The change becomes effective March 1, at which time the College of University Libraries will no longer be responsible for a $7 million debt owed by the UNM Press to the university, said Richard Clement, dean of the College of University Libraries and Learning Sciences. Exactly how the university disposes of the debt has not been determined.
As part of that reorganization, the UNM Press distribution operation will be outsourced to a third party and the south campus warehouse will be vacated. No change in operation was expected at the main campus’ editorial offices of the UNM Press, Clement said.
Much of the new arrangement was spelled out in a Feb. 2 memorandum of understanding among the UNM Office of the Provost, the UNM College of University Libraries and Learning Sciences, and the UNM Press.
“With this MOU, the debt has been removed from the press, so we get a new beginning, in a way, and can start fresh and save money,” Clement said.
“We’re putting the press on track to, if not be profitable, at least to not incur debt. And we’re getting out of the warehouse business, which is a fixed cost. With a distribution service, it’s a variable cost, so if we sell fewer books, the costs go down.”
The UNM Press warehouse employs five people.
“We hope these individuals will stay with the warehouse until the end of the transition, which could take four to nine months, and they are eligible for continued university employment,” said Melissa Vargas, director of operations for academic affairs.
Five book distribution companies responded to UNM’s request for proposals. Negotiations are now underway with the finalist, she said.
Given university budget deficits of recent years and the inability of the UNM Press to “keep a balanced account,” said Richard Wood, interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, “UNM Press was at risk of closure.”
The outstanding $7 million press debt, accumulated over the last decade or more, “will have to be covered by internal UNM funds,” Wood said. “We’ll have to absorb it into the budget somehow.”
The reorganization combined with the shifting of debt “will keep the press open into the foreseeable future and on a sustainable basis,” he said, adding that “academic publishing is losing money these days, but it still plays a crucial role in supporting American society.”
Clement said he initially thought the vacated 21,000-square-foot, two-story UNM Press warehouse might be used to store books from UNM’s four libraries, which combined have more than 3 million volumes and no room for more.
Instead, the university will gut and remodel a 13,000-square-foot office building in the south campus’ Science and Technology Park and fit it with a moveable, high-density shelving system, said Tom Neale, director of UNM’s real estate department.
The warehouse, which currently holds about a million volumes from UNM Press and other organizations for whom it distributes, is being looked at as a possible future location for the Albuquerque Institute of Math and Science, Neale said. The state charter school now operates out of UNM-owned buildings in the south campus.