Library funding at the University of Hong Kong has declined dramatically, is still declining, and ought to be increased. Indeed, the financial situation of the University of Hong Kong’s Library is reaching a state of crisis. As teachers and students of this University, we must act.
The Library of the University of Hong Kong is one of the greatest treasures of the University. Since the 1980s, it has become one of the best libraries in Asia—quite possibly THE best, in terms of Western language resources. Its Chinese language materials are outstanding, making it one of the world’s top sinological collections.
Good library facilities are the essential foundation and bedrock of excellence in teaching and research in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. In their absence, the University of Hong Kong will find it impossible to compete internationally in attracting and retaining the best academics and students.
The gaps in our Library collections are becoming increasingly apparent. Scholars from elsewhere who have used the Library over many years now comment with surprise and concern on what is not there. Representatives of some of the leading firms producing electronic resources in the Humanities and Social Sciences have noted that the University of Hong Kong is no longer ordering even what would once have been basic titles relating to China. As other universities have already discovered to their cost, it always proves far more expensive to plug such gaps later on, than to maintain collections steadily and continuously.
Sadly, within the University of Hong Kong, the Library has become the lowest priority.
For scholars and students across the Humanities and Social Sciences, a good Library is the sine qua non for excellence in all forms of scholarship, teaching, and research. In Medicine, Science, and Engineering, well-equipped laboratories are central to excellence in teaching and research. For those in the Humanities and Social Sciences, a well-stocked and well-staffed Library is the greatest essential, at least as fundamental to them as good laboratory facilities are to scientists. Yet for those in Medicine, Science, and Engineering, access to a good Library is almost equally important. In these subjects, too, Library funding in the University of Hong Kong is being squeezed ever more tightly, given that journal prices have soared dramatically over the past decade, even as Library funding has declined.
Speaking in Hong Kong last week, Rowan Williams, Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and former Archbishop of Canterbury, warned that any university needs two lungs, namely, the Sciences and the Humanities. At present, where the Library is concerned, neither lung is doing terribly well.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong prepared for the transition to 3:3:4 by dramatically boosting spending on its Library, to a level where it may well now surpass that of the University of Hong Kong.
The University of Hong Kong prepared for the transition to 3:3:4 by steadily starving the Library of funding.
In 2002-2003, the University of Hong Kong Library had a Library Resources Fund of $75.9 million, all of it covered by the one-line budget provided from the UGC Block Grant. Since then, prices of books, journals, and electronic resources have risen steadily. If increased every year by 5 percent to allow for inflation, for 2012-2013 the figure should now be $123.6 million.
In 2012-2013, the total Library Resources Fund was just under three-quarters of this figure, approximately $91.4 million. Only 86 percent of these funds (approximately $76 million) came from the UGC block grant. The remainder came from the Library’s own Supplementary Funds and Endowment Funds.
In 2002-2003, the Library received just over 7 percent of the total government subvention to HKU.
In 2011-2012, the Library received less than 5 percent of the total government subvention to HKU.
The UGC block grant to HKU provides only part of the University’s total annual income. Donations and interest on the University’s endowment funds have become an increasingly significant portion of the University’s budget. As a proportion of the University’s total annual budget, therefore, spending on the Library has fallen even more dramatically.
In a decade when overall staff and student numbers at HKU have been rising, creating steadily increasing demand for the services of the Library, the number of Library staff (FTE) has fallen from 242 in 2002-2003 to 197 in 2011-2012, a decrease of 18.5 percent.
To cover the growing shortfall in the Library Resource Fund, ever since 2002-2003 the Library has been forced to employ its Supplementary Funds and Endowment Funds. In 2012-2013, these sources are covering 14 percent of the budget for the Library Resources. These resources are now close to exhausted, which will mean that in future funding available for the purchase of library resources will fall yet further.
On several occasions in the past decade, preliminary bids for major enhancements of library resources from the RGC’s Collaborative Research Fund (Equipment) and other sources have been submitted to the central administration. Invariably, they have failed to survive the initial selection process.
The signatories below feel great concern over the steady shrinking of Library funding at the University of Hong Kong. They therefore request the University of Hong Kong administration to reverse the trends of the past ten years. This will require:
(a) An immediate and continuing increase in Library budgets, to restore real spending on the Library at the very least to the levels of one decade ago, suitably adjusted for the increase in numbers of academics and students.
(b) A major one-off infusion of funds, to repair the damage a decade of neglect has inflicted on Library collections.
(c) The aggressive exploration and utilization of outside sources of funding and donations as a means of improving Library budgets.