Bad News in South Carolina

The below article describes the challenges faced by PASCAL. Importantly, it is also a cautionary tale of what can happen when a issue is not continually heralded to state policy makers.

South Carolina Legislators Slash PASCAL Consortium Budget

Academic libraries in South Carolina are scrambling as legislators have slashed state funding for PASCAL (Partnership Among South Carolina Academic Libraries), a consortium serving 58 colleges and universities statewide. PASCAL officials said lawmakers have virtually eliminated their support, dealing libraries a 90 percent cut, from about $2 million to around $200,000 for the 2008-9 academic year.

“Frankly, it’s astonishing,” Mark Herring, dean of libraries at Winthrop University (Rock Hill, SC) told the LJ Academic Newswire. “For every dollar the state spends, PASCAL delivers $7 dollars in return access.”

On June 19, librarians from 35 PASCAL libraries attended the consortium’s spring business meeting, and unanimously approved “a survival plan” and an operating budget that increased membership dues by 20 percent. Their goal: to keep the consortium together in hopes of having its funding restored and to partially cover the cost of the consortium’s two major programs for next year, electronic resource licenses and PASCAL Delivers, which, Herring says, makes “the state’s 12 million volumes available for use to any student at any institution of higher learning in about 72 hours.”

With the new service fees, PASCAL will be able to maintain access to several core databases through the end of FY 2008-9 and will operate PASCAL Delivers on “a reduced basis,” doing deliveries three days per week instead of five, PASCAL executive director Rick Moul reported. “We’ve more or less bought a year to figure out what our long-range strategy will be,” he told the LJ Academic Newswire.

Unfortunately, necessary cuts have begun. As of July 1, PASCAL no longer provides statewide access to LexisNexis and Access Science, and Herring concedes that if funding isn’t restored for next year, it could be the end of a critical program for South Carolina higher education. “The 90 percent cut in the program is the death knell for PASCAL if it isn’t reinstated,” he told the LJ Academic Newswire.

Is this a case of the economy sneezing and libraries catching a cold? More like “pneumonia,” Moul quipped. “In February, our state budget forecasters hit the red button as the legislature was meeting, and there was a frenzy of budget cutting,” he explained. While public higher education overall in the state absorbed cuts of between three and five percent, PASCAL was inexplicably “eviscerated.”

“I don’t think there was any particular logic or malice,” Moul said. “I suppose…we were still a bit below the radar in most folks’ eyes as to just how critical we have become to our institutions, and we probably still had some selling to do with some legislators that this comparatively small amount of money was an appropriate state responsibility.”

Indeed, what has made PASCAL such a “smart program,” Herring noted, “is its coverage for all of the state’s 58 institutions, public and private, two-year and four-year, and the 300,000 students who attend there.” The schools that will be hurt most this year, he added, are the smaller schools located in more rural parts of the state. “You hear a lot about the haves and the have-nots these days. Here is a program that equalized those disparities and yet our state government decided to kill it. It’s odd, to say the least.”

South Carolina librarians, however, along with university administrators are fighting to restore next year’s funding, along with “several legislators” who understand the value of PASCAL. “I think we have some reason to be guardedly optimistic about our ability to regroup,” Moul said, noting that the state legislature made the remaining 10 percent of PASCAL’s funding recurring—an important silver lining going forward, as it gives the consortium a toe-hold in the regular budget. “Many of the chief academic officers at our institutions have become engaged in our problems, so I think we will go into the budget discussions for the next fiscal year with a strong and clear voice.”

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One Comment

  1. Posted November 14, 2008 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

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