Online thrill, but geology job loss

November 19, 1999

Britain's geological record is to be digitised and put online as the British Geological Survey undergoes a major reorganisation.

The move to transfer details of a portion of the survey's millions of fossil, rock and mineral samples - as well as 100,000 bore hole cores - on to the internet is one of a number of modernising changes given the blessing of the Natural Environment Research Council.

Nevertheless, many earth scientists have been concerned that a parallel trickle of up to 50 redundancies over the past few years could make it harder to gain access to samples and may lead to their physical deterioration.

Among those recently laid off is the curator of fossils.

Another curating post has been granted only a temporary reprieve.

David Falvey, survey director, insisted the reorganisation, which puts management of the collection into the hands of four curators under a chief curator, who has as yet to be appointed, would make it accessible to more scientists and surveyors than before.

"It's a very comprehensive pool of material, information that's at the heart of the BGS, but at present it can be a very tedious process locating what you want," he said.

Dr Falvey has assured concerned scientists that the result would be to make the service better and more efficient.

However, Jim Cooper, a negotiator with the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists, the trade union that represents many BGS staff, said that Dr Falvey's optimism was not shared by many of his organisation's employees.

"There has been a steady trickle of 50 or so job losses, most of them voluntary redundancies, from the survey over the past couple of years," he said.

"It is the first time in its long history that there have been any compulsory redundancies and this has caused some resentment among staff and from the broader geological community," he said.

Mr Cooper put the job losses down to a combination of financial constraints and restructuring to open the organisation up to new blood.

A survey staff member, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "It is all right for the director to say the collection will be digitised, but I don't think he has any idea how much work that will take.

"In the meantime, the remaining staff will not have the time or the knowledge to look after the collection properly."

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