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Research Library Crisis

May 03, 1987|ELIZABETH MEHREN

NEW YORK — Last year it cost $56.25. This year it costs $82.50. What is it?

It is Law Quarterly Review, a leading journal published in England, and, according to Columbia University law librarian Kent McKeever, a fair example of what the drop in the dollar has meant to research library budgets around the country.

The drop in the dollar is intended, of course, to discourage imports and encourage domestic buying and exports. Unfortunately, there is no American-made model of Law Quarterly Review. Each journal to which a research library subscribes is, like each new book it buys, a distinct and irreplaceable product. The alternative to buying it, when the price goes up, is not buying a cheaper local model but simply buying nothing.

Research library buying (which means in the main university library buying) has not dropped to nothing, but the anticipated cutbacks in it are alarming. Cornell University expects to cut its 1987 purchases by 60,000 volumes, from 134,000 down to 74,000, according to assistant Cornell librarian Herbert Finch. Stanford University librarian David C. Weber presents the same problem as a deficit figure: If acquisitions were to continue in 1987 at the 1986 pace, the library would end the year $600,000 in the red. Karin Wittenborg, assistant university librarian for collection development at UCLA, says that to keep from going over budget in 1987, the university's library has had to make drastic retrenchments.

The problem may be particularly acute in the sciences. Jaia Barrett, federal relations officer for the Assn. of Research Libraries, Washington, D.C., says that American competitiveness will inevitably be affected if American researchers are denied access to the 59,000 technical and scientific journals published abroad, largely in Western Europe.

But if the problem is bad in the sciences, it is even worse in the humanities, says Michael T. Ryan of the Stanford library staff. Of humanists, Ryan says, "The library collection is their lab, it's their linear accelerator." The difficulty in acquiring, especially, costly older material hurts humanists most as does the rise in the cost of art books, many of them now manufactured in Japan.

Libraries try to respond cooperatively, dividing the purchasing burden and sharing their holdings. But in practice, this means that interested researchers have to wait in line. Facsimile transmission is fast but requires prohibitively expensive equipment, equipment that in any event violates copyright laws. In brief, unless the dollar starts to climb again or new money appears from still unidentified sources, America's research libraries may be entering a period of decline.

BIO BEAT: Linda Bird Francke, co-author with Rosalynn Carter ("First Lady From Plains"), Geraldine Ferraro ("Ferraro") and Jihan Sadat ("A Woman of Egypt"), has been in Pakistan working on the autobiography of opposition heir apparent Benazir Bhutto. The Bhutto-Francke book was acquired for Harcourt Brace Jovanovich by senior editor (and novelist) Daphne Merkin, with publication scheduled for spring 1988. Meanwhile, Zebra Books has paid $300,000 for Michael Reagan's story of life with father.

ELEMENTARY, DEAR SHERLOCK: Carrill & Graf Publishers Inc. will mark the 100th anniversary of Sherlock Holmes' first appearance in print by issuing an official volume of new Sherlock Holmes stories, each written by a leading mystery writer, in October, 1987.

STILL HARDY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS: At 60, Frank and Joe Hardy are well into senior citizen status. They remain perennially young, however, in the marketing minds of Simon & Schuster's Juvenile Division. With more than 50 million copies sold, S&S will vault the Hardy Boys into the '80s with a new series of mass-market paperback originals to be published under the Archway imprint. The new "Hardy Boys Casefiles" will be geared to readers ages 12 to 15, slightly older than the audience of the original Hardy Boys stories.

FASTER THAN A SPEEDING BOOK CONTRACT: Phil Patton will write the "in-their-own-words" version of Dick Rutan's and Jeana Yeager's historic round-the-world flight in the Voyager. The book is due out from Alfred A. Knopf in September, just nine months after the record-breaking nine-day, 25,012-mile journey.

THEY PAID HOW MUCH?: "We're just not commenting on the money," a spokesperson for Summit Books said when asked about reports that Summit coughed up $1.7 million for Judith Rossner's "His Little Women." One house, however, did admit to dropping out of the auction for the Los Angeles-based novel at $1.2 million. "We're so ecstatic and thrilled and happy to be publishing her," Summit's spokeshuman said.

KREMLIN HOTLINE: One of the more unusual requests for a review copy that Houghton Mifflin has received recently came from Tass. The book the Soviet news agency was interested in seeing, pronto, was John Barron's "Breaking the Ring: The Bizarre Case of the Walker Family Spy Ring."

OUR MAN IN MANAGUA: Novelist Graham Greene recently journeyed to Managua to receive the Sandinista government's Ruben Dario Medal, named for Nicaragua's most famous poet. Greene, many of whose novels are set in Latin America, said in his acceptance speech, according to a Reuters wire service report: "I see Nicaragua not only as a small country fighting a bully in the north, I see you more, even more as being on the front line of trenches in a world-wide conflict. . . . I pray for your victory."

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