An interesting column in Library Journal by Stephen Bell:
That is bubble as in housing bubble or stock market bubble.
It is not the academic library that is possibly in a bubble, but higher education as a whole. Some are convinced that the cost/benefit ratio of a college degree is reaching a breaking point. The time and effort required to pay student loans is increasing, due to the combination of rising education costs, the shifting of those costs towards loans, and an economy that isn’t able to sustain jobs that can pay back all of those loans.
We are seeing the early stages of what may become strong trends: the open education movement providing courseware and related materials via open access, further reductions or elimination of libraries at the college level, and consolidation of services.
I suspect (predict, even?) that the last of these will be a major player, and will impact libraries tremendously in the long run. I am not thinking simply of merging departments on campus (usually IT or tutoring centers being merged with the library), but multiple universities creating consortia libraries.
Each institution would retain a library space, but administration, purchasing, and most especially resource licensing would become centralized. This not only reduces the costs for administration (directors, coordinators, etc.) but also creates a larger unit for purchases, which will reduce the cost per institution. Add resource sharing (one ILS installation for the group, for instance) and you could save quite a bit over what is currently being spent on the library.
Is this a good thing? I personally don’t think so, but it will look attractive to those who handle the budgets. Libraries in general have not been successful at reigning in cost increases on serials, licenses, and ILS contracts; as a result, any solution that can address these will save a great deal of money across a group of libraries.
There are efforts being made to implement some of these savings in a voluntary and pro-library way (several currently in development for the state of Ohio, where I work), but too often there seems to be an ingrained resistance to altering the way we spend our budgets, even though we would find greater freedoms and additional money for other projects by making changes in the right places.
As always, in times of stress, we have opportunities to attain greatness by facing the challenges and adapting with intelligence and forethought. Will we? Or will we have different changes forced upon us, changes that will limit our ability to control our library environments?