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McWherter Shelved

With funding down, the U of M's library is put on probation.


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Finding space to study at the University of Memphis' Ned R. McWherter Library is easy. Finding a book might prove a bit more difficult.

The library was recently placed on probation by the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries. The group's membership standards include a minimum expenditure requirement each year, and because of funding issues, since 2007 the McWherter Library has added fewer volumes each year than any other member library.

Once placed on probation, a member library has five year to correct the funding deficit.

The action didn't surprise Ed Frank, head of Preservation and Special Collections, who says the library's current budget doesn't allow for both filling library shelves and paying for electronic resources.

"The year we first lost good standing with the association, our acquisitions budget was essentially eaten up by journals and subscriptions to databases. We had to cut 30 percent of our print subscriptions to journals," Frank says.

In the last 10 years, the library staff has gone from more than 100 people to roughly 70.

"We need to change the historically chronic underfunding of the library, especially in light of the ambitious message of President [Shirley] Raines," Frank says.

Membership to the regional library association is not something the school can afford to lose, he says.

"The association provides a consortium for buying access to databases, and it's our method for interlibrary loans. If we were on our own, we'd be virtually unable to borrow," Frank says.

The library has a small endowment and earns some money with fines but is vulnerable to administrative funding decisions.

Ralph Faudree, provost for the university, says the library's 2009 funding "fell slightly beneath the amount that was our target."

Since then, $625,000 in stimulus money was added to the budget, and Faudree is optimistic that the library will retain its good standing with the association.

"Libraries are struggling, just like all parts of the university," Faudree says, "but there's no issue for us in terms of our five-year plan."

Since stimulus money isn't a regular revenue stream, there are concerns about the future.

"There's no long-term funding plan that we can see," Frank says.

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