Cost of library partnership falling to local colleges

Colleges and universities across South Carolina next year will have to foot the bill for library services that previously were paid for by the state.

Funding for PASCAL -- Partnership Among South Carolina Academic Libraries -- was slashed about 90 percent, from about $2 million to around $200,000 for the 2008-2009 school year.

PASCAL gives students and faculty members access to thousands of Web-based scholarly journals and a rapid-delivery book loan service among libraries across the state.

"For a place like York Tech, it goes from a place where they don't have a book collection that's very large to something that's comparable to Big 10 or Ivy League schools," said Rick Moul, executive director of PASCAL. "It's a pretty dramatic capability."

The funding cuts mean schools such as Winthrop University and York Technical College must cough up more money if they want to continue to benefit from the partnership.

PASCAL works by buying licenses for different publications and then distributing them across the state. That is much cheaper than if schools bought the licenses themselves. Last year, PASCAL spent about $1.4 million on what would have cost individual schools about $12.3 million, Moul said.

In the past, schools have been asked to pay a modest amount to participate. For Winthrop, that was an estimated $5,000 last year, for York Tech, an estimated $1,000, Moul said. Those amounts will be about triple this year and will only cover parts of the service.

Moul said PASCAL will continue to provide three major databases of journals that cover a multitude of topics, but not many specialized databases -- for example, the news search engine Lexis Nexis. Any other databases schools need, they will have to pay for themselves.

Winthrop spokeswoman Rebecca Masters said officials there are trying to decide what additional journals to buy and how much to spend on them. Masters said they are looking at what's available and what has been used the most before. The resources are vital for research, especially in science, she said.

York Tech already spends $70,000 to $80,000 on additional resources besides PASCAL, said Carolyn Stewart, executive vice president for academic and student affairs.

But the money is worth it to instructors like Cheryl Fortner-Wood, a professor of psychology and chairwoman of the faculty conference at Winthrop, who said the quality and recency of sources used by her students has improved dramatically since PASCAL was formed several years ago. Without PASCAL, Fortner-Wood said she would lose those gains.

"I will have to accept older, less relevant sources for assignments. Students will have to report on broader, more unwieldy topics because they will have far fewer resources from which to draw," she wrote in an e-mail. "I will have to return to prompting my students to search for their sources on the first day of class because of the lag time for traditional interlibrary loan."

Looking ahead, school officials are trying to get out the message about PASCAL's importance, so the program doesn't run into the same financial situation next year.

Masters said legislators might not understand just how crucial the partnership is. Money for PASCAL has always come through at the last minute during budgeting, so schools were somewhat blindsided when that didn't happen this year, she said.

"Because this was so universally supported, and presidents had mentioned it as a priority ... we were keeping the faith that would happen again," she said.