MU library looks for new ways to improve after fee failed

Matt Gaunt, director of advancement for MU Libraries: “I think a lot of undergraduates don’t know what they’re missing. You don’t understand what kind of services and information literacy skills are being developed by students at other universities.”
MU student Kelly Dobbs studies at Ellis Library on Feb. 17, 2015, in Columbia, Mo. Ellis Library celebrated its centennial birthday Sept. 23, 2015. Maneater File Photo

Funding options for improvements to MU Libraries look slim after MU’s student body voted to fail the controversial library fee Nov. 18, said Matt Gaunt, director of advancement for MU Libraries.

“Those ‘no’ votes really were saying: ‘We shouldn’t have to pay a fee to have a good library at Mizzou. That should come out of tuition,’” Gaunt said. “The reality of budgets on this campus is that’s a pretty simplistic view, to think that we can just reallocate tuition from other units. While we can make some progress towards that, it’s not going to get us where the fee would have gotten us.”

The vote resulted in a 54 percent majority against the fee, according to the Missouri Students Association’s Twitter.

If passed, the fee would have added $5 per credit hour, increasing by $2 each year to reach $15 per credit hour in the year 2022. At its peak, the fee would have encompassed 1.4 percent of the total cost of attendance and provided the MU Libraries with $13 million per year to improve campus libraries, excepting the School of Law Library.

After finalizing the vote, library administrators are left with a stagnant budget and limited options for further funding. The staff members of MU Libraries, who have not received a raise for nine of the past 12 years, were hit especially hard, Gaunt said.

“It’s hard on staff to keep coming in day after day when there’s nothing to empower innovation,” Gaunt said. “It’s been a process that I didn’t even realize how emotional it was.”

Despite being supported by staff members and many student groups, the fee received heavy criticism. Some students felt administration should not put the responsibility of funding entirely on them. Leaders of student organizations that stood in favor of the fee, such as Residence Halls Association President Billy Donley, had to face these criticisms while trying to garner support.

“It shouldn't have to fall on to the students to fund the efforts, but seeing as it has fallen into our hands, we need to take the value of our library, resources and education seriously moving forward,” Donley said. “The library is much more than just a building on our campus, and it is crucial to our academic achievement at this university. It's important to know that.”

Some advocates understand why the library fee failed, but were disappointed to see that current services could be dropped.

“I immediately thought to go download as many research papers as I could in the next few days before journal subscriptions were dropped,” Graduate Professional Council President Hallie Thompson said. “This is very important for the research endeavors of graduate students, and knowing that these may not be maintained is highly concerning for the research engine of the university and the type of graduate education we will be able to provide.”

If passed, the fee would have accounted for $20 million to be put toward renovation and allowed for the opening of 40 new positions as well as extended hours.

In an attempt to keep library funding in the minds of students, MU Libraries began using #fundthelibrary to spread information about why increased funding is needed.

Misinformation among students was one reason some supporters believe the fee failed. #Fundthelibrary aims to partially solve this problem, but Missouri Students Association Budget Chairman Bill Vega said social media might not be the answer.

“I don’t feel that enough accurate information was disseminated to the voting populace about the proposed fee or the financial status of the library and university as a whole,” Vega said. “I still feel that upon gathering the information necessary to put the proposed fee in perspective, students would view the proposal as an excellent option. Unfortunately, this was not information that could be easily spread through social media or by quick word of mouth and therefore didn’t reach a wide enough audience.”

In addition to a fee, the creation of an MU student advisory board was proposed. This would be group of 25 students who would have had a say in the way the fee would have been allocated.Though the fee failed, the MU student advisory board will still function as a general voice for the student body on library affairs.

The next step for MU Libraries is to find students from each student organization on campus who will sit on the advisory board, which include library ambassadors and students from each of the student governments who attend joint session, Gaunt said. This includes members of MSA and RHA who endorsed the library fee.

Thompson said GPC plans to discuss appointing a representative at their general assembly meeting. Donley said RHA plans to choose representatives immediately.

“I am optimistic that (the council) will prove to be very effective in voicing student opinions moving forward,” Donley said. “I will be in contact with MU Libraries on what to do from here, but for now I have no future plans to announce.”

The advisory council will see many decisions made by the provost concerning MU Libraries, such as cuts to collections and openings in certain positions, Gaunt said.

“I think a lot of undergraduates don’t know what they’re missing,” Gaunt said. “I had a lot of undergraduates say, ‘Well, that's really more for the graduate students.’ You don’t understand what kind of services and information literacy skills are being developed by students at other universities.”

The library will be focusing on further improving relations between staff and the faculty library committee and focusing on their ideas for improvement, Gaunt said. MU Libraries will also continue to work toward a new off-site depository for books that are not often used. This will be a permanent place to store books after a mold outbreak in a previous depository resulted in the damage of 600,000 books and rendered the site unusable.

“A positive spin coming from the result of the vote is that the libraries and other advocates of the libraries can now take the results to administrative groups on campus and point to the fact that 46 percent, an extremely significant portion, of students polled were poised to circumvent general operating funding mechanisms in order to personally fund a unit of campus that they have deemed is underfunded and too important to leave that way,” Vega said.

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