A rush to liberate space for e-learning suites is blamed for disposal of printed material. Rebecca Attwood reports. Universities dispose of more than 1.8 million books and journals a year, according to official figures.
Statistics obtained by The Times Higher show that 36 institutions got rid of more books and printed volumes than they acquired. In 2005-06, ten universities disposed of more than 40,000 items. Dundee University disposed of 100,035 items and acquired 18,067 hard-copy texts in the year. Bangor University withdrew 55,500 items from reader use, Ulster University withdrew 50,493, and Imperial College London 48,911, according to figures from the Society of College, National, and University Libraries (Sconul).
With an increase in the use of online resources and with students demanding virtual learning environments and more study space, the number of books removed from university libraries is on the increase. In 1997, the average number was just over 7,000 per institute, compared with 13,600 in 2006.
Toby Bainton, secretary of Sconul, said researchers regarded printed resources as less useful than electronic ones. "The average number of e- books available per library has risen by more than 60 per cent since last year and more than half of serials acquired are now in electronic form," he said.
But others are not convinced. "These national figures look alarming," said Peter Baumann, a senior lecturer in philosophy at Aberdeen University. "They suggest that a lot of items are being thrown away for lack of space. Libraries should not have to dispose of items for that reason."
As reported last week, academics at Exeter University reacted furiously to the disposal of 12,000 books in the past year. "Why not just burn down the library," said one Exeter academic.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "Very often what people want from the library is real people and real books. Of course e-learning is very important, but a rush to embrace new technology has not always worked out the way people hoped it might."
Overall, the figures submitted by higher education institutions show that acquisitions outstrip the number of items defined by Sconul as being "sold, destroyed, given away or written off". Some 2.8 million printed volumes were added to libraries in 2005-06.
Nick Smith, director of Aston University's library and information services, which had disposed of 41,380 items, said that, with more visits to their library and the growing popularity of virtual learning environments, their disposal policy enabled them "to increase the amount of study space and the number of much-needed PCs and laptop facilities".
Deborah Shorley, director of library services at Imperial College, said the university withdrew items that were no longer relevant. "Superseded editions, infrequently used books and books in poor physical condition are also removed from stock," she said.
Dundee queried the figures, saying it discarded 59,000 books between March 2005 and December 2006 because a library on a satellite campus was closed.