Deep cuts wound Emory's libraries

Budget cuts claim 29 jobs from the university library system

What’s the most valuable resource filed away and catalogued in the Emory University Libraries? Could it be the first-edition copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses from 1922? One sold in London for 275,000 pounds earlier this summer. Actually, the copy of Ulysses is just a single volume of the 75,000 rare and first editions included in the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library, which opened at Emory in 2004.

There’s also the Flannery O’Connor archives, rich with handwritten correspondence and childhood ephemera. And don’t forget Sir Salman Rushdie’s archives, which were placed here in 2006 with an undisclosed price tag, as were Alice Walker’s papers in 2007. And that’s all aside from the invaluable library staff, which includes specialized liaisons for more than 50 subjects.

As Emory responds to a shrinking $4.3 billion endowment, though, some faculty members are expressing concern for the future of the library’s collections and workforce. In a letter published at the beginning of the year, university president Jim Wagner cited “worldwide financial turmoil” while explaining that the value of Emory’s endowment and investment portfolio had shrunk by more than 20 percent. On Sept. 23, Emory announced a $1 million library budget cut, which included the elimination of 29 out of 178 total jobs. Twenty-seven employees were laid off. “What we think of as the heart of the university is being cut deeply,” says Lynne Huffer, professor and chair of women's studies at Emory.
In addition to students and faculty, Emory’s library also serves the general public and visiting researchers. Professor Brad Gooch of William Patterson University came in 2007 to research Flannery, his recently released biography of Georgia’s famed Southern gothic writer. “The letters to Betty Hester, which had been sealed for 20 years, were opened up on my watch. I was thrilled,” he says. Gooch worked mainly with Steve Enniss, the former director of Emory’s Manuscript Archive and Rare Book Library, “who was most helpful and proactive and a Flannery O’Connor scholar himself, perhaps just by virtue of having worked on the collection so assiduously.” How exactly the budget cuts will effect the library’s continued ability to facilitate researchers and the public remains unclear.

“I can’t foresee how it will change, and they can’t either. I think everybody recognizes that,” says Andy Ditzler, who worked as a media coordinator in the Music and Media Library before losing his job in the Sept. 23 layoffs. Ditzler, who’s well-known in the Atlanta arts community for his ongoing film series Film Love, had worked at Emory since 1996 and at the library since 2002. After a library-wide meeting in July, Ditzler says he’s had the time to prepare, and brood, for the possibility of losing his job. Now that it’s happened, he says the library administration has handled it “the best way it could.” In regard to the overall budget, he says, “It’s difficult to speak about the internals. I wasn’t privy to that information.”

Few people are. After repeated interview requests, associate director of media relations Elaine Justice wrote in an e-mail, “We do not have any further updates at this time. Every school and unit at Emory currently is undergoing an administrative review process to develop operational and budgetary plans for the current and subsequent fiscal years. These plans will be the result of a thorough review of our activities and structures to identify what is essential to our mission and operations.” Declining to answer further questions, she wrote, “This really says it all.”

Earlier this year both the Emory Wheel and the New York Times published articles noting the size of compensation packages for some Emory employees.  They reported that Emory Chancellor Dr. Michael M. E. Johns earned $3,753,067 during the 2007 fiscal year, making him the third highest paid private education employee in the nation. At the time, Dr. Johns was employed as the executive vice president of health affairs. That same year, university President James W. Wagner earned $1,040,420 and the distinction of being the eighth highest paid president of a private university. The 2007 figures are the most recent available and include base pay as well as bonuses and deferred compensation. Emory has not indicated whether the salaries of cabinet members would be affected by their latest budgetary plans.

Citing Ditzler as a prime example, Huffer says she has a hard time making sense of Emory’s priorities. “I think that was a very short-sighted decision,” she says. “They’re not looking at the whole picture. Emory values their connections with the larger Atlanta community. Here’s a person who does exactly that.”

The journalist Norman Cousins once wrote, “A library … should be the delivery room for the birth of ideas — a place where history comes to life.” Among all the storied, valuable volumes and the distinguished staff at Emory’s libraries, Cousins’ romantic sentiment rings true. How the ravages of recession will affect that mission in the future, though, remains to be seen.

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