Power cords are strewn about the floor of the Grand Reading Room on the second floor of Ellis Library. These cords are a jury-rigged solution to the enduring problem of providing power to study stations throughout the library, said Matt Gaunt, director of advancement for MU Libraries.
“Things like that are commonplace for other libraries,” he said. “We’ve just fallen behind.”
MU Library System officials hope to address these inadequacies and more by asking for funds from students.
Recently, library officials proposed a $5 per credit hour student fee to the Missouri Students Association that would incrementally increase to $15 per credit hour over the next six years. The fee would fund improvements to the library including renovations, increased staffing, new services and 24/7 study space.
The MSA Senate will vote Wednesday evening to determine whether the fee would be placed on the November ballot for student approval.
The proposal calls for an estimated $10,392,000 in new funding over the first two years, in addition to the $17,681,236 annual allocation the library receives from the university. The fee itself will bring in just under $13 million a year once it reaches its target in 2022.
Where the money will go
Additional funding would allow the libraries to expand its staff, facilities and collections, Director of Libraries James Cogswell said. The MU Library System emcompasses Ellis and its eight branch libraries.
Library officials hope to make information at the libraries more accessible with additional funding. MU currently spends about $8.8 million on collections. Most of that money, approximately $6 million, is spent on electronic information. Cogswell said students currently have limited access to several digital scholarly journals, but they could gain full access to the collections with added library funding.
Funding for books and journal acquisitions would increase 83 percent from about $7 million in 2014 to $13 million in 2022, when the fee reaches its peak.
Journals and collections spending is projected to make up 63.6 percent of the libraries’ expenditures for the first year of the fee and 53.8 percent for the second year. Over the two-year period, the library projects it will spend $6,092,000 on collections.
MU’s libraries expenditures from 2009 to 2014 totalled $88,606,483. The University of Tennessee’s library system spent $167,309,078 over the same period of time, said Regina Mays, assistant professor and assessment librarian at Tennessee, in an email. MU is a member of the Association of American Universities, which allows schools in “based on the high quality of programs of academic research and scholarship,” among other criteria. The University of Tennessee is not an AAU member.
Paltry funding for the libraries is part of the reason MU is at the bottom of AAU rankings, Cogswell said. Recently, administrators emphasized the need to boost MU’s standing in the AAU.
“We can demonstrate without a doubt that we are underfunded,” Cogswell said. “We can do more to increase the quality of education on this campus, but we need the funding.”
The additional resources would become valuable to graduate students who bump into paywalls when using journals for research, Graduate Professional Council President Hallie Thompson said.
“You're missing out on some potentially valuable information for your degree or for your laboratory,” Thompson said. “It makes us a less wholesome, productive research society in general, not having access to (certain journals) … Not having that access is the opposite of wanting to make research progress and more money and gain our AAU standing.”
The proposal also envisions a new 24-hour study space in Ellis Library, which Cogswell said was requested by students. He said the library does not currently have a space partitioned for 24-hour use because it lacks the resources needed to staff and retrofit the building.
“I would love a 24-hour study space,” sophomore Kelsey Bryant said. “I come here and stay until 2 a.m. when they close down, and then have to find somewhere else to go after that. I would really like that.”
Despite wanting the 24-hour study space, though, Bryant said it wouldn’t be worth the fees, as there are other places on campus where she can go for free, such as the Pershing Commons.
Gaunt said the libraries also plan to address inadequate staffing and to enhance staff salaries. He said staffing has not kept up with the university’s growth: Staff decreased by 25 percent while the student body grew by about 50 percent between 1998 and 2013.
A proposed $11,915,151 of the funding would go toward salaries in 2022, nearly a 57 percent bump from that of 2014. Gaunt said 51 positions, almost one third of the current MU Libraries staff, will need to receive a raise by Sept. 1, 2015, as promised in their job description. That’s going to cost just over $50,000.
“You wouldn’t know when you go to talk to a subject librarian that they haven’t had a raise in 9 of the last 12 years,” Gaunt said. “But you try and be a good public servant on a daily basis when you don’t get a raise, year after year after year.”
The libraries will use about 16.1 percent of funds raised from the first two years of the fee to renovate their space and facilities. About $1.7 million will be spent on repurposing several common student study spaces and administrative offices on every floor of Ellis Library.
The new money will house the new Digital Media Lab and Makers Space on the east side of the central area of the library’s first floor, which is currently occupied by bookshelves full of government documents. Gaunt said the new lab will include “technology necessary to facilitate group work in any variety of disciplines.”
Bookmark Café, located on the ground floor of Ellis Library, will be extended into part of the adjacent technical services offices. Once the renovation is complete, there will be more seating space and a retrofitted barista station, Gaunt said. He said the library will reconfigure the remaining office space to provide greater efficiency.
The Security Services office will be relocated from the ground floor to the first floor of Ellis Library, Gaunt said. He compared the existing office space to a “closet,” and said he hopes that an expanded office space will alleviate some of the pressure of working in close quarters.
