Senate House Library and the future 1

June 4, 2009

The letter last week from John Sabapathy ("Senate House Library in peril", 28 May) has drawn attention to the damaging direction taken by the library policy of the University of London. The university has in effect decided to run down Senate House Library and its associated research institute libraries.

The vice-chancellor's option (now agreed) proposes a cut in staff for the entire University of London Research Library Services (Senate House Library and the institute libraries) from a present 92.5 to 53, on top of a reduction from 125 in 2006, along with the gradual elimination of subject-specialist librarians.

But there is worse. The proposal claims to lead to a reduction of library space from 11,114 sq m in Senate House to 8,951, a reduction of about a fifth. The table setting out the figures does not mention that three institute libraries are being moved from separate accommodation into Senate House. So the proper figure is a reduction of about two fifths.

A related proposal of the vice-chancellor is to cut the amount of material on open access. The claim is that the future of the library facilities involved will be secured by a substantial shift from print to electronic resources. There is no analysis of the relative cost of the two approaches, despite the notoriously high cost of many electronic resources. But the libraries of the various institutes are great international centres of humanities research, and there is no question that such work still depends, and will continue to depend for the foreseeable future, on direct and browsable access to large quantities of material in print.

Indeed, as recently as June 2007, the vice-chancellor in The TLS attempted to meet criticism of University of London library policy by claiming that University of London Research Library Services delivered "key academic benefits that the British Library cannot, including miles of open-access classified book stock ... ". That claim looks rather hollow now.

Michael H. Crawford, London and Anthony Grafton, Princeton.

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