State of the Collections

The Biomedical and Medical Center Libraries (BML/MCL) spend over 2 million dollars each year to   provide you with a world-class online and print collection to support your research, teaching and clinical needs.  Access to these materials, especially the thousands of electronic journals, is a primary benefit of being affiliated with UCSD.  A snapshot of the collection only hints at the breadth and depth of the collection (see Figure 1).

BML/MCL Collection Items
Electronic Journals 4,200+
Electronic Books 4,500+
Print Books and Journals 239,000+
Clinical Resources UpToDate, Clinical Pharmacology, and MDConsult, & many more

The UCSD Libraries collection continues to be heavily used.  In 2007, the 50 most heavily used electronic journals funded by the Libraries had over 760,000 article downloads. Of these, 27 titles (54%) were biomedical in scope, and these accounted for over 476,000 (63%) of the downloads.

Surprisingly, the print collection usage is also increasing.  Last year, the BML/MCL Libraries recorded over 74,000 uses of the print collection in the library (measured by reshelving counts), circulated almost 36,000 books (a 12% increase over the previous year), and checked out 26,000 reserve books (a 41% increase over the previous year).

The Libraries face two significant challenges in maintaining the quality of the collection:

Money, Money, Money…

The biggest challenge is keeping up with the rising cost and escalating number of new scholarly journals.  Fortunately, this year we were able to add many new electronic journals, including: Breast Cancer Research, Cell Host & Microbe, Cell Stem Cell, Nature Clinical Practice Cardiovascular Medicine, Nature Clinical Practice Rheumatology, Nature Protocols, and 70 journals published by Karger.

Out of the 2 million dollars spent on our collection last year, about $1,760,000 (84%) went to provide what the Libraries call “continuations,” i.e., things we pay for every year such as electronic journals, online clinical resources like UpToDate and Clinical Pharmacology, and electronic books.  Only 16% of our budget went for things we buy once, primarily print books.  Since most of our collections budget is earmarked for continuations, we are especially vulnerable to yearly cost increases.  This year, we expect a 9% price increase across all of our continuations.  This means that we will need to spend over $158,000 more this year than last to provide the same collection.  On top of this loss of purchasing power, the UCSD Libraries expect a 4% budget cut this year.  This means little to no expansion of the collection will be possible, and cancellations may be necessary.  If the budget situation continues or worsens, the effect to the collections would be devastating.

Everything’s Online

The other challenge is countering the perception that a library is unnecessary now since “everything is online.”  The perception challenge is in some way caused by the Libraries successfully making our electronic resources seamlessly available.  Through the library’s extensive commitment of staff and technology resources, our library users can access the UCSD online collections almost entirely from their office, lab, clinic, or home.  Since many users no longer need to come into the physical library, and many of our electronic journals are searchable via Google, it is easy for people to lose sight of the fact that these are library-purchased and managed resources.  Said another way, it is not uncommon or surprising for researchers that use our online collection to say they “hardly ever use the library anymore,” when, in fact, they use it daily, as evidenced by the nearly 1.5 million electronic journal articles downloaded yearly.

What Can We Do?

What are we doing about these challenges?  First, we are thinking of ways to show our users that the money spent on the library is a good investment that benefits them directly.  For example, as a research institution, increasing our grant funding is core to the University’s future success.  We are investigating how the libraries and their extensive collections support and strengthen grant proposals and reports, and research articles — and ultimately, grant level funding, new research discoveries, patient care initiatives, etc.  Rather than relying on traditional usage statistics, we are looking for productivity and other output measures to show how what we do has a positive impact on UCSD.

What can you do to help?  As society members, journal editors, and authors, you can help the library make the case with publishers that we cannot survive these out-of-control price increases, and the spawning of endless specialty journals.  At this point, without additional funding, when the library is asked to fund new journals, we have to decide which journals to cancel in their place, while maintaining the integrity and quality of the collection.  Another way you can help is to reflect on how the libraries’ online resources have helped you to do your work better, and share your thoughts on this with us and the UCSD leadership.  Helping us prove that the libraries are core to the long-term success of UCSD will help make sure that the electronic journals and other resources you need are there for you in the future.

Please send any thoughts or comments you have about these issues to Jeff Williams, Head of Collections, Biomedical Library, at (858) 822-2218 or

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