Lack of funding forces Penfield to drop LexisNexis

LexisNexis, a popular online legal database, is no longer available at Penfield Library. It offered a valuable research guide for students, including archives of magazines, newspapers and legal documents. The program was an asset for students studying business, education and communications.

According to Mary Bell, director of Penfield Library, funding was the big deciding factor in cutting the program. The library, like many other areas on campus, has been suffering from a large budget loss this year. Adding to the financial stress, the library has had to deal with the constant rising inflation rates for library materials like books, periodicals and databases like LexisNexis.

"We tried to spread out the cuts in a way that doesn’t damage academic programming," Bell said. "The major issue was that the cuts came kind of late in the year so there wasn’t a lot of time to really determine exactly where we would make cuts. We are in enough of a financially difficult time that there wasn’t a lot of choice – something had to go."

John K. Smith, chairperson of the communications department, added that it’s better that a database had to go instead of a teaching position.

"It’s always regrettable when we lose a database like that, however I tend to be sympathetic with the university," Smith said. "Would you rather lose a professor? Would you rather lose heat in a building? Certainly it’s regrettable, but there could be other things that would be even more vital."

Bell said the library administration took a very close look at all of their databases to determine where there was an overlap in offered material, and eliminated those databases, "thereby hopefully creating the least possible damage that we could."

"We are trying to do it in the most conscientious way we can – we put many many hours into the process of deciding," Bell said. "Our money is very tight, but we are doing the best we can to not cut content that is really unique, and we are not cutting anything that is needed for accreditation for programs. Thankfully the situation hasn’t gotten, at this point, bad enough that we’ve had to even consider those things."

Some of the databases could not be cut, like Science Direct, a science database Oswego State bought through the SUNY system. While its cost increased tremendously, skyrocketing from $15,000 to $30,000, the library "cannot afford to lose those science titles," Bell said.

Other databases, like LexisNexis, were deemed not as necessary due to their likeness to other subscriptions already on campus. The LexisNexis subscription cost the library $14,000 a year. When added to their subscription to the similar database Westlaw Campus Research, they were paying $28,000 annually. The databases hold very similar material, said Bell, so they decided to keep only one database. They contacted law schools, who all recommended keeping Westlaw.

"They told us, ‘if you can’t afford both, the best one to keep is Westlaw,’" Bell said. Westlaw has "pretty much a direct overlay of the same kinds of materials as LexisNexis."

Richard Skolnik, dean of the School of Business, said the faculty and students in his department "will adjust to the loss of LexisNexis by using Westlaw and SUNY Connect, a virtual library-wide initiative."

Students who relied on LexisNexis last year have other options available for them this year. In addition to Westlaw and SUNY Connect, the library continues to stock multiple electronic resources and some print sources as well. Last year the library had subscriptions to about 3,700 print journals. This year, although they have less print sources, the number of electronic sources utilized in Penfield Library have increased exponentially.

"Now, with electronic journal publications, we actually have about 35,000 journals," Bell said, who noted the electronic sources have been a tremendous help for the library. "We have very little print, but ultimately we have way larger numbers of journals," she added.

Bell also said that if there is a title a student needs that is not available anymore because of the loss of LexisNexis, they can still get it. The library has set aside a few thousand dollars for this purpose. Bell added, however, that "the unique content loss was minimal."

Skolnik added that the inter-library loan system could also help students who relied on LexisNexis. It can allow students to view an article they need even if Penfield Library does not have access to the entire journal.

"It is especially helpful because of the electronic delivery of articles," he said.

The budget cut that led to the removal of LexisNexis is not the only thing the library has to worry about. Adding to the library’s financial stress will be the next round of proposed budget cuts for next year to all SUNY schools by the New York state government.

Bell said, "The campus doesn’t know how big the cut will be. We have no idea how the library will be impacted by it. Everybody’s worried about the next cuts." The state is in such a bad situation financially that it doesn’t look like there is any relief in the near future.

"I think it’s such a shame that higher education is one of the areas that’s really suffering in New York state," Bell added. "It’s not just Oswego, it’s all of SUNY. All of the libraries have taken on some reductions in their budgets. We are all struggling in the same way."