Letter: Shelf service

July 20, 2001

David Wells praises the British Library's achievements during the past 250 years, but fails to appreciate that we have not bought foreign language material comprehensively for almost 100 years (Soapbox, THES , July 13).

The volume of British publications has continued to rise and demands increasing resources to store and make available. This pressure is exacerbated by the need to acquire ever-more electronic material.

Faced with this, the library cannot, as advocated by Wells, pursue unfunded 19th-century ideals that would result only in our being less able to fulfil our core function.

Our historic collections need to be supported by recent publications in many languages and we have no intention of undermining them. But it is appropriate to ask questions about the best location in which to build infrequently used collections and we have begun discussions with a number of organisations.

Access to the library is open to all, but is impeded if material is not catalogued. Our proposals ( www.bl.uk ) link budgets for acquisition with those for cataloguing to make books available as soon as possible.

Lynne Brindley
Chief executive
British Library

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