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A Discussion was held in the Senate-House. Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Leslie was presiding, with the Senior Proctor, Junior Proctor, the Registrary's deputy, and four other persons present.
The following Reports were discussed:
Report of the Council, dated 21 April 2008, on Phase 6 of the Stage III extension to the University Library (p. 651).
Professor G. R. EVANS:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, it is a pleasure to be able to stand up and applaud the care with which the planned extension of the University Library since 1993 is being carried through, step by step and with careful attention to the sourcing of the money. However, may I take the opportunity to flag up some concerns about developments which lie outside the direct control of the University but which are likely to affect the contents of the extended Library and the future of library provision in Cambridge, and beg for vigilance?
The Further and Higher Education Act 1992 s.65(2) requires the higher education funding councils to make funding available to higher education institutions to support 'the provision of education and the undertaking of research', which is to include 'facilities and activities' which are 'for the purpose of or in connection with' those purposes. Universities maintaining particularly important national research collections have received additional funding from HEFCE. I mentioned in a speech two weeks ago1 my concerns about the content of the Crewe Report which makes a number of worrying proposals affecting the future of this provision.
There is a further and even greater reason for concern. One of the consequences of the unification of the higher education 'sector' under the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 was the creation of 'JISC', the Joint Information Systems Committee, a body set up under guidance from the Secretary of State and initially intended to have a short life. JISC is still with us. Its 'programme' is now wide-ranging and involves activities inherently more invasive of university autonomy than the light touch assistance of the original concept, and affecting libraries.
With reference to forthcoming library needs in the newly unified higher education 'sector' the Joint Funding Council's Libraries Review Group: Report (The Follett Report) (1993)2 set out to make 'an assessment of likely changes over the next five to ten years'. It foresaw 'serious shortfalls in space and materials in many areas', and claimed that the 'emphasis is shifting towards information and information access'. With the hindsight of 2002 it was possible to see (and I quote the Cambridge University Libraries Bulletin) that:
A central premise of the report was the shift in emphasis in academic libraries, away from the idea that their essential role was the provision of physical holdings, and towards the concept of the library providing access to information, not necessarily from within its own collections.3
Another body created in the first instance to meet what was mistakenly envisaged as a short-term need for a committee with a finite 'watching brief' is the Research Information Network.4 This was set up in 2005 on the recommendation of the Final Report of the Research Support Libraries Group (2003), for an initial period of three years (now extended to 2011), and sponsored by the funding councils, the national libraries, and the research councils of the UK. It has been looking into the possibility of unifying research library collections in a single 'national collection':
There has been for many years discussion of ways to achieve greater collaboration between libraries - particularly academic libraries - in the management, development and storage of their collections. In recent years there has also arisen a greater interest in the concept of a national distributed collection of content and services as a key component part of the UK's infrastructure of services for the research community. Both these issues are highlighted in the RIN's Strategic Plan. The RIN is developing its role in the process of taking these issues forward.5
The 'driver' of schemes for collaborative storage, whether or not coupled with promises of universal access, has been the problem of shortage of storage space in individual academic libraries. Cambridge's latest planned library extension addresses this directly.
But RIN has suggested destruction in the first instance of multiple copies of 'low-use printed publications of which copies are currently held by several libraries across the UK', noting that 'initiatives such as JSTOR [an abbreviation of 'Journal Storage'] have in recent years led to increasing interest in the disposal of print copies of journals that are now available in electronic form'. RIN does not intend to stop there. 'There is clearly interest in the ways in which the approach set out in the report could be extended to monographs.'6
Optimising Storage and Access in UK Research Libraries: a study for CURL and the British Library (September 2005),7 was commissioned by the British Library and the Consortium of Research Libraries (CURL), rebranded on 18 April 2008 as Research Libraries UK,8 'to assess the options for optimising storage and access in UK research libraries'.9 For this purpose a firm of commercial consultants, CHEMS Consulting, was employed.10 The focus for the CHEMS study is on 'low-use serials', where a decision to remove a ten-year run of one journal can, it is claimed, with relatively little catalogue checking, release many metres of shelf space. The key recommendation of the report is the establishment of a scheme based on the holdings of the British Library, which would form the major part of what it was proposed should be called a National Research Reserve (NRR). 'At an event held on 13 December  at the British Library representatives of the academic library community expressed strong support for this proposal.' The key objectives of an NRR would, it is said, be threefold. They would include: 'to encourage de-duplication of low-use print materials, releasing space for other purposes, and/or avoiding the need for investment in the development of new storage facilities' such as the one Cambridge is about to build.11
A task force was then established by CURL, the British Library, and the RIN to develop the basic proposal under which the British Library would guarantee to preserve materials in the NRR in perpetuity and make them available to researchers either in hard copy or through secure electronic delivery. Other libraries would be encouraged to give to the NRR any materials they had which were not already held by the British Library, and to dispose of duplicates.
