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No 6433

Wednesday 13 July 2016

Vol cxlvi No 38

pp. 748–791

Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

A Discussion was held in the Senate-House. Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Duncan Maskell was presiding, with the Registrary’s deputy, the Senior Pro-Proctor, the Junior Pro-Proctor, and five other persons present.

The following Reports were discussed:

Report of the General Board, dated 1 June 2016, on Senior Academic Promotions (Reporter, 6429, 2015–16, p. 628).

No remarks were made on this Report.

Report of the Council, dated 13 June 2016, on a University Statement on Freedom of Speech and the Code of Practice issued under section 43 of the Education (No 2) Act 1986 (Reporter, 6430, 2015–16, p. 640).

Professor G. R. Evans (Emeritus Professor of Medieval Theology and Intellectual History), read by the Junior Pro- Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, ‘by Grace 9 of 10 June 1987 the Regent House approved the current Code of Practice to meet the requirements of section 43 of the Education (No 2) Act 1986.’ Nearly thirty years on it is about to revise it at last, though s.43 (3) required the University to keep this Code of Practice up to date. I remember I called for it to be revised in a speech in March 2011 without effect.1 Perhaps there will not be such a long wait for updatings in future.

In the wording of the documents we are discussing there is an interesting proposed extension of the other scrap of existing legislation protecting academic freedom of speech. This is in Education Reform Act 1988 s.202 and it was designed, under pressure from speeches in both Houses of Parliament, to protect academic staff from dismissal for ‘management’ reasons when old-fashioned tenure was removed by that Act. The protection has never applied to academic staff in institutions which were not universities at that date. Nor has it applied to university staff in general or to students.

The provision of ERA s.202 (2) (a) seeks to:

‘ensure that academic staff have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges they may have at their institutions’.

Now we read that Cambridge:

‘fosters an environment in which all of its staff and students can participate fully in University life, and feel able to question and test received wisdom, and to express new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without fear of disrespect or discrimination’,

and that:

‘The University will ensure that staff have such freedom within the law and within the University’s own provisions without placing themselves at risk of losing their job or any University privileges they have.’

I merely note these selective borrowings from the s.202 wording for interest. Historians will in future record what protection they afford to students and staff.

First-stage Report of the Council, dated 13 June 2016, on the construction of a new building for the Department of Engineering in West Cambridge (Reporter, 6430, 2015–16, p. 643).

Dr S. D. Guest (Department of Engineering):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak today as Head of the Civil Engineering Division within the Department of Engineering. We are in a fortunate position that the UK government has committed funding to capital investment in infrastructure research at a time when the Department of Engineering is seeking to reintegrate on the West Cambridge site. The proposed building described in this Report will provide the new facilities to allow the University to take a full role in the UK Collaboratorium for Research in Infrastructure and Cities, while also replacing inadequate and ageing facilities on Engineering’s Trumpington Street site. The proposed building is being designed to initially operate as a stand-alone facility, but to then in due course form an integral part of the new Department of Engineering; it forms an essential element of the developing Inset Masterplan for Engineering on the West Cambridge site.

The Department of Engineering is a hugely successful part of the University, and I fully support the proposal that the Capital Fund provides match funding to ensure that the Department has the facilities to continue this success. The Report has my full support.

First-stage Report of the Council, dated 22 June 2016, on the construction of an off-site storage facility for low-use library material (Reporter, 6431, 2015–16, p. 696).

Mrs A. Jarvis (University Librarian), read by the Senior Pro-Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the University Library’s mission is to enhance the student experience and the academic research life cycle through its expertise, collections, facilities, and services and it remains committed to acquiring, curating, and preserving the University’s world renowned collections. Whilst the Library continues to invest in digital resources and services, access to those print collections which directly support teaching, learning, and research is highly valued and remains critical for many academic staff and students.

An off-site storage facility (OSF) for the University’s unique but low-use printed collections is a key component in the Library’s ability to deliver on its mission and strategic priorities.

Data collected as part of the feasibility study for the University’s Capital Projects Process revealed that there are currently 98km of printed materials held across the University’s libraries which are low-use and not required for immediate, regular access by students and academic staff. This is anticipated to rise, albeit at a much lower rate, to 106km of printed material by 2030. Although these materials have been acknowledged as low-use, the academic community has indicated a preference that at least one copy of unique printed library holdings is retained by the University and managed by the University Library. The study investigated alternatives to permanent off-site storage, namely large-scale digitization and disposal of printed collections, but neither was a viable or appropriate solution.

