Shelf delusion

September 6, 2012

Sarah E. Thomas, Bodley's librarian, understandably mounts a defence of a great library in "Brickbats don't stack up" (Letters, 30 August), her reply to my letter of 23 August ("Shelf harm"). However, she is in denial regarding the concerns raised by a large number of readers, including nearly 80 members of the University of Oxford's congregation who have signed a resolution calling for a consultation over changes to the Bodleian, and 116 assorted readers who signed a petition on the issue published in Oxford Magazine.

When I wrote to The Times in late May warning of trouble ahead at the Bodleian, a similar letter of denial was published. But what I prophesied has in fact happened - even my aside about burgers in the Bodleian has been found justified, despite the denials. Management has now had to take action about eating in the libraries.

The "mistrust" Thomas mentions seems justified. Management emails disclosed through a Freedom of Information request reveal attempts to prevent a "leak" into "the wider university" and the press for fear of "political fallout". The university council has published the admission that "clearly, the question and other letters from members of the University community to the Curators show that more and different forms of communication are required". It has undertaken "to develop a communications plan that will provide effective and timely information on library policy development and strategic direction". In Oxford, "better communication" means frank discussion and acceptance that the academic community has the final say.

Taking widespread concerns as attacks is not "working together". The meetings Thomas mentions took place only because of the resolution and there are few signs that the "better understanding" now claimed will restore the deeply damaged library.

As to whether "Shelf harm" was "misleading", should anyone wish to see the evidence on which it was based, I am happy to provide it on request.

G.R. Evans, Oxford

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