If you are saying to yourselves, members of the Regent House, that you own Cambridge's books and will not agree to this, you perhaps ought to be aware that it was hinted that funding for national research libraries might become conditional upon handing over the spares ('The realisation of these savings would be encouraged if funding bodies were to adopt a policy of limiting central funding of storage facilities in future library projects'). The stated aim was that fully developed proposals should be completed by May 2006.12
I wrote to the Director of RIN to ask what had become of these proposals. He was kind enough to reply a week ago, and has said that I may quote him today 'HEFCE agreed in the autumn of 2006 to provide funding for a feasibility study to test out the concept of a co-ordinated approach to securing the long term retention, storage, and access to low-use printed research collections. The project is being led by Imperial College.'13 On Imperial's website you may read of plans nationally to ensure 'the co-ordinated retention of an appropriate number of copies'. 'The space reclaimed from journal storage can be re-purposed for new opportunities and higher priority research, teaching and learning uses.' The Director of RIN comments: 'We see these as entirely complementary with the RIN's aims, and we are supporting the project, and its bid to secure further funding so that it can move to a fully national service.'
I offer you in conclusion one or two quotations from the business plan of SCONUL (Society of College, National and University Libraries)14 which evince the spirit of the age. (1.5.2) 'Part of the business case review for libraries includes a consideration of their potential role as a corporate information management resource.' (1.6.1) 'The ability to aggregate user behaviour has significant implications for the potential relevance and immediacy of resource discovery services based on click streams, data aggregation, personalization.'
So build the extension but may the Regent House be made aware in a Notice in reply of policy-plans with reference to the protection of its prospective contents and reassured that Cambridge will be depositing nothing in a national collection and shredding nothing as surplus without the Regent House's full knowledge and consent? I was amused to hear on Radio 4 news on Monday morning that two published collections of its postcards (ephemera surely) were likely to be a best-seller for the Bodleian Library. But they might easily have been shredded to save space.
Professor A. W. F. EDWARDS:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I had not intended to speak this afternoon but I had rather hoped that this somewhat skeletal Report might be fleshed out by somebody, perhaps from the Council, because it is a wonderful opportunity to explain how the Library has surmounted the difficulties of recent years and managed to complete or to plan to complete a building in the style of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott which, had he originally been asked to build such a big building, would probably have looked very much like the building we are now about to finish. I think it is an opportunity not to be missed to congratulate both the present Librarian Mr Peter Fox and his predecessor Dr Fred Ratcliffe for an astonishing series of additions to the original Gilbert Scott Library.
It happened that I was the Chairman of the Library Syndicate who had the pleasurable responsibility of introducing Mr Fox when he became Librarian in October 1994. One of my responsibilities was to draw his attention to the feasibility plan which Dr Ratcliffe and the Library Syndicate had produced following the advice of Mr Faulkner Brown, the architect, who had been originally employed in Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's office and was entirely familiar with the building and with the need expressed by the Library Syndicate to try and complete it in the style of Gilbert Scott and not in the style of the unloved 1971 UGC extension at the west of the Library. So I was able to show Mr Fox the pictures of the model of the completed building which we hoped might take place during his tenure, and I think it is to his enormous credit that we now have a Report which proposes the final building block to complete the surrounding of the 1971 UGC building by new building work in the style of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.
The feasibility report of 1993 was of course a product of the tenure of Dr Ratcliffe and he and the Library Syndicate at that time are also to be much congratulated (that was before my time as Chairman) on the study. Dr Ratcliffe was responsible not only for producing the feasibility study but also for the infill of the courts and for the construction of the Rotherham Building, which was the first external extension to the original Gilbert Scott building in the style of the original architecture. The complete surrounding of the 1971 building has been the responsibility of Mr Fox.
If we look at what our cousins in Oxford have to struggle with because they took the wrong decision in the 1920s and 1930s when we took the right decision to move the University Library from the Old Schools to a new site across the river, largely inspired by the leadership of Sir Hugh Kerr Anderson, the Master of Caius, then we owe a debt of gratitude to the people who promoted that extraordinary development at such a difficult time in the 1930s and equal gratitude to those who have been continuing the tradition.
It said in one of the Reports some time ago that when this stage is completed that will complete the building and it is unlikely that there will be any further extension to it. Perhaps the paperfall is about to stop, I don't know, but what is clear is that the responsibility of the Library and all Cambridge libraries turns more and more towards conservation of what we have, rather than increasing the size of the stock indefinitely.
I wonder if I might mount a hobby horse of mine at the moment over conservation, because my experience is that many things that require conserving are in the departmental libraries, particularly the departmental scientific libraries. I refer especially to the collections of off-prints which librarians (and no doubt HEFCE and other organizations that Professor Evans has referred to) regard as totally redundant because the information they contain is technically available elsewhere. These collections of off-prints in the Cambridge scientific libraries - and it is Genetics that I'm particularly familiar with but also formerly with the Statistical Laboratory Library - are a sort of palimpsest of the efforts of Cambridge scientists particularly in the last century which should be maintained in their present condition and under no circumstances disposed of. I do hope the Library Syndicate and the General Board's Committee on Libraries will turn some of their attention to the future of these wonderful collections of scientific off-prints.
Report of the General Board, dated 16 April 2008, on the re-establishment of a Professorship of Protein Crystallography (p. 707).
No remarks were made on this Report.
1 Reporter, 2007-08, p. 741
3 'The post-Follett Library', Cambridge University Libraries Information Bulletin (2002).
10 http://chemsconsulting.com/history.htm and http://chemsconsulting.com/index.htm
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Cambridge University Reporter 21 May 2008
Copyright © 2011 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.