Scholarship out of reach

October 27, 2011

For the past two years I have been writing a history of Georgia. The task has been made much harder by the removal from the School of Oriental and African Studies Library to totally inaccessible storage of virtually all the books on the Caucasus and many periodicals, especially those that are no longer current.

Initially it was announced that the materials would become available again last April; it is now October and nobody in the library has any idea when, or even if, this material will become retrievable again, even if still off-site.

At enormous expense in time and money, I have had to travel to Italy and Germany, order photocopies from Tbilisi via DHL and take out interlibrary loan copies from Harvard and Saarland universities to get some of the sources I require. Even so, many items are unique to Soas (some of them procured by me for the library during trips to Georgia in the 1990s), and the damage being done not just to my work but to other scholars' research as a result of their inaccessibility is immeasurable.

Hitherto it was inconceivable that a major publicly funded university would put out of reach of scholarship for an indeterminate period such a substantial number of items virtually unobtainable elsewhere. This contradicts the remit of any reputable university library. I gather that the decision to make the material unavailable for an indefinite period was taken not by library staff but by administrators.

I have begged Soas' management to take urgent steps to remedy the situation. They have not even given me the courtesy of a reply, which is why I am making the matter public.

If the newly refurbished Soas Library can no longer accommodate what has been put into storage, at least items could be stored in such a way that books and periodicals could be ordered, albeit at a week's notice, for borrowers and readers.

Donald Rayfield, Emeritus professor of Russian and Georgian, Queen Mary, University of London

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