The Case for Longer CUNY Library Book Loans

CUNY’s library book loan lengths for grad students are shorter than those offered by any university, anywhere: 3 weeks for Master’s level students, coded “GRAD” in the CUNY+ catalog; 6 weeks for “DOC” students in PhD programs; and 6 weeks for CUNY faculty borrowing from outside their home CUNY campus.

Loan Periods (days)
by Borrower Code
CUNY 21 21 42 42-160
CUNY GC 21 21 42 42
MaRLI/NYPL 0 120 120 120
NYU 60 120 120 120
Columbia semester semester semester semester
SUNY 42 155 155 155
Fordham 28 semester semester semester

Representatives of the CUNY Doctoral Students’ Council, the CUNY Graduate Council Library Committee, and the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies have asked CUNY libraries, through my office, to lengthen loan periods. Graduate and faculty work often requires texts to be consulted for months at a time, they argue. Short loan periods and the frequent renewals they generate are hampered by CUNY’s uneven pattern of email library notices. This game of frequent renewal requirements, coupled with the uncertainty about whether a lending CUNY library will send a renewal notice or not, leads to missed renewals and to needless overdue fines. For our humble borrowers, this amounts to a game of library loan entrapment.

The CUNY Graduate Council Library Committee requests that CUNY libraries lengthen the loan periods CUNY-wide for master’s, Ph.D., and faculty borrowers to 120 days, with titles subject to recall by other borrowers or for course reserve. The Library Committee requests uniform CUNY-wide use of email recall notices, with overdue recall penalties of $1/day for all users, as an effective means to engage CUNY borrowers with their responsibilities to share in-demand resources.

CUNY library renewal policies vary from the 12 renewals allowed by the Graduate School of Journalism, to the zero renewal opportunities offered grad students by New York City Tech. (In June the Grad Center extended unlimited renewals to GC Master’s students, doctoral students, and to all CUNY faculty.) While renewal policies and home institution faculty borrowing policies can be determined locally, the lending rules associated with student borrowers and non-local CUNY faculty must be applied CUNY-wide. CUNY Libraries must act together to change any loan lengths for GRADs, DOCs, and for CUNY faculty affiliated with other campuses, in other words. The Graduate Center Library cannot act alone to extend loan periods. CUNY libraries together must agree to meaningfully support CUNY’s research mission.

CUNY faculty loans vary from the 6 weeks most CUNY libraries offer their non-local CUNY faculty to 120 days offered by Brooklyn College Library to Brooklyn College faculty only. Undergraduate work does not as frequently require longer loans, but other universities offer more generous loans to undergrads than CUNY does. But it is the master’s and Ph.D. students and CUNY faculty whose loan periods are most out of line with researcher needs and with the practices of peer institutions.

The loan-to-renewal ratio is markedly skewed. Grad Center books, those most frequently borrowed by CUNY grad and doc students, are renewed more than they are loaned. The ratios of renewals to loans indicate that books belonging to CUNY undergraduate collections are renewed 2 to 5 times less frequently. Graduates and doctoral students use books for longer periods of time. CUNY libraries should accommodate the longer term use of books by CUNY graduate and faculty researchers by extending their initial loan periods.

FY 12 CUNY circulation by library Approx # of circulating print items  # of loans # of renewals # of CLICS requests sent from collection % loans of print  items available Approx ratio of renewals to loans % of loans sent from collection via CLICS 
Baruch 347382 36844 19769 4515 11% 1:2 12%
Brooklyn 565910 53721 27578 4873 9% 1:2 9%
BMCC 126294 30549 10164 2800 24% 1:3 9%
Bronx CC 69778 7472 1785 1134 11% 1:4 15%
City 656267 29742 12708 3478 5% 1:2 12%
Grad Ctr 196141 40636 44261 2291 21% 1:1 6%
Hostos 51481 11194 2638 1551 22% 1:4 14%
Hunter 464302 60666 27750 5833 13% 1:2 10%
John Jay 180875 21855 7523 2148 12% 1:3 10%
Kingsboro 154951 20671 7643 2833 13% 2:5 14%
Lehman 290329 21901 9339 2563 8% 2:5 12%
LaGuardia 90719 24290 4995 2316 15% 1:5 10%
Medgar 130133 10850 1938 1712 8% 1:5 16%
NYCT 156763 18088 5949 1931 12% 1:3 11%
Queensboro 103134 14174 3487 1639 14% 1:4 12%
Queens 502800 50742 18407 5443 10% 1:3 11%
Staten Isl 179795 21366 6095 2820 12% 1:3 13%
York 136025 11688 3236 2071 9% 1:4 18%

Sources: CUNY Libraries Statistics – ALS FY 2012Copy of circstat711612.xlsxJuly 2012 item count.xlsx, and CLICS FY12

Some highlights from the table above:

  • Overall, BMCC, Hostos, and Grad Center collections are most heavily used with 21 – 24% of the available print items circulating;
  • CLICS is a significant but not excessive driver of CUNY book circulation, 18% of York College and 6% of Graduate Center loans are CLICS-initiated;
  • Notably, 33% of CLICS requests for pick-up at the GC originate from non-GC borrowers (see previous post).

Of course, most GC-affiliated students and faculty are also affiliated with another CUNY campus: 61% of CUNY Ph.D. students are affiliated with the GC and another CUNY campus; 92% of CUNY doctoral faculty have dual CUNY affiliations (see previous post). Clearly, extending CUNY-wide loan periods for graduate students would benefit many at non-GC campuses as well.

CUNY hires about 27,000 full-time and part-time faculty each year. About 33,000 graduate students, pursuing both master’s and doctoral degrees attend CUNY. Graduate students are generally responsible for the same course work as PhD students,  about 4500 in number. Graduate students and doctoral students together comprise only 13% of total CUNY student enrollment, about 272,000.  Faculty constitute 9% or less of the total potential CUNY library user base. Because many graduate students have dual appointments as adjunct faculty, this 9% faculty figure is certainly even lower.

Extending CUNY-wide loan periods for faculty and graduate students would remedy a significant obstacle we currently present to advanced scholars. Extending faculty and graduate loan periods would only meet (not surpass) current nation-wide standards for supporting graduate and faculty research. More generous loan policies would benefit students and faculty on every CUNY campus. Book recall practices, expanded e-book availability, CLICS, and interlibrary loan services mitigate any temporary absences of particular book titles in any single CUNY library collection. Library collaborations have evolved to offer high-level delivery services for both high-and low-demand titles proving that libraries are stronger in collaboration than they can ever be in isolation, serving an isolated set of CUNY borrowers. CUNY libraries would remove an obstacle to graduate and faculty research, with negligible impact on library service to undergraduates, by extending loan periods to grads and faculty.


About the Author

Prof. Polly Thistlethwaite is CUNY's Interim University Dean for Library Services.