Umbrella body is to open libraries to wider public

December 25, 1998

The government has set up a national body for libraries, museums and archives that should bring greater cooperation between university and public libraries.

Fred Friend, director of scholarly communications at University College London, said the creation of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council was an opportunity to overcome the barriers that prohibited closer co-operation between the two.

He said this was essential if the government's plans for a National Grid for Learning, an electronic and resource infrastructure to support lifelong learning, were to be successful.

One barrier preventing closer cooperation between university and public libraries is their separate funding arrangements. University libraries are funded through the Department for Education and Employment while public libraries receive their income from local government and the culture department.

"If universities are asked to open their doors to the public, it is inevitable that the extra pressure on staff and resources will require more investment," said Mr Friend. "The new body should play a vital role in addressing this dilemma by providing overarching advice to government departments on funding issues."

Closer links between public and university libraries would mean a big change in universities' financial relationship with publishers. "In universities, this relationship is heavily based on publishers' materials being accessible only to students and staff," said Mr Friend. "If wider public access is to be provided, they might demand higher charges."

The new body could play a brokering role between the sector and publishers.

Culture secretary Chris Smith said the new council would be operational from April 2000 and would absorb the functions of the Library and Information Commission and Museums and Galleries Commission.

An implementation group is to be set up to consider the council's remit and functions. While the LIC welcomed the move, the MGC said: "Despite widespread opposition to the proposal, the government has decided to implement this recommendation while shrinking from more radical change."

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