The anticipated decline in print publications has to date not had a significant impact and space constraints are already apparent. The main University Library shelves are full, as are many of the affiliated libraries. In putting forward the case for an off-site storage facility the University Library, together with Estate Management, undertook a detailed property options appraisal and considered five different options: a new build on the University’s estate; a new build on a commercial estate; refurbishment of an existing commercial facility; an extension to the main University Library; and an existing facility within the University’s estate. This appraisal clearly identified that a purpose-built OSF on a commercial site close to Cambridge would offer the most cost-effective solution for the long-term storage of these materials.

As part of its ongoing collection management strategy, the University Library will take overall responsibility for preparing and migrating unique, low-use printed materials to the OSF. All collections identified will undergo a de-duplication exercise to ensure that only unique, low-use printed materials will be stored at the OSF. This proposed strategy was endorsed by the Library Syndicate at its meeting in October 2014 as part of its consideration of the Library’s proposed Disposal and Retention Policy.

Any material stored at the OSF will be retrievable for academic use through the discovery layer of the new Library Management System by Cambridge staff, students, and external library users. The identification and processing of material being considered for incorporation into the OSF will lead to improved discovery of unique material throughout the University. It is envisaged that the service would operate on a daily retrieval schedule and that materials held at the OSF, but subsequently identified as high-use, would be relocated to a central Cambridge site to ensure that the academic need is met.

The design and operational planning of the OSF together represent a cost-effective response to a clear need. The OSF at Ely will represent an internationally tested storage solution that many major research libraries have already successfully implemented. It will facilitate ongoing world-class research and safeguard the University’s valuable assets in appropriate archival conditions in a strategic and cost-effective way.

Professor G. R. Evans (Emeritus Professor of Medieval Theology and Intellectual History), read by the Senior Pro-Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the Report before us merely says that capacity in the city may be ‘exhausted in the foreseeable future’, so it is difficult to judge the urgency of the construction of an ‘off-site storage facility for low-use library material’. If this has really been under discussion for as long as this Report says, surely the Regent House ought to have been consulted before now? This is hardly a ‘First-stage Report’. If the Recommendations are approved it seems likely to be the last. So I speak now just to suggest some grounds for caution before the Regent House gives – in that low-awareness summer period – that dangerous ‘approval in principle’ while handing over the unconditional authority to apply for detailed planning permission to the Director of Estate Strategy.

What sounds like a practical solution to a practical problem may have unforeseen academic consequences. Oxford’s decade of painful experience over creating its own off-site storage offers several warnings. Oxford of course does not have the convenience of having its University Library handy to the Colleges on an extensive site. However, it did have a great many levels of underground stacks beneath the New Bodleian Library, which shares its 1930s architect Giles Gilbert Scott with the CUL. There were stored 3.5 million volumes, just across the road from the Old Library.1

In 2005 the stacks badly needed attention. They had begun to leak. The National Archives sent the University a strong letter in June 2005, warning that the future of the Bodleian as an Approved Repository for housing archival collections of national significance was in doubt. The letter referred to an earlier warning in 1999 and gave conditional approval for three more years. That was not the beginning of Oxford’s attempts to plan for off-site storage but it certainly added urgency.

The National Archives, concerned only with the archives, said, ‘we applaud the strategy of seeking to move printed material which is little used or less significant to outstorage in order to create more space for unique archival and important printed material’. There followed a period of controversy over the location of a ‘Depository’. In November 2005, a Congregation Resolution demanded that Congregation be kept better informed before approving the allocation of a site for the development of ‘an automated depository for Oxford University Library Services’.2 There was a promise, never systematically fulfilled, of ‘further reports to Congregation as later stages of the libraries’ estates strategy are planned in detail’.

In September 2008 the University lost its appeal against refusal of planning consent for the proposed Osney Mead Depository.3 There followed a review of other options further away. The Swindon solution was eventually adopted, and the Book Storage Facility there was completed in 2010.4 The delivery of books in vans down the M4 and the A420 has been efficient since.

Reshelving them when sent back to Swindon seems less efficient. As an article in The Oxford Student complained in June 2015,

‘it takes anything from a week to ten days for books, after being ordered, to find their way back onto the shelves – meaning that they are unavailable during this period. This may be sustainable at this level, but if – with continued cuts, and increasing reliance on off-site book storage – the backlog carries on growing, many Bodleian books will simply be unavailable when readers want them.’ 5

‘Material held at the off-site storage facility will be made available to staff and students via a regular retrieval service,’ says the present Report about the Cambridge plans. I would like more assurance about that. Famously, it used to be quicker to drive from Oxford to Cambridge to borrow a book, go back to Oxford to read it, then return it to Cambridge, than to wait for Oxford’s copy to be fetched to a reading room. It would be a pity if that story began to be told in reverse.

