The Database Dance: Waltzing with a Big Budget Cut
Column Editor: Glenda Alvin (Associate Professor, Assistant Director for Collection Management and Administration, Head, Acquisitions and Serials, Brown-Daniel Library, Tennessee State University, 3500 John A. Merritt Blvd., Nashville, TN 37209; Phone: 615-963-5230; Fax: 615-963-1368) <[email protected]>
Every Collection Management Librarian dreads the day of the big budget cut, because it involves a lot fancy footwork with vendors, faculty, and students. Faculty have to be given clear explanations as to why the library can no longer purchase the database that supports one or two small classes in the department, and students have to be informed about alternative means for accessing full text. Database vendors have to be flexible about what the library can afford in regards to expensive databases or bundled databases which have barely used components.
When I am evaluating renewing databases, I usually look at three components: usage statistics, the program/majors it supports, and accreditation requirements. For the usage statistics, I look at what we collect in-house from our ILS and then look at the usage statistics, specifically the full-text downloads, on the vendor’s Website.
After I have compared the usage statistics, I discuss the databases that I intend to discontinue with the Library’s Database Committee, which has a cross section of public and technical services librarians. The committee may agree to the terminations, or they might decide to give it another year to see if usage picks up. This usually happens because someone has knowledge of an instructor who has an assignment for that product. In some cases, I will send an alert to the department to let them know that the database is on probation.
For example, the usage statistics demonstrated that Nursing Education in Video was barely used by the Nursing faculty, who for years had been calling about needing money for videos. As their liaison, I sent a message to the entire department stating that the cost per use appeared to reflect that the database did not support their curriculum. The Dean wrote me back to say that they would take up the issue at their next department meeting. Sometimes this approach works, and sometimes it does not. When there is no response, I am left wondering what will happen if some faculty member skipped the message and then will complain later when the database has disappeared. Sometimes new faculty are hired who used one of our discontinued databases at their former institution and are upset that we don’t provide it, which happened with two databases.
I send an email to all of the departments that I think use the database the most, explaining our funding issues, the cost-per-use of the database, and my proposed plan of action. Sometimes this may include the deletion, but it might also include a suggestion for another database they have not considered, that is more inexpensive, but offers similar coverage. Each message always has a phrase stating that, if the department wants to retain the database for accreditation purposes, we will try to follow their wishes. If nobody contacts me after a period of time to say that that they need the database for research or to support their classes, then I proceed with my plan. If I am offering a substitution, I give them a 30-day trial, asking for comments, and if nobody responds, I send them a reminder midway through the trial.
Asking the sales representative to supply the statistics is a good strategy, because they can do the math and see that the database is not that popular. This can often pave the way for a discussion about a smaller package or a reduction in the renewal price, if the library cannot afford the full price. One of my vendors offered a 50% reduction on the renewal price, rather than smaller package, because we both could see that only one segment of the database was being used by a small number of patrons.
Negotiating with vendors to unbundle their packages, so that the most popular database can be retained, can set off a bit of twirling, especially when they turn a deaf ear or try to convince you that they are giving such a grand bargain that it is unwise for you to consider breaking up the package. Databases are bundled because some of them do not sell well by themselves and the usage statistics will separate the wheat from the chaff, while shining a spotlight on what is essential.
If there is a contract in place for the database, you will more than likely have to be a wallflower until it expires or weigh the consequences of making changes. In the meantime, start preparing the faculty for the news that the database may disappear next year, so that they can plan their lessons accordingly. This time can also be used to put alternative measures in place. When we had to give up a very expensive STEM database, we discovered that we had a deposit account, probably initiated by our former dean long ago with a now defunct consortia, that allowed us to order articles from a deposit account.
Planning ahead and evaluating each renewal will keep you gliding along in the database dance. Each step must be taken with the budget dollars in mind, and you have to be agile enough to find different funding streams. Although our Title III funds vanished, we were able to purchase Contentdm and other databases from our technology fund allowance, which is managed by the university’s IT Department. We are hoping that all of these measures will take us gracefully into the next fiscal year.