Change freezes library research

November 19, 1999

University librarians fear that research in their field is under threat as a result of a big shake-up of official bodies charged with keeping an overview of the sector.

The concerns stem from the decision late last year by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to absorb the Libraries and Information Commission and the Museums and Galleries Commission into the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. The LIC will be wound up by April, and the new body will take over its responsibility for funding library and information science research.

Academics are alarmed that the department has frozen a clutch of research projects only recently given the go-ahead by the LIC. In a letter to culture secretary Chris Smith, Ian Johnson, chairman of the British Association for Information and Library Education and Research, said "considerable difficulties and disquiet" had been caused by the move.

Professor Johnson added that the action has caused "uncertainty and anxiety", affecting planning and management of academic staff and efforts by universities to keep top research staff.

Mr Smith has ordered a review of the MLAC's potential research strategy. But Professor Johnson warned that academics "do not believe the review is a valid reason for delaying research when the proposals have been through the LIC's rigorous refereeing procedures successfully".

The 15 delayed projects include a Pounds 25,000 initiative from Brighton University, which wants to investigate the impact of local government reorganisation on public libraries.

Another, proposed by Charles Oppenheim, head of information science at the University of Loughborough, aims to develop a tool by which firms can measure how effectively they use information.

Professor Oppenheim said: "Many academic departments spent considerable time and effort preparing and submitting the proposals. They are angered and upset by what has occurred. The decision sends a message to researchers in the library and information science community that the field is not worth spending money on."

Five other projects with a total value of Pounds 94,000 were given the go-ahead. Margaret Haines, chief executive, said this was because they would all be complete by the time the MLAC is officially launched and so avoid being part of the new body's financial cycle.

Ms Haines said the LIC is "confident" that its successor body will recognise the strength of the research proposals and allow them to go ahead. She conceded that it was "theoretically possible" that the MLAC could cancel the projects if it decided they did not fit in with its strategy for the sector.

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