UNIVERSITY libraries heavily used by researchers from other institutions should be compensated for the cost of providing the service, according to a report by Coopers and Lybrand.
Based on a survey of all university libraries in the United Kingdom and 500 researchers, the study found that external researchers tend to visit a small number of institutions.
Cambridge and Oxford university libraries and Senate House in London were used by 12 per cent of external researchers surveyed.
Seven libraries were each used by between 3 per cent and 7 per cent of respondents and a further 12 were used by 2 per cent of respondents. The remaining university libraries were each used by 1 per cent or less of external researchers.
The report, commissioned by the funding councils, says: "The strain on resources caused by external researchers combined with a more difficult financial climate supports a case for compensation." It warns that as funding pressures increase on institutions, "there is a clear danger that they will become more restrictive in their library access policies, denying significant access to important research material to potentially important parts of the research community".
Coopers and Lybrand says that a "threshold" should be set for acceptable use by external researchers, above which libraries can claim compensation. This threshold could be 2 per cent of total library activity, with a minimum claim value of Pounds 20,000. The report estimates the total additional cost to higher education in dealing with external researchers is between Pounds 6 million and Pounds 10 million. Most external researchers focus on about 20 university libraries. Each of these could be incurring costs in excess of Pounds 100,000 with the top six notching up extra costs of as much Pounds 500,000.
About 60 per cent of researchers surveyed used libraries of other higher education institutions. Of these, humanities and social science researchers, at 70 per cent and 60 per cent respectively, were more likely to use other institutions compared with 50 per cent of physical scientists and 40 per cent of biologists. Two-thirds of external researchers make use of periodical and general collections; a third use special collections/archives. Other major services required include book loans, on-line research and general inquiry.
The Library and Information Cooperation Council said it accepted that heavy use of university libraries by external researchers affected a small number of libraries.
But the council argued that wide availability of university library catalogues and the Internet would lead to an increase in researcher visits to other libraries. Compensation to heavily used libraries should be made through the funding councils' non-formula funding route, it said.