Nevertheless, this might seem a reasonably satisfactory ending to the Oxford story of the construction of off-site storage. But it turned out that that policy-strand was only one of many being plaited together. The move to off-site storage was, it turned out, coupled with a scheme to reduce the number of libraries and the proportion of holdings actually held in the city. A consequence was much moving of collections, with limited sensitivity to academic needs. Could that happen in Cambridge too? Dipping into the annual Library Reports each year, one is bound to wonder.

The improvement of the storage conditions in the underground stacks insisted on by the National Archives was coupled with a scheme to ‘remodel’ the New Bodleian Library. The re-building has reduced the number of levels of the subterranean stacks to three6 and sacrificed reading rooms and reading space in favour of opening up the ground floor to the general public and, as it has turned out, the problems caused by mass tourism on an ever-growing scale.7

This shrinkage of city centre book storage and library space was intended to be compensated for by the building of a proposed new Humanities Library on land on the Radcliffe Infirmary site which the University acquired in 2006–7.8 That plan promised ‘open-stack access to high-use items’, but it was planned to close ‘up to 15 separate libraries and related collections’ to stock the new library, together with ‘stock from the main Bodleian’.9 Consultation about what and where was vestigial.

However, funding was not forthcoming for the Humanities Library and the plan was shelved, with a considerable tract of the available land being taken by the Blavatnik School of Government, for which funding was available and whose building was opened by Prince William in May 2016. The New Bodleian, renamed the Weston Library after its chief benefactor, was fully opened with a spectacular entrance for the general public in 2015, with only one single and one double reading room for Readers, reached by a rear entrance. Reading room space in central Oxford has shrunk.

It is rumoured that there are hopes of resurrecting the scheme to build a new Humanities Library but clearly that cannot be completed for some years if it happens at all. Meanwhile, the planned closing and merging of Faculty libraries was not shelved. It prompted peak indignation when The Oxford Student published an article in Hilary Term 2012 announcing the plan to move the History Faculty Library into the Radcliffe Camera, and hand over the space to the Oxford Martin School, which had offered the Bodleian Libraries £1 million to hand it over. The Libraries management realized that it would be hugely controversial. FOI requests revealed management correspondence planning to keep the scheme under wraps as long as possible. Protest was indeed vociferous but this time Congregation was never asked for its consent as Statute XVI, A, 4 seemed to require.

In a few months of spring and summer 2012, the established collections in the Radcliffe Camera were decanted hastily into the Old Bodleian Library and much of the existing research collection in the Old Library rather abruptly removed to Swindon, again with almost no consultation. The consequent disruption of the research collections has still not been tidied up, though the Classicists fought successfully to retrieve a good deal of their material. Most humanities journals and serials were taken off the open shelves and moved to Swindon. The ‘Comments Book’ still shows frequent complaints that it is not possible to browse a journal unless one can work through a run of paper copies and make serendipitous discoveries.

A scheme to close the Oriental Institute Library and move its contents into the Sackler Library and Swindon came belatedly to light in 2015, but was thwarted by energetic student and academic resistance. The student newspapers were angry again. The Oxford Student was criticizing the damaging effects for students of the continuation of the policy of library closure in 2015. It pointed to ‘wider restructuring of the University’s Humanities libraries’:

‘What future centralisations, rationalisations and downsizings the University management may have in mind have not been disclosed.’ 10

It added that ‘the remaining faculty libraries…are under considerable pressure from overcrowding’.11

This sort of thing could not happen in Cambridge, you may be thinking. I just want to sow the seed of a concern about the lack of definition and open discussion of the proposal in this Report to house off-site ‘unique but low-use print materials which do not need to be available for immediate access on-site’. The Bodleian Libraries have spoken with satisfaction of the removal to Swindon of ‘lower-usage items from the Libraries’ collections’.12

It is this concept of ‘low-use’ or ‘low-usage’ that alarms. Who decides and on what principles? There was a period when without warning or consultation, Oxford’s libraries’ history and theology holdings published, if I remember correctly, before 1900, were removed to Deep Store, the old salt mines in Cheshire, with only one or two vans a week to bring them back when requested. I remember the surprise of the librarians who had not been consulted about the level of demand, and were suddenly confronted with furious Readers demanding an explanation, some from overseas with only a few days in Oxford to read what they needed. ‘Fewer sites and low-cost, high-density, offsite storage’13 sounds like smart management thinking. But what is proposed in the Report before us surely needs much fuller opportunity for academic and student input than it has yet received before that permission is given to carry on without further recourse to the Regent House.