Consortium Cost Complicates Library's Future
In an interview on October 27, University Librarian Ed Scarcelle told the Free Press that The New School paid over half a million dollars last year — $554,493.73 out of a total library budget of $4.4 million — for its contract with New York University for the use of Bobst.
Scarcelle released this figure a month after a petition launched by Lang sophomore Rachel Stine demanded the university build a new library, release the price of the contract, and end its relationship with Bobst.
He noted that while Bobst’s collection totals over five million volumes, the entire collection of The New School is only 1,906,046. However, Scarcelle cautioned against comparing these figures. “Why is that a bad thing?” he said, considering The New School’s collection. “What is the appropriate size?”
Scarcelle sees the New School and NYU libraries as complementary: Mannes’ Sherman Library is used mainly for music performance, while Bobst has more volumes on musicology; Parsons’ Gimbel Library has resources for the practice of art and design, Bobst for theory. He admitted that Fogelman, the university’s only liberal arts library, “needs to be more defined.”
The numbers show that despite Bobst having over 2.5 times as many volumes as the New School libraries, New School students borrow less from NYU’s library. Last year there were over 69,000 transactions — books borrowed — by New School students at Bobst, compared to 82,000 at New School libraries — 22,538 at Fogelman, 35,869 at Gimbel and 23,837 at Sherman.
With these numbers, Stine’s challenge may put Scarcelle in an awkward double bind: if the borrowing rate at the new library does not surpass Bobst, then an overdependence on NYU becomes harder to refute. But if the new library succeeds at reducing the dependence on Bobst, then why continue the contract?
“If the day comes when we meet the need of 98 percent [of students] satisfactorily,” he said. “We would still not have what NYU has.”
For Scarcelle, the collection is not the most valuable aspect of the arrangement with Bobst. “We also pay NYU for important services that keep the New School library running,” Scarcelle said, referring to what librarians call an Integrated Library System (ILS). Through its ILS, NYU provides cataloguing, acquisition and circulation systems, as well as its Bobcat search interface. Scarcelle said that NYU spent millions of dollars on its ILS. He estimates that were The New School to break away from NYU, it would need to provide “$650,000 of initial capital investment [for an ILS], plus $120,000 [per year], plus seven staff members.”
Even if the ILS were not a part of the contract, Scarcelle said that $550,000 is not as much money as it may seem. It would not even be enough, says Scarcelle, to cover the library’s current staff shortage.
Scarcelle was reluctant to criticize the contract with NYU. “I don’t believe that we could get a resource equivalent to what we would lose,” he said.