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Online Library Funding Threatened

March 11, 2002

The Tennessee Electronic Library (TEL), which gives Tennesseans free online access to thousands of documents, may be the latest victim of state budget cuts if a measure to fund the system is not passed.

Deborah Fetch, director of library and media services at Austin Peay's Woodward Library, says, "This is devastating. TEL provides access to electronic information not only for our students and faculty, but also for every Tennessean. With just the swipe of a card at a local library, they get information that is current, accurate, high-quality and free. It is exactly the type of service we need to educate Tennesseans, and doing away with it will put our citizens at a huge disadvantage."

TEL allows school children to write reports, business executives to analyze marketing research and consumers to find reliable health information, Fetch adds. It also allows investors to access financial information and college students to complete coursework.

According to Fetch, Austin Peay students use four major databases through TEL, including Business and Company and Health and Wellness. "But Expanded Academic is really the most popular. It is a collection of thousands of articles from scholarly journals and periodicals, and I don't think there's a student that goes to Austin Peay who hasn't used it.

Informe!, the only Spanish language database we have, also is valuable in serving the needs of our Hispanic students and those studying the language," she says.

"On average, these databases are accessed 50,000 times per year. They are crucial for coursework and research, and this library cannot operate without them."

The electronic library could be purchased, but at significant cost. "The price to purchase TEL directly is approximately $35,000," Fetch says. "If all libraries in Tennessee were to individually purchase the databases, the cost would be $39 million.

Fetch says the threat is particularly irksome considering cuts the library has already made. "We're already in the midst of journal and book cancellations to balance our own budget, and I don't know where we'll find the money to buy TEL if it isn't funded.

"This is not something that can be done away with. Somehow, we'll have to come up with a way; it's too important not to," says Fetch.