The University of Ottawa's library is moving to cancel subscriptions to thousands of academic journals to make up for a budget shortfall, but the academic community has started an online petition calling on the school to rethink the plan.

Administrators blame a weak Canadian dollar, a two-per-cent budget cut across the board at the university for the 2016-17 year and a failure to index the budget against inflation, which is estimated at six per cent per year on scholarly materials.

The library will reduce spending on subscriptions to thousands of online and print journals and databases to make up $1,527,000 of the shortfall, and will reduce book purchases by $400,000.

Jules Blais, a professor of biology and environmental toxicology, launched an online petition calling on the university's senate and board of governors to "protect these critically important library resources for the benefit of its students and research staff, its undergraduate and graduate programs, and its national and international reputation."

Jules Blais

Professor Jules Blais started an online petition calling on the university to rethink the cuts. (Stu Mills/CBC)

'People don't realize what they're about to lose'

"I think that people don't realize what they're about to lose. They're about to lose a high-quality library," said Blais.

"And I felt it was very important for people to think about what they were doing before they made these irreversible cuts." 

The petition had garnered just more than 1,800 signatures as of Friday morning. Blais plans to bring it to Monday's board of governors meeting.

"All the researchers that I've spoken to are very upset about this. They all see that this is going to affect their work on a day-to-day basis," said Blais, who also worried about how cuts to library holdings would affect recruitment and enrolment.


'The academic reputation of the university is very important,' said PhD student Omar Al-Buraiki, who worries the cuts will have a negative impact. (Stu Mills/CBC)

'Will affect our ability to support research'

In notes written by university librarian Leslie Weir and published as a collections cost reduction strategy briefing, the University of Ottawa's library collection ranked fifth in expenditures in Canada in 2014-15.

Weir writes that the effect of cutting 4,584 journal subscriptions will likely cause the library ranking to fall to eighth place.

The decision "will affect our ability to support research and teaching and may provoke media attention," she observed.

Blais, whose recent research has turned up high arsenic levels in several lakes within 15 km of the former Giant Mine in Yellowknife, said he would lose access to key research in environmental pollution.

"... [I would lose] things that I use on a regular basis and I'm just one of 45,000 researchers at the University of Ottawa. So when you add it up, it's a devastating blow for research," he said.

Most cancellations take effect in January

Omar Al-Buraiki, who came to Canada from Yemen two years ago to begin a PhD in electrical engineering, said access to the journals is important.

"Without them, we cannot move forward," he said, adding that he worries about the value of the PhD he is earning if the university's reputation suffers due to the cuts.

"The academic reputation of the university is very important," he said. "It's so surprising to hear there is a Canadian University like Ottawa U that is targeting to destroy their research capabilities."

​Most of the cancellations will come into effect on Jan. 1, 2017.