.

The loss comes at a time when the Library is already struggling with rising serial costs and has been forced to cancel $1.35 million of journal subscriptions over the last two years.

"We can't go on like this," he says. "It isn't sustainable."

While the University has exempted the Library's acquisition budget from recent cuts - and increased the budget by 5% in both 1997-98 and 1998-99 - serial costs are predicted to rise by more than $470,000 in the coming year alone.

In a report submitted to University Council in June, the Library Committee anticipates further cancellations of $320,000.

Recent drops in the Canadian dollar have made the situation even worse, says Winter. Most scholarly information is imported and priced in U.S. dollars. And in recent weeks, the loonie dropped roughly 6% against the benchmark U.S. dollar.

The U of S Library spends more than $4 million annually on journals and over $1 million on books.

"We pay for most journals a year in advance, so we're just paying for our 1999 periodicals," says Winter, adding that the Canadian Association of Research Libraries estimates that its 27 members have lost nearly $6 million this year to currency devaluation.

"The loss of access to scholarly literature is extremely harmful to the ability of faculty and students to keep up with current scholarship and progress in their learning and research," he adds.

The Library Committee's report to Council points to a number of possible solutions. These include the increased sharing of resources and collections with other university libraries and public libraries.

Across western Canada, 15 university libraries are creating the Council of Prairie and Pacific University Libraries (COPPUL) Virtual Western Canadian University Library (VWCUL).

When completed, VWCUL will let users approach all 15 libraries as one entity and directly request books and journal articles.

The most recent feature, called GODOT, allows users to search article databases and also discover which COPPUL library owns the journal. A loan request is then sent directly to the appropriate library. This process is fast and cheap.

The U of S Library is also examining a partial transition to electronic journals, which are generally no less expensive but can provide increased access for the same amount of money.

Meanwhile, many university libraries have begun advocating the use of scholarly rather than commercial journals, and faculty members can help in the initiative.

By placing articles in scholarly journals and by refusing to review articles or serve on the editorial boards of commercial journals, the libraries hope to decrease their long-term subscription costs.

The Canadian dollar's decline is also being felt campus-wide, according to Gwen Toole, manager of Purchasing.

Purchases of scientific, dental, medical, and veterinary equipment are among those most affected by the currency devaluation, she says.

"People are looking to us [Purchasing] to do more. There's going to be more pressure on us to go through a formal bid process, or through tenders and proposals."

However, she notes that purchases are generally based on the total acquisition costs, which include factors such as quality, shipping costs, customs, duty, and disposal costs.

- Dale Worobec


Frank Winter in his office. Serials to rise $470,000 in the next year alone.




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