Return to homepage

From the covid impact survey report

Budgetary Impact


5 mins read

Nearly 80% of the academic libraries responding to the survey noted some reduction in their budget. Among US-based institutions, 21% noted a reduction of 10% or more. Six of the eleven Canadian respondents, on the other hand, noted no decrease at all, and of those with cuts, none were greater than 19%. All 5 of the respondents from Australian institutions experienced some decrease, ranging from 5% to more than 20% (Figure 1).

Differences among US institutions emerged based on institution type: while a similar proportion of doctoral and non-doctoral institutions noted a budget decrease (over 80% of each), the changes at non-doctoral institutions were more more pronounced: 35% noted a decrease of 10% or more, while only 17% of doctoral institutions had cuts that severe.

When asked how the collections and serials budgets were affected, a smaller proportion of respondents noted some decrease when compared to those who saw cuts in the overall budget. In the US and Australia, around 60% of institutions noted reductions to collections budget and serials budgets, whereas in Canada, less than 20% saw reductions in these. About one third of respondents overall noted that their collections budget remained unchanged and over a third overall noted that the serials budget was unchanged, with Canadian institutions bucking the trend, with a large majority seeing collections and serials budgets unchanged.

In addition to specific cuts to collections and serials, respondents offered further detail on the type and severity of cuts. Among the common themes that emerged:

  • Staff reductions were common, as were hiring freezes

  • Even in cases where budgets were not cut, some were unable to make use of those funds, due to “freezes” put in place by administration

  • Several libraries were subject to across-the board cuts for the university/college

  • Cuts to materials budgets were sometimes held at bay due to cuts in other areas, due to the pandemic – including travel budgets, office supplies, and hiring freezes

Some respondents noted that perhaps more significant than any budget reduction were the re-allocations within the budgets—namely those from print to e-resources. Even those institutions that did not experience budget cuts might experience a resource squeeze, due to increased costs, whether from publisher increases or the amplified need for digital content and platforms.

“We have had budget cuts to the collection budget for years, but the combination of chronic budget shortages with the governor’s withholding of funding to cover COVID-related state budget shortfalls have resulted in the largest single year collections budget cut ever.” (71)
—Public doctoral institution

“⅕ of library positions are vacant and under a hiring freeze. Student employee fund-ing was reduced by 10% and our operating budget, including library software and systems, by 30%.” (173)
—Private doctoral institution

“While our budget remains unchanged, our expenses for digital assets went up due to COVID. Our COVID related collections materials costs for Fall semester were $50,000 and we anticipate continued pressure for the Spring 2021 semester. That has meant a reduction in other collections purchases.” (158)
—Non-doctoral institution


Most reporting institutions felt it was unlikely that they would see additional cuts before the end of this academic year, with 32% reporting it was extremely unlikely and the same percentage that it was somewhat unlikely. Only 12% reported feeling it was “extremely likely” that there would be additional cuts. For those who felt additional cuts were either “likely” or “extremely likely,” half predicted that the cuts would be between 5 and 9% and another 6 predicted they would be between 10 and 19%.

In the US, more doctoral institutions reported being either “somewhat likely” or “extremely likely” to face additional cuts (24%), as compared to non-doctoral institutions (15%). Among those doctoral institutions, private institutions were more likely to feel further cuts would be “extremely unlikely” (43%) compared with public institutions, where only 29% felt this way, and 14% felt rather that it was “extremely likely” they would see them (Figure 2).

When asked if budget cuts would be permanent, nearly 75% of all respondents felt it was “extremely likely” (30%) or “somewhat likely” (45%). Most US respondents felt that it was “extremely likely” (28%) or “somewhat likely” (50%) that this would be the case.


Collections and Serials

While cuts to the collections budget of over 20% were not common among US doctoral institutions, 16% of non-doctoral institutions who participated did report cuts of 20% or more. (That said, 42% of non-doctoral institutions reported “unchanged” budgets, compared with 27% of reporting doctoral institutions.) Similarly, when it comes to the serials budget, non-doctoral institutions appear to have had the most extreme cuts (by percentage reduction) of existing budget levels; 11% reported losing over 20% of their serials budget; while only 4% of doctoral institutions reported cuts this severe.

The landscape in Canada for academic libraries is significantly different from that in the United States. The eleven Canadian institutions that reported were much less likely to have experienced severe budget cuts than their American counterparts; five of the respondents noted no change at all and one noted an increase! 64% of Canadian respondents noted that the collections budget was unchanged and 18% of Canadian respondents noted an increase to the collections budget.) Four of the 8 Canadian insti-tutions to respond to this question felt the current cuts were not likely to be permanent) and most respondents (73%) felt further cuts would be “extremely unlikely.”

About the authors

Portrait of Claudio Aspesi

Claudio Aspesi

A respected market analyst with over a decade of experience covering the academic publishing market, and leadership roles at Sanford C. Bernstein, and McKinsey.

Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition

SPARC is a coalition of academic and research libraries that work to enable the open sharing of research outputs and educational materials in order to democratize access to knowledge, accelerate discovery, and increase the return on our investment in research and education.