The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Library renovations trump additional research materials

Sidney Hollingsworth/The Daily Campus
First year Williamson Slack studies Thursday evening in the Scholar’s Den.

First year Williamson Slack studies Thursday evening in the Scholar’s Den. (Sidney Hollingsworth/The Daily Campus)

On Feb. 22, 2008 the SMU Board of Trustees agreed to house the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

“Securing this library represents an important step forward in academic achievement for SMU and for our service to Dallas and the nation,” then-Board Chair Carl Sewell said.

Since then, much of the university’s attention has focused on the Presidential Library. The building even has a live webcam allowing anyone to track its progress.

SMU’s existing libraries, however, have not received much consideration or funding. For years, SMU’s libraries have been underfunded, potentially hindering millions of dollars in outside grants, records and interviews show.

Over the past five years, the SMU Faculty Senate Library Subcommittee has released reports documenting a shortage of academic materials – particularly scholarly journals – detailing the impact on research, especially in the engineering, science, psychology and education fields.

Recently, the Board of Trustees approved a $4.8 million bond package as part of a planned $18 million package of improvements for the Fondren Library Center Complex, according to Dean Gillian McCombs, director of the Central University Libraries.

However, McCombs, who is responsible for raising the remaining $13.2 milion that the bond package does not cover, said the money would be used to renovate SMU libraries, not to replenish research materials.

Many SMU faculty members wonder when the university will demonstrate its commitment to fund the “academic achievement” trumpeted by Sewell.

“It is absolutely central to have high quality libraries,” Dr. Cal Jillson, a political science professor who chairs the Faculty Senate Library Subcommittee, said. “It is extremely important to not hollow ourselves out.”

McCombs said the Board of Trustees chose brick-and-mortar improvements as a way to entice visiting students to choose SMU.

“If the library doesn’t look good, you’re thinking, ‘Well, how does SMU support its academics?’ But if the library looks terrific and there is energy, it looks beautiful, then people come away with this thought: ‘Wow, libraries are important, learning is important,'” McCombs said.

The renovation plans include a grand reading room, compact shelving, more study space, improvements to the building’s heating and cooling system and a café for students.

Dr. John Buynak, a professor of chemistry and chair of the Faculty Senate Library panel from 2006 to 2011, said inadequate research materials poses a significant obstacle for SMU faculty inside and outside the classroom.

“What you want at a university are professors who are informed in their fields. So they have to have access to these journals in order to stay abreast in the knowledge,” Buynak said. “If you start to take away the intellectual materials from your faculty, guess what, you are going to have faculty who are not intellectuals.”

Buynak said that students and faculty members use the libraries differently and therefore their needs are different. It is up to SMU officials to find the right balance.

“What do the students use the library for? Well, to be quite honest, most of them go over there to study. And so they’re trying to create a nice study environment,” Buynak said. “Do the faculty go over there to study or read? Not that often. Most of what we need is electronic these days.”

Priscilla Lara, an SMU junior sports management major and Spanish minor, may spend generous amounts of time studying in the library, but she still feels that research materials should be above renovations on the university’s list of priorities.

“I don’t really care too much for how the library looks, I want to know that I have the materials needed for my research,” Lara said.

Buynak and other faculty members have been trying for years to convince the administration that research materials, not renovations, represent the key to their work.

A 2007 survey found that “renovation was a low priority among the faculty respondents.”

Indeed, “75 percent of the respondents rated this item in the lower half of the priorities listed.”

The survey also found that SMU faculty expressed “growing concern over lack of resources, particularly online journals.”

The report said inadequate materials “would significantly affect the progress” of research projects in science and engineering. Both of these fields are “considered critical if SMU is going to reach its goal of $50 million in external research support.”

This $50 million goal is more than double the total of SMU’s sponsored research for the 2010 to 2011 academic year.

McCombs said at least $140,000 is added to the library budget for acquisitions each year. But, she said this is not always sufficient to offset inflation.

The 2011 library report revealed a 4.6 percent increase in the acquisitions budget, a modest increase but not enough to address longstanding needs.

The report states that underfunding has led to “ongoing and long-time deficiencies in other fields, particularly including the (Lyle) School of Engineering, and new library needs for the (Annette Caldwell Simmons) School of Education.”

Claire Jones, an SMU junior majoring in geology and archeology, has had problems finding the materials she needs when writing papers for her science classes.

“I can find things, but there’s not always an adequate amount to write my research papers,” Jones said.

Despite the underfunding of SMU’s libraries, electronic usage increased from 10 million in 2007 to 2008 to 13 million the following year, according to the 2009 library report.

Academic journals for science and engineering have had the highest numbers of requests for SMU interlibrary loans, according to a survey from the 2007 library report covering five years of loan requests.

In this survey, committee members said that waiting a week for research materials after putting in a request with interlibrary loans can “significantly affect the progress of a research project and/ or grant application” for outside funding.

Buynak reiterates these concerns. “Ideas come in in a timely manner. Having the papers available when you need to read them, all of that is a part of formulating your thoughts,” Buynak said. “A week is a long time.”

Applying for a grant is similar to writing a paper for class. A faculty member submits a research topic proposal by the required deadline.

The paper is then evaluated by peers, and based on that grade, the research project is either funded or not.

“The problem is that they don’t fund even half of the proposals.” Buynak said. “It is like having to submit 10 term papers to get a passing grade.”

The 2011 library report said that demand for science and engineering journals has risen 19 percent in two years.

Joe Batir and Ryan Dingwall, SMU graduate geophysics students, say that for the most part, they are able to find the research materials they need.

However, this is not always the case. Batir said he sometimes finds the library does not subscribe to the hard copy of the journal he needs.

“If there is a hard copy, I can get my hands on it. But if there’s something that’s only electronic, I can’t always get access to it,” he said.

As the number of scientific discoveries continuous to multiply, so does the list of requested research materials.

“In science everything is changing every year, every day. So we are constantly having to replenish and re-subscribe to new materials,” Buynak said. 

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