What does tertiary education do for London? Not a lot, says one report. In another of our series of regional focuses, THES reporters look for a sense of community within the M25 area.
The M25 group, set up in 1993, is a consortium of some 40 institutions that between them have 125 libraries, 15 million books, 10,000 periodical titles - a fifth of the UK's university library collection.
Its main aim is to promote co-operation and interaction between libraries in the London area including on-line catalogue information systems and the development of reciprocal open-access policies.
The group meets twice a year and is administered by a steering group of eight meeting three or four times a year. The steering group, under chairwoman Jean Sykes, ensures goals are achieved and progress made.
Mrs Sykes, who is deputy director of information resource services at the University of Westminster, is under no illusions about the obstacles faced. She said: "We comprise very old, well-established institutions with strong research libraries, we have new universities, specialist research institutes, medical schools and even the University of London library which is non-formula funded. It is a tricky set of expectations and agendas to meet."
Despite the difficulties of diversity the M25 groups has made quite startling progress and one of the most exciting initiatives is an agreement between the participating institutions to allow permanent academic staff access, for reference only, to each other's libraries. An M25 Access Scheme Card has been produced for those eligible. The group hopes to extend it to PhD students in a year. In time, consideration may be given to a similar scheme for students.
Mrs Sykes said: "Some smaller libraries are frightened that if we open access to PhDs and even undergraduates then they could become swamped. At this stage then it is really of question of taking things a step at a time."
Another area of interest is new technology and on-line catalogues. The group has its own web site (http://www.M25lib.ac.uk/M25/) allowing people to search the on-line catalogues of all site libraries and supplying them with information.