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Conference to explore future of budget-challenged UI Library

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A conference to explore the future directions of the budget-challenged Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will be held Oct. 30-31 at the Illini Union, 1401 W. Green St., Urbana.

The conference will feature presentations by international experts in a wide variety of fields, including Deanna Marcum, associate librarian for library services at the Library of Congress; Clifford Lynch, executive director of the Coalition for Networked Information; and Jean Claude Guédon, professor of comparative literature at the University of Montreal. Topics include critical future issues for research libraries; important services in the future; the role of print and print repositories in the digital age; trends in scholarly communications; and library space in the digital age.

Funded by the university’s Offices of the Chancellor and of the Provost, the conference was organized by the Library’s Long-Range Planning Committee.

The conference was designed to give the Long-Range Planning Committee “input for its charge to provide advice on our long-term direction,” University Librarian Paula Kaufman said. The conference, she said, is primarily aimed at members of the library’s various advisory committees, including faculty, staff and students.

Alexander Scheeline, a chemistry professor at Illinois and member of the Library’s Long-Range Planning Committee, said that the Library has had public hearings over the years, “but this is the first time we have had a panel of internationally renowned speakers coming to campus with the goal of bringing administrators, faculty, staff and students from across the campus up to speed on the state of libraries and scholarly communications.”

According to Scheeline, who led a committee that organized the conference, Illinois’ Library – the largest public university library in the world with 10 million volumes – is challenged by a string of large budget cuts, which in turn impact patrons’ expectations.

“Faculty and students expect the Library to provide access to all the world’s literature, either instantaneously via electronics or via hard copy in the stacks. No one – not even the Library of Congress – has that broad a collection any more. To maintain even the level of access that we have had over recent years – which many faculty and students find unacceptably limited, even though we have one of the largest collections of any research library in North America – requires an ever-increasing budget.”

Scheeline said that the state’s budget problems limit the Library’s ability to keep up with inflation, “much less make up for very tight budgets over the last 15 or so years.” The recommendation of a 1998 budget study conducted by the Senate Committee on the Library, which he then chaired, was that the FY04 acquisitions budget should be about $15 million. “In actuality, it is closer to $11 million,” he said.

Even with the emergence of new electronic “open access” publishing models like the Public Library of Science, for example, where the costs of publishing are borne by authors, rather than libraries, and publications are accessible freely, it is “yet unknown” whether they will be “viable alternatives to expensive journals,” Scheeline said.

“Technology,” he noted, “is evolving at a breathless pace, so that the campus network infrastructure is key to library distribution in ways unimaginable only a few years ago.”

Indeed, changes in scholarly communication are “so broad and so pervasive that they impact the very nature and structure of the university.”

And at the same time, the Library’s “physical plant is deteriorating and many books – especially those printed on acidic paper between 1870 and 1970, a majority of the entire collection – are disintegrating, thus requiring a massive preservation program so that we don’t lose what we already have.”

“Which way should we turn first?” Scheeline asked. “What’s most important to do with constrained resources? We’re drawn in many directions by many issues, all at once.

“Anyone who recognizes that ‘it’s not 1960 anymore,’ when it comes to generating, disseminating, reviewing, archiving and accessing scholarship, will find the conference of value.”

The conference Web site at includes the conference schedule, participants and their topics. For more information, including registration, contact Kim Reynolds in the Office of the University Librarian at 217-333-0790.