Farewell to journals on the shelf

February 3, 2006

Flicking through the pages of a specialist journal in the university library may soon be a thing of the past for many academics, following a landmark agreement this week between librarians and the British Library.

Thousands of archive copies of niche academic journals will be disposed of by universities and a National Research Reserve created at the British Library instead.

It means that in future researchers will use electronic versions of the journals and request hard copies from the NRR housed in the British Library's buildings in London and Boston Spa.

The space-saving scheme has been agreed by the Consortium of University Research Libraries (Curl), a partnership of 25 libraries in the country's largest research universities.

Nationwide, shelf space is at a premium with almost 5,000 research journal titles in the average research library. By contrast, the British Library stores more than 700,000 titles.

Jan Wilkinson, head of higher education at the British Library, said: "The scheme is mainly aimed at those journals that are available in electronic format and of low use. We would agree to keep everything in perpetuity and either send electronic copies, scan hard copies or mail hard copies to libraries across the country."

Despite overall support for the NRR, some librarians have reservations.

Peter Fox, librarian at Cambridge University, said: "The obvious risk is one of fire or some other disaster, but we have another concern and that is the risk of a monopoly supplier. Who knows what constraints the British Library may find itself under in the future?"

Clare Jenkins, chairwoman of Curl, said: "The next stage is to pilot the scheme with a small number of universities."

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