Humanities Indicators
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Funding & Research  >  Support for Humanities Research
 
Research Libraries

Information about research libraries, the laboratories of the humanities, is plentiful. Several decades’ worth of data from the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) permit analysis of trends in library resource levels and the extent to which these are keeping pace with the size of the student population.

Findings and Trends

  • After falling by more than 50% during the First World War, research libraries’ expenditures on their collections grew steadily, if slowly, from the early 1920s to the mid-1950s (Indicator IV-11a). Then, starting in the late 1950s, the pace of growth accelerated rapidly—experiencing a six-fold increase until 1971. Following a 5% decrease, library expenditures on their collections (the category referred to as “materials and bindings”) remained near this reduced level for a decade. But the early 1980s saw the beginning of another surge in expenditures, with spending increasing in small increments nearly every year for two decades. Despite slight declines in 2005 and again in 2010–2011, the upward trajectory continued through 2012.
  • One of the recurring stories about research libraries over the past two decades has been the competition for funds between rapidly rising costs for journals and other serial publications (particularly in the sciences) and library purchases of monographs. According to the ARL, expenditures on serials rose 144% from 1986 to 2011, while expenditures on monographs fluctuated just below their 1986 level, ending the period down 17% (Indicator IV-11b).
  • Monograph costs were relatively stable from 1986 to 2011, with unit costs 3% lower at the end of that span. Despite a sizeable drop in total expenditures on monographs after 2007, the number of monographs purchased in 2011 was still 10% higher than in 1986.
  • The number of monographs purchased per student fell slightly from 1986 to 2011, though most of the decline occurred from 1986 to 1993 (Indicator IV-11c). Since that time, the nation’s college and university research libraries have purchased around 1.5 new monographs each year for every student—hovering about a third lower than the 1986 purchasing level.
  • The number of library staff, excluding student assistants, per student also dropped by slightly more than one-third. After an initial increase from 1986 to 1987, the ratio of staff to students declined almost every year from then until 2011—falling below one staff member for every 100 students for the first time in 2011.
IV-11a: Mean Expenditure for Materials and Binding at 12 Member Institutions of the Association of Research Libraries, Fiscal Years 1913–2012 (Adjusted for Inflation)*

* See “About the Data” for an explanation of what materials and bindings expenditures include. Expenditure amounts were adjusted for inflation using the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) produced by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Source: Drawn from an analysis performed by Robert Molyneux of data collected by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). The Humanities Indicators thanks Dr. Molyneux and Martha Kyrillidou, senior director of ARL statistics and service quality programs, for their invaluable assistance in developing this measure.

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IV-11b: Median Materials Costs, Purchases, and Expenditures for Member Institutions of the Association of Research Libraries, Fiscal Years 1986–2011 (Adjusted for Inflation)*

* Includes electronic resources from 1999 onward. Serials purchased and their unit cost are not presented due to a change in the way the Association of Research Libraries records serials. Adjustment for inflation made using the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) produced by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Source: Association of Research Libraries, “Expenditure Trends in ARL Libraries 1986–2012,” http://www.arl.org/focus-areas/statistics-assessment/statistical-trends.

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IV-11c: Resources per Student at Member Institutions of the Association of Research Libraries, Fiscal Years 1986–2011
Source: Association of Research Libraries, “Resources per Student in ARL University Libraries 1986–2012,” http://www.arl.org/focus-areas/statistics-assessment/statistical-trends.
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