International Collections as National Resources

Just a few months before this year’s Fourth of July celebrations, a federal budget agreed upon by Congress and the President set  off a round of fireworks about as spectacular and festive as the  “rockets’ red glare” commemorated in our national anthem (which, as you recall, was composed by Francis Scott Key during the war-time bombardment of Ft. McHenry).

In mid-April, after yet another round of contentious political debate, Congress passed the  Continuing Resolution for the Fiscal Year 2011 Federal Budget, which among other things,  committed the Department of Education to a $50 million reduction in the $110 million line for  International and Foreign Language Education Programs.  This drastic budget cut dropped like a Tomahawk missile from a clear blue sky, stopping this year’s Fulbright- Hays Dissertation Grant dead in its tracks and critically-wounding Title VI, a program that funds the network of National Resource  Centers (NRCs), which for over fifty years have been committed to promoting the interdisciplinary  study of strategically-vital world regions such as the Middle East, Russia/Eastern Europe, and South Asia.

In response to this devastating attack on international education, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Institute of International Education, and several major research universities (including Duke), have stepped in to provide the needed funds for the  beleaguered programs, if only on a one-time, stop-gap basis. Their rationale is that this bridge-money would let every institution reeling from the Congressional bombshell take a moment to plan for its future, and either to scale back or to shift resources.

This battle in the continuing war over international education in general, and Title VI in particular, has far-reaching implications that affects academic libraries’ ability to support research and teaching in the humanities.  The strength of the university library has always been an important component of the Title VI grant application and, as a result, the library regularly received contributions to its materials  budget from the NRCs.  Because of drastic cuts for basic operations, however, most centers have  quite prudently decided to use the funds allocated for 2011-12 to save staff and teaching positions, rather than invest in library collections.  However, the decision forced on the NRCs by Congress will inevitably impact the individuals who use these very same  collections, namely, the students and researchers (both at Duke and beyond) who depend on the  library and who have come to expect that it will continue to provide the resources they need to  do their work.

If Title VI funding is circumscribed, and no additional funds are forthcoming, then the most likely outcome will be a loss in the diversity and depth of holdings that makes  international collections  truly unique, “special collections.” This outcome would undermine the  very purpose for which Title VI was created.  The terms of the grant from the Department of  Education specifically charge us to think broadly and beyond our own institutional walls and ivory towers. Consequently, a  research library at a university with a NRC is entrusted with more than just supplying course material and basic reference works for matriculating students and faculty.  NRC libraries are “National Resource centers”: we use Title VI funding to build diverse collections that we otherwise could not have afforded, coordinate our purchases so that we do not all buy the same materials, and continually assess and document how our materials are actually used in research and teaching, both locally and nationally. If the Congressmen who proposed slashing funding for International Education programs had first asked the NRCs for this data, we would have gladly provided them with it. But apparently the decision to target  international programs was guided less by evidence than by ideology.

In academic circles, it is a truism to say that the research library is central to the humanistic endeavor, and that it will continue to be so, with or without government funding. But unlike the inalienable rights enumerated in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, this truth is  apparently not self-evident.  So if you have a strong opinion about the importance of international education and the humanities, make your voice  heard on this Fourth of July: let your Congressional  representatives know about the value of Title VI — and drop us a note when you do.  The National  Humanities Alliance has kindly posted on its website Title VI issue and action pages, including a  form letter with optional add-in information, which anyone can use to send a letter to their Representative and two Senators.

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