CSU’s Morgan Library is in a two-year probation period after the university’s accreditation review earlier this year.
While CSU as a whole passed its 10-year review, a progress report outlining plans to improve and upgrade the library must be submitted by February 2006.
The Higher Learning Commission, a regional accrediting body of which CSU is a member, said the library was lacking in two areas: resource size and seating availability.
“The HLC doesn’t feel the collections are strong enough for a doctoral-level institution,” said Catherine Murray-Rust, Morgan Library dean. “They want us to have more strength and depth for the graduate students.”
The concern is that there is not enough available seating for CSU’s large student-population and not enough resources to accommodate.
Murray-Rust said the standard for a university in which more than 50 percent of students live off campus is that the library must have seating for 20 percent of the student body.
“Nobody reaches this, not even the richest schools,” Murray-Rust said. “However, we are only at about 6 to 7 percent.”
However, seven years after the flood that damaged or destroyed 462,000 volumes, and in the midst of a statewide budget crisis, increasing seating and circulation is easier said than done, said Robert Jones, co-coordinator of CSU’s accreditation self-study.
“That’s the $64,000 question – how to make those changes with limited resources,” said Jones, a microbiology, immunology and pathology professor.
Fortunately, Jones said, the 2006 deadline is simply for a plan to address the issues, not to actually have the changes in effect.
Robert Appleson, assistant director of the HLC, said requesting a progress report is the lowest form of monitoring an institution.
“This wasn’t a judgment that the institution isn’t trying,” Appleson said. “It means the team felt the institution was going in the right direction, but needed to focus on some areas for improvement.”
Appleson said he recognizes the financial strains facing the library but that CSU is not alone. Many states are struggling with higher education budgets, he said.
Appleson also said the commission’s recommendations could be a positive thing.
“Colorado State can say to the state legislature, ‘We told you we needed more money for the library, and they (the HLC) agree,'” he said.
In 1994, the HLC also reported “the library, both in study space and holdings, is inadequate to support the university’s academic mission.”
As part of this year’s accreditation process, CSU completed a self-evaluation and reported on the changes made since the 1994 review.
“We felt from the internal evaluation that the library was making progress,” Jones said.
The CSU report states that the library renovation, completed in 1998, added 900 seats and that in 10 years, building use increased nearly 50 percent. The report also said the collection grew from 1.6 million volumes in fiscal year 1995 to nearly 1.9 million volumes in fiscal year 2003.
Additionally, the report states that some of the relief money the library received after the flood was used to create online services and resources, as well as to build Web-based collections.
“We’re a little surprised that the HLC focused so much on physical seating and not electronic seating and the electronic library,” Jones said.
He said this could just be tradition, however.
“The electronic libraries didn’t exist ten years ago, so the HLC is not really looking at them. This is our chance to influence their evaluation of the balance of physical and electronic resources,” he said.
Murray-Rust said she is working with the provost and president’s office to create a plan for the progress report, and that they have set a self-imposed deadline for March 2005.
“We want to make sure that if there are capital construction needs, that we get them before the university,” she said. “We’re also working on ways to get more materials at a reasonable price.”
As for seating, Murray-Rust said the “impossible dream” of the library staff is to one day build a walkover, connecting the library’s upper levels and the Lory Student Center to create a 24-hour study room.
While CSU is not in any danger of losing accreditation in the near future, the university is taking the recommendations seriously.
“It’s like a very, very mild probation,” said CSU spokesman Tom Milligan. “If the HLC had felt that there was something really, really wrong there are many things they could have done. It’s serious, but it’s not devastating.”
Overview of Accreditation:
CSU’s Accreditation Process and Report: