Friday, August 12, 2022

Miller Nichols Not Buying Any More Books

The Miller Nichols library has decided to forego buying physical books.  The library made the decision to eliminate print materials due to budget limitations.

“Over the years the cost of paying subscriptions for journals has gone up and up and up,” said dean of libraries Bonnie Postlethwaite  “We’ve looked at the numbers since 2008, and they’ve been anywhere from a twelve percent increase [in inflation] every year.  It has gone down to six percent, which is a lot higher than the average inflation rate.  Our budget is only so big, and we have to pay for the journals first.  So, our amount of money left for books has decreased.”

Dr. Joan Dean, Curators Teaching Professor of English, does not believe that the library’s decision is a good one. Having served as interim dean of libraries, she isn’t sure how this could have happened.

“It’s much more than an unfortunate decision,” she said, “Has there been any effort to assess what students and faculty need and want?”

According to Postlethwaite, efforts have been made to assess the demands of both students and faculty.

“The serials portion of the budget also includes subscriptions to databases, and some of those databases are actually for books,” Postlethwaite said.  “When we did a survey back in 2011, both the students and the faculty said they really wanted electronic resources, because they want be able to get thing when the library’s not open.:  Our strategy has been to honor that request and do more electronic licensing of resources instead purchasing physical items.

Postlethwaite said that many only think of paper items when referring to physical items. However, she said this would also include items like DVDs.

A concern voiced by Dean about using electronic resources is that students may have a harder time getting engaged with denser academic works than if they were in physical form.

“Books have value that cannot be realized electronically,” Dean said,  .  “But it’s better to have it in electronic form than to not have it at all.”

Another concern is that local community colleges also borrow books from the Miller Nichols Library. Pat Sparks, an English Instructor at Metropolitan Community College- Longview, finds this decision very disturbing.

“The interlibrary loan system is a delicate ecosystem,” she said,  “We count on other institutions to have the books we don’t.  This is particularly true for community colleges, which have few books in comparison to a library like Miller Nichols. As an alumna of UMKC, I have to say that I have always been very proud of Miller Nichols Library. A great library is a mark of a great institution – the degradation of the library degrades UMKC.”

Postlethwaite says that the library is trying to do the best they can.

“We are trying to make sure people can get their hands on the books they need, one way or the other,” she said, “I don’t feel like we’re keeping people from getting to the resources.  We’re finding other ways of getting the resources in people’s hands.”

Postlethwaite stresses that the problem Miller Nichols Library is facing is not unique to UMKC.

“Every library in the country is experiencing this,” she said “We wish the publishers weren’t charging so much.”

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  1. One correction I would like to make in this article is that we are, in fact, purchasing some print books. So far this year we have spent $86,750 on print materials and have budgeted another $76,000 from gift fund accounts for more. There are still important scholarly books that are only available in print which we need to have to support the curriculum and research at UMKC. For more on this topic, see my blog entry at:

    This article addresses a long-time issue libraries around the world have been facing for over 20 years. The cumulating annual inflation rate on subscriptions for journals and electronic databases has ranged from 6-15% per year. At this point 95% of the library’s budget goes for subscriptions which do include electronic licensing to e-books. This year’s 6% inflation rate equals a loss of $120,000 in purchasing power for just this year. E-books are more economical, and, as Dr. Joan Dean says, e-books are better than no books. Last year we were able to participate in a state-wide licensing of the EBSCO collections of 140,000 e-books for an annual cost of $9840. For that same amount of money we would have only been able to purchase 173 print books as the average price of print books purchased by the library last year was $57. In FY13, 427,218 e-book chapters were downloaded, confirming the 2011 LibQual survey results which showed strong preference from faculty and students for electronic access to library resources. I, too, prefer to read print books for denser material, however, with our current budget being decimated by exorbitant subscription inflation and e-book packages yielding access to hundreds of thousands more titles than we can buy in print, we are able to stretch our limited budget dollars further with e-books.

  2. While physical resources are certainly very important, the key piece of the information puzzle is *access* to resources. That access still exists because we have an active and intentional network of libraries around the world with whom we work to exchange this information in both electronic and hard-copy format. If a student must have a print copy of an article, he can print it off right at home. If a print copy of a book is necessary and we do not have one available, then Interlibrary Loan is your friend. We are blessed to have an amazing Interlibrary Loan department here staffed by individuals who are always willing to go the extra mile to get us what we need. On a vacation abroad, one of our staff even stopped at Westminster Abbey’s library to speak to someone about lending out an article that was necessary to a professor’s research! Now that is incredible service!

    Even if we do own print materials, there is no guarantee that a copy will be waiting on the shelf when we need it, and so we would find ourselves using Interlibrary Loan in the same way. There is no difference in wait time for one over the other, and the joy of an e-copy is that multiple people can access the same book at the same time – something that is not possible when you only own one print copy of a particular book. When using e-resources, there is no wait time!

    As an on-and-off student over the last 25 years and currently working on a Master’s degree, I am thrilled to be able to access e-books and journal articles in my home on demand without having to come down here, dig out the print material, and either copy it at my expense or read it on-site as we used to have to do.

    Times change and we have to change with them. It’s not always easy, but I believe it’s truly in our best interests.

    (This comment is my personal opinion and is offered under my position as a Master’s student. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Libraries or the University.)


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