The Royal Society of Edinburgh is pleased to respond to the British Library’s Strategic Review Consultation Paper. The RSE is Scotland’s premier learned society, comprising Fellows elected on the basis of their distinction, from the full range of academic disciplines, and from industry, commerce and the professions. This response has been compiled with the assistance of a number of Fellows who are experienced librarians with direct experience of the higher education sector. The specific issues identified in the consultation document are addressed below:

1. Services

a) The document delivery service and the final-copy home for research materials are the most important services to the higher education sectors, however the bibliographic record service underpins the entire world bibliographic network, and the reference services in St. Pancras are important in facilitating international scholarship and research. Mention should also be made of the science collections’ patient literature which is also of importance.

b) The effect of reduction or elimination of these services would be a need to construct, or use, alternative document delivery services, and a greater expenditure of current higher education sector resources on reference, bibliographic and patient materials. It would also involve greater expenditure of academic staff time and effort, and the investment of considerable additional funds in infrastructure costs.

c) There are now several alternative supply routes to the Document Supply Service and new developments in electronic storage, dissemination and transmission will intensify this competition. World publication output (both printed and electronic) will continue to increase, diminishing the proportion which any library can afford to acquire, and requiring unremitting investment in technological support. More readers will require access to more material as the proportion of the population engaged in further and higher education increases, life-long learning becomes a necessity for the job market and partnerships between business and the universities stimulate applied research. There will also be an urgent need for legal deposit of electronic information to safeguard current and future output.

d) In principal, the preference would be for access to the reading rooms to remain free to users from the academic sector. However if charges have to be introduced, the Society would argue for a differential rate between commercial and non-commercial users, and would suggest the option of up to 12 visits a year to be permitted free of charge to non-commercial users. Care would also need to be taken not to deter future benefactors from their support.

e) Charging for non-sponsored exhibitions would be a useful market testing force to establish if exhibitions had a value to the community. Charging for access to the catalogue, however, would be counter-productive. Another alternative would be to increase existing charges beyond the level of inflation, and for differential charging for material with a very short readership half-life (e.g. in science, technology, and medicine).

2. Collection

a) In principal it would be very desirable for the Library to remain as the repository of all UK legal deposit material.

b.i) A reduction in the level of collection would be acceptable only if material was to be kept by one of the other UK legal deposit libraries.

b.ii) comprehensive collecting would not be necessary for unaltered later editions of books, variant editions of newspapers, nor current equivalents of the grey literature of the past.

c) The Library has to collect electronic publications to fulfill its future role.

d) The Library’s prime responsibility is to collect the nation’s recorded history. Scholars also expect the Library to hold standard and representative works from across the world, especially as other UK libraries have had to curtail such collections in favour of UK material in heavier demand.

e) Priorities should be on the former British Colonies, the British Empire, and commonwealth, together with the new Europe. For each country, there should be representative coverage of general cultural, environmental, historical and social publications.

f) The preservation of the nation’s heritage should take first priority.

g) Material of great importance in the cultural heritage of mankind should be accorded a high priority, irrespective of origin. The British Library could look to the other legal deposit libraries to share some of the preservation burden of the UK material in order to allow a margin of flexibility for non-UK material. Options for digitisation will also influence policy.

3. Leadership, Partnership, Co-Operation

a) The British Library is rightly seen as representing librarianship in the UK, however the crucial determinant will be the wise use of resources. There are several functions listed which the Library and Information Commission might undertake, including the funding of research, cataloguing and preservation. The British Library will wish to collaborate with its peers and encourage shared acquisition, retrospective cataloguing, preservation and digitisation programmes. Within Scotland, the National Library is recognized as a benign catalyst for such co-operation, itself benefiting by being able to refine its own priorities in the process.

4. Wider public access

a) These activities have arisen naturally, some aiding the Library to function effectively, others as areas of educational involvement where the Library has a particular role to play. The Society does not see that any can be dropped in the Library is to uphold its reputation as a national institution.

5. General

a) The relative priority within each of the given pairs of activities is indicated below:

i Research 3.5 Wider access 1.5
ii Access 2 Document supply 3
iii Acquisition 3.5 Services 1.5
iv Preservation 3 Services 2
v Preservation 2 Acquisition 3
vi Acquisition 3 Access 2

b) If the Library is not successful in getting extra Grant-in-aid from Government, the Library could develop by increasing charges for services, in particular based on half-life for the loan of expensive serials and report literature and adjust acquisitions. In addition the Library would need to explain to the user community the logic behind the change, and continue to invest in effective collaborations.

Further information is available from the Research Officer, Dr Marc Rands


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