The staff offices in the southwest corner of the first floor of Ellis Library will be expanded and revitalized. This will spell the end of several silent study rooms, but Gaunt said the library will no longer need those rooms once it reclaims rooms 114 and 202, which currently house several administrative services while Jesse Hall is under renovation.
Renovations to the Grand Reading Room will include the addition of outlets and lighting on tables and the installation of more aesthetically pleasing ceiling lights. Gaunt said he hopes these renovations will create a more productive space for student study.
Gaunt said the timetable for renovating Ellis has not yet been finalized by the MU Planning, Design and Construction office.
Leading up to the vote
The fee would begin as a $5 charge for the 2016-17 academic year and increase by $2 per hour each year until it reaches $15 per hour in 2022.
Thompson said this allows the library to accomplish smaller, short-term goals like hiring more staff quickly before starting more costly projects like upgrading technology or creating new study spaces.
MSA endorsed the student fee referendum on Feb. 25. The proposal for the fee, however, has been years in the making. Cogswell said library officials have been talking with student groups intermittently since 2004.
Gaunt said the proposal initially called for a $25 per credit hour fee, but the GPC executive committee, which didn’t want to levy more than $15 per credit hour, believed the escalation was too quick and steep.
“We did a lot of work to … figure out what’s the minimum amount of money that we can ask the students for that will still allow us to renovate the space that needs to be renovated and expand the collections to the level that they need to be at,” he said.
The push for a library fee was introduced to MSA in 2012, but the initiative never got to a referendum because of what former Senate Speaker Ben Bolin called a "lackluster" proposal.
Library officials are confident they have momentum behind the student fee effort this time.
“We’re stagnant,” Gaunt said. “We don’t even have the resources to maintain what we’re doing now ... (We hit) a critical mass two years ago and if we don’t get this done next year, it will really be awful. During this process, the students are the ones that keep giving us the hope that we can get this done.”
Rallying the students
Library officials are spending this semester gathering student input through open forums and informational sessions, Gaunt said. He said no part of the proposal is 100 percent binding and is subject to change based on student feedback.
“The biggest challenge we have in front of us right now is really to get the students to own it,” Gaunt said. “For the students, this is an opportunity to really transform campus.”
Gaunt’s own daughter is a junior at MU, and he said he hopes his sons attends MU someday. Still, Gaunt said, he believes the improvements to the library are worth the increased cost. If the requested fees make it on the November ballot, Gaunt said they will make sure students’ voices are heard.
“It’s going to be a shared vision when we’re done with it,” Gaunt said. “It’s going to have the students’ fingerprints all over it.”
Currently, the Library has 59 Ruth E. Ridenhour MU Libraries Student Ambassadors, and the library hopes to boost membership to 100 by the end of the semester. A smaller group, what Gaunt called the communications committee, will provide feedback to library officials as a liaison between them and MSA.
The libraries tried to raise funds through student tuition in the past, but ran into a roadblock when the 2007 Missouri Senate Bill 389, or the Higher Education Student Funding Act, was passed, Cogswell said. The law prevents public Missouri universities from raising their tuition for in-state undergraduate students by more than the inflation rate each year.
Gaunt said it’s difficult to keep up with the rate of inflation for electronic information, given that the Consumer Price Index increased by 0.8 percent in 2014.
“It’s going to cost us $500,000 this year to buy the same electronic information we had last year,” he said.
MU traditionally funds the libraries by taking money out of the general operating fund, which comes from tuition and state funding, said Alyssa O’Neil, director of fiscal operations for the Division of Student Affairs. She said the limit on tuition levy has made it difficult for administrators to operate under this model, especially since state funding for higher education has declined in recent years.
“Senate Bill 389 has been a huge game changer,” O’Neil said. “For the libraries, the money has been coming from a combination of state dollars from taxpayers and tuition. The campus can no longer increase tuition in order to fund the libraries more, and it’s hurting them.”
Without additional money available from traditional sources of funding, library officials had to look for new sources of funding. A student referendum allows the university or individual departments to raise funds outside of SB 389’s constraints. So Cogswell and other library officials have turned to students.
"When you create revenue for your institution, you can do things that elevate its stature," Gaunt said. "But we have a formula for failure. Senate Bill 389 has restricted the university’s ability to raise tuition and fees. It’s a guaranteed formula for failure unless the students decide they want to vote in fees.”
Thompson said supporters of the fee are hopeful that either alumni or the Missouri government will match the funds the student fee raises.
"We've been trying to get money other ways," Thompson said. "Nothing is moving, and it hasn't been for awhile. We need to put our foot down and say, 'All right, we're going to invest. What are you guys going to do?'"
Thompson said it’s time for the libraries to both revamp and progress.
"It probably should have happened before now," Thompson said. "It has been in a deficit for quite a period, and we have been behind. We need the library. Very clearly, we do need to invest in our library."