UC Berkeley’s world-renown library system on the chopping block

150 150 Matthew Grant Anson

The dire financial straights of California are well known at this point. The fact that education, as the lion’s share of general fund spending, is always the first on the chopping block is a grim part of this reality. 

Within this reality, as UC Berkeley is forced into a corner that involves crippling cuts to one of the nation’s premier public library systems, it begs the question: “How much is too much?” 

More specifically, can California really afford to carve the heart out of its most revered public university, one of the few elements of the state with which it continues to hold a sterling reputation worldwide? 

Despite reducing spending by 12 percent since 2008 and losing almost 1/5th of its library professionals, UC Berkeley’s libraries are still feeling the financial stress. 

“We can already see negative impacts on the services we provide, as we stretch our reduced staffing,” University Librarian Tom Leonard said in a letter to faculty written in April. 

Professors faced with either closing 16 of the 24 libraries or closing only 10 and keeping fewer librarians rejected the choice alotogether and instead petitioned to have an extra year to figure out a solution. 

It’s not just professors and their high-level research that are affected by a shrinking library system renowned for its original manuscripts and rare texts. 

“I spend a lot of my time in the library reading or catching up on studying – there’s really no other place to go,” Berkeley student and library information desk worker Azatuhi Babayan said. 

“Because the school is known for its research, the library is kind of indispensable. You can’t cut it because it’s what the school is known for. It all converges at Berkeley.” 

Babayan points to the unique research resources Berkeley’s libraries offer to students and faculty compared to other universities. 

“I had a friend that was taking a Mark Twain seminar, and we have a lot of Mark Twain manuscripts. He got to look at Mark Twain’s letters to his wife, and he used that as a primary resource. That’s something that’s really helpful as a resource, and it was pretty crucial to his studies as an English major.” 

California’s once prominent manufacturing sector is a shadow of its former self. Hollywood continues to lose business to other states and countries offering tax incentives for filming. Talk of Texas poaching our businesses due to a friendlier business climate continues to persist.

Ten years of irresponsible financial planning within an antiquated budget process that doesn’t measure outcomes of existing programs or require that new ones have earmarked funding from their inception has led us to this precipice.

When the institutions that are responsible for creating future generations of critical thinkers and entrepreneurs who will fuel Californian ingenuity fall under the knife, it’s not just our present being affected, but our future as well.

California shouldn’t undo what it has spent years building: a world-class secondary education system with UC Berkeley as the crown jewel. To undo that would be to sabotage one of the few things remaining in California that actually works as it should. 


Matthew Grant Anson

All stories by: Matthew Grant Anson