UI libraries look to curb replacement costs for unreturned books


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A growing wave of scholarly publications on the web means University of Iowa students are less at risk for fees that come from damaged or lost material.

University Librarian Nancy Baker said book-replacement costs will decrease as libraries get more books in electronic format.

"[These materials] don't disappear," she said. "It's a bright thing down the road that should help minimize the problem."

When a book needs to be replaced, she said, library personnel often purchase an electronic version if available because of user convenience and access.

"Numerous people can look at [the material] at the same time," she said. "There's no replacement problem. In effect, we're not buying it, we're paying a fee for access."

The Main Library has access to approximately 160,000 e-journals, said Ed Shreeves, the associate university librarian for collections and scholarly communication.

Shreeves said every UI library, except the Law Library, has access to approximately 160,000 e-journals. E-journals are purchased in packages at anywhere from $250 to $20,000, while e-books cost around $80 to $110 per book — comparable with print editions.

Janna Lawrence, an assistant director of the Hardin Library for Health Sciences, said almost all of its journals are available electronically, and the choice to purchase the electronic version is a title-by-title decision.

"We're definitely buying more electronic books," she said. "But sometimes, [they] are much more expensive, so sometimes not worth the money."

Library expenses are funded through the general fund.

Donald Szeszycki, the associate vice president for the Office of the Provost, wrote in an email that the general-fund acquisition budget for the UI Libraries is around $16 million this year. Despite a 5 percent average annual increase, he said, the UI Libraries has had to make careful decisions on which publications to order and in what format.

A UI library book costs $75 to replace on average, said Amy Paulus, the head of Library Access Services. If a book is recalled by another student and not returned within a week, a $4-per-day late fee is charged to the student's U-bill, with a maximum of $40. The $75 replacement cost is still assessed for books that are not returned.

"There is no fund that just tracks replacement costs," she said. "The $75 is based on the average cost of what we spend to purchase books."

Replacing lost books becomes difficult, she said, when publishers print limited runs — sometimes only 500 to 1,000 books.

"In the end, when you add all the costs up, that's what makes libraries so expensive to operate. It adds to the overall cost of running the university," she said. "But the only reason we charge fines is for an incentive to get the book back. We can't always replace books anymore."

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