Update on the Music Library

FAQ for the Music Library

Concerned Western Faculty, Staff, and Students:

We are moving toward a decision on the location of the branch Music Library.  On Friday of this week, we will be hearing from a taskforce that is evaluating options.   A broadly representative campus budgeting and planning body will, I am sure, also be providing insights. 

As the decision will inevitably be mine, I also have been studying all the documents, visiting the spaces, talking with those involved in the various groups, and considering email from faculty, students, staff, and community members.

No decisions have been made.  Instead, we have been trying to understand just what the fundamental issues and tradeoffs are and how our campus would be affected. 

The proposals, rationales, sets of data have been widely shared.  The documents are appropriately detailed, dense, and lengthy.  Provost Riordan and I have looked at it all but how do those without the time to do so become meaningfully involved, involved in informed ways?

We decided to try to distill all we read and heard into what we see as the basic options and the essential questions.

In the interests of openness and transparency, I will share these assessments and insights.  I do so that you may challenge and improve them prior to our reaching a decision.  That decision will be made, early in the week after Thanksgiving.

Thanks for being willing to help,


This year, Western has been required to cut $17.2 million.  Difficult cuts have had to be made.  One concerned savings in personnel costs that would result from consolidation of the branch Music Library within the main Library.

Over the last 6 weeks, a group representing Music faculty, students, Library faculty and others has been hard at work considering options.   We owe them all our gratitude, for the proposals we now have are substantially improved, having been shaped by the concerns and the priorities so many have articulated.

One conclusion is unavoidable, though: no option does not do some degree of damage.  Each option involves the same level of cuts (permanent $96,000/year reduction) and cuts have consequences.

The options do have different consequences.  Each makes tradeoffs.  We need to know which tradeoffs, from your perspective, are preferable.

The Options

Many ideas have been developed and discussed in the last few weeks.  Currently, though, it seems to me our choices come down to two basic options.

And, I reiterate: those two options are fundamentally different from those with which we began about six weeks ago. 

Both have changed in response to thoughtful discussion, listening, and really hearing people’s top concerns.  To me, that is evidence that, as difficult as the past six weeks may have been, the process has worked.

As that process continues, the options may further evolve.  At this point, and as I see it, the two basic choices are:

  1. Location Unchanged. 
  2. Branch Music Library would remain in current location.   Three-person professional staff would be reduced by one position, student help reduced, collections budget for Music reduced, and some funds used to support other parts of the Music program would be reallocated.

  3. Move Branch Music Library to Main Library. 
  4. Three-person dedicated professional staff would be reduced by two positions.  Collections would largely (90%) remain together in a dedicated area. 

The Questions

The proposals have a variety of consequences.  But, in my analysis, it comes down to just a couple of key tradeoffs:

  1. Breadth vs Depth
  2. Keeping the collection in its current location, students, faculty, and the community will have access to the collections during normal working hours – 45 hours per week.  Moving the collection provides access during evenings and weekends, as well, for a total of 96 hours per week.

    However, both proposals provide about the same hours per week (40-45) in which the services of a dedicated professional music librarian are available.  If moved, those accessing the collection during other hours will be served by generalist library professionals.  And, if not moved, there will be two staff (one professional Music librarian and one specialized support staff) helping users.

    Simply put, I see this as a “breadth (of access) vs depth (of support)” tradeoff.  Sound reasons behind both approaches.  Which is best from your perspective (and why)?

  3. Evening/Weekend Access vs Proximity to Use (Propinquity)
  4. Here, the trade off is straightforward.  Moving the collection, as just explained, would allow students to access the collection after 5:00 pm and on weekends.  But, the materials in the collection that students check out are often used in the Performing Arts Building.  The current location offers convenience for such uses. 

    Importantly, though, the word “convenience,” does not adequately capture the real, genuine, and important concerns about having the collection not just close at hand geographically but, also, as an integral (even emotional) part of the programs of the College of Fine and Performing Arts.  Feelings matter and affect how well facilities effectively support an undertaking and so, again, there are no simple answers.  What are your insights concerning this tradeoff?

  5. Propinquity vs Depth of the Collection
  6. In the option to keep the collection in its current location, one support position is maintained that would not be maintained in the proposal to move the collection.  To cover this additional personnel cost in the option to keep the collection in its current location, that proposal includes cutting the acquisitions budget for the Music Library collection (and/or, cutting other support for the Music Program to partially backfill the cut to acquisitions).

    This reduction to Music acquisitions budget would be done thoughtfully, of course, looking at possible duplicative subscriptions, more use of interlibrary loan, and such.  But, collection evaluation and adjustment is always being routinely done; acquisition budgets are already very tight; they become ever tighter as serials costs escalate much faster than inflation; and so, inevitably, such a reduction has serious implications for just how strong the Music collection will be in the future.  Or, how strong it might have become.

    Our Music colleagues understand this serious concern.  And so, to me, their decision to include such cuts in their proposal to keep the collection where it is is far greater testimony to the importance they attach to that outcome than any other message, conversation, or communication I have received. 

    So, again, tough choices:  Where do you come out and why? 

Those are the basic issues I pulled from all the many materials under review.  Many other subsidiary questions and concerns are summarized in the attached table. 

This table covers the possible consequences we have heard folks express questions about.  If there are questions you have about consequences not covered in the attached “FAQ” then we want to hear them so that they can be considered.  And, answered.

Those are the basic issues I pulled from all the many materials under review.  Many other subsidiary questions and concerns are summarized in the attached document on FAQ for the Music Library

Page Updated 11.27.2013