Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Glumness about New Jersey State Budget Cuts and the Future of the Open Web

Forsythia in bloom this week, in front of a pine tree

The proposed New Jersey state budget would negatively affect many types of libraries. (Keep an eye on the Save My NJ Library page for information.) At the community college, we face losing our interlibrary loan service, a number of heavily-used databases, and other things we receive by being part of a state consortium. As the college itself is also facing significant cuts in state funding, I really have no idea how everything will play out.

Moreover, I worry about the perception that everything is free and online now, implying that the library doesn't need funding. Everything is not free and online, of course, and the future of the free web is far from secure. Often it seems that support for 'free' content is the first to go when belts tighten. In recent news there have been stories about the BBC, Cornell's ArXiv, and the New York Times charging for content that had previously been given away.

If our subscriptions are cut, what will the college library then have? (Let's not even broach the topic of how we've been transitioning to an access-over-ownership collection model because of the preference for online materials instead of print.) We would have the expertise of the librarians, who would do their best to help people but who would be unable to supply the actual resources. Would the subscription fees be pushed onto students? Yikes, if so.

Librarians can talk themselves blue about the value of library resources and services, but I can imagine those in the state government might not listen to them -- meaningful support must come from constituents. These constituents are allies of the library only if the library provides them with what they consider valuable and necessary. We'll be hoping for support from faculty, staff, and students as we face the challenges ahead.

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