MU Libraries look to gather student support and feedback for fee

The fee will be voted on by students during the MSA presidential election in the fall.

MU Libraries are short on funding; that’s no surprise.

Since 2001, the library’s staff has fallen from 208 to 136 people, while the student population rose from 24,000 to 35,000.

It’s noticeable. Technology is outdated. Maintenance is deferred. Study space is uninspiring. The library can’t promote many of its programs because there’s not enough staff to fund them if the whole student body knew, Director of Advancement for MU Libraries Matt Gaunt said.

“It’s a shame,” Gaunt said. “Because we have some really great proven programs that we know have a great impact on students’ ability to do quality research and have success in the classroom.”

MU Libraries spends a considerably lower amount of money per student compared to other public university libraries. University of Florida spends $1,158 per student; University of Kansas spends $976. Currently, MU spends $607 per student.

“We are competing with schools who don’t have law or medical libraries, whereas we have both,” Missouri Students Association Budget chairman Bill Vega said. “In one word, we are doing poorly.”

The libraries were left with no viable option but to ask the students to consider a self-imposed fee. A referendum will be voted on next November. MSA finalized the official wording of Act 54-40 during full senate April 22, which establishes the wording on the proposed library services fee referendum.

To get the students’ opinions involved, Ellis Library and MSA hosted “A Night at Club Ellis,” an event that turned Ellis Auditorium into a club as a way to inform students about the proposed library fee April 23.

Guests entered the auditorium as a DJ played remixes of popular songs and colorful, flashing lights lit up the room to create a club-like atmosphere. Guests entered on a red carpet while members of MSA were dressed up like club workers, complete with glow sticks.

Gaunt gave an upbeat presentation about the potential library fee that will be voted on in the fall along with the MSA presidential elections.

“The greatest invention of mankind is the written word,” Gaunt said during his presentation. “Any other invention you could think of is because of the written word.”

Among the plans for the libraries are a 24-hour study space, updated study space with power outlets and more study rooms with technology for group studying.

“If you tell us you want it, we are going to look at the feasibility to get it,” Gaunt said.

Gaunt ended with urging students to take the core of their education seriously and to vote for the library so it doesn’t have to make cuts from its already small budget.

Vega hopes this event informed students and encouraged them to offer suggestions of what they want.

“This event is to draw awareness to the fee and receive direct student input from just everyday students who may not necessarily have the same access to the library fee information,” Vega said.

Director of Libraries James Cogswell, library administration and Gaunt worked with MSA, the Graduate Professional Council and the Student Fee Review Committee to determine the amount of the fee.

If approved, the fee will start at $5 per credit hour. It will grow by $2 each year for six years until it reaches a peak at $15 per credit hour.

At $5 per credit hour, the library fee would be the fifth highest activity fee, Vega said. At $15 per credit hour, it will be in the top two activity fees.

However, when compared to academic fees, at $15 per credit hour the library fee would be half of the cheapest academic supplement fee, which is College of Arts and Science at $30 per credit hour. The library is currently the only academic unit that doesn’t have a fee. The MU Student Center and the MU Student Recreation Center both have fees.

“The library is a much bigger piece of the university and has a wider breadth of ability and need for financing, so I would consider it more in the range of academic supplements,” Vega said.

If the fee had been applied to fall 2015 tuition and fees, it would add 1.6 percent. That increase, along with the .8 percent CPI increase, would amount to a 2.4 percent total increase in tuition and fees. That is less than half of the 5-year average increase in tuition and fees among all the major institutions in surrounding states, Gaunt said.

“It’s a necessary investment in your degree,” he said. “You’re already investing so much money in your degree, why would you not make an additional investment in one of the most important elements of the university? The library lags further behind. If we don’t create a fee for the library, how will we fund the library?”

To accommodate noise from construction, the library will look to other universities with the same issue and spread out the work.

“We’ll work with architects and construction companies to figure out how we minimize the disturbance,” Gaunt said. “We will look at other libraries on how to keep quiet study space for our students and figure out a schedule for phasing the construction and providing the sound buffering that will be necessary.”

MSA Academic Affairs chairwoman Tori Schafer said she hopes that students make an informed decision about where their money goes.

“In the recent years, our library has been lacking in comparison to others, and if we want to keep Mizzou on top, this is a step that the students need to take,” Schafer said. “The students need to decide if this is something we want to invest in.”

Should the fee not pass, the university as a whole will decline, Gaunt said. It will become more difficult to attract quality faculty because they won’t have resources in their area of discipline. The library hours may be shortened, collections will suffer and spaces won’t be as functional.

“You’ll see a decline in the quality of study space, quality of materials and access to those materials, and it will get harder to hire librarians because we won’t be able to compete with other major libraries,” Gaunt said. “Across the board, the reputation of the university will take a hit.”

Even if the fee is not passed, Gaunt said the connections with the students was a valuable relation for the library to make.

“The close connection to our users and understanding what they need is a step in the right direction,” Gaunt said. “Without the fee, we’re handcuffed in being able to implement some of the great ideas students have. The staff is very grateful for the students who have given us time so far. We’re inspired by the quality of students we have. Thank you to the students that we’ve worked with so far because if it happens, it will be because of the students.”

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