Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from the British Library (BL01)

  1.  The British Library was established by statute in 1972 as the national library of the United Kingdom, consisting of a comprehensive collection of books, manuscripts, periodicals, films and other recorded material, whether printed or otherwise. The Library's duty is to act as the national centre for reference, study, bibliographical and other information services in relation both to scientific and technological matters and to the humanities. The Library is the main custodian of the nation's written cultural heritage. The Library's growing collections are rich and unrivalled in their breadth and depth. Collections items are acquired via a combination of donations to the nation, purchase from tax-payer funding, and legal deposit which provides for a copy of every United Kingdom printed publication to be deposited with the British Library.

  2.  The Library is funded from the vote of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The Library's baseline operational Grant-in-Aid in 2001-02 was £82 million, enabling it to build, preserve and provide access to its collections in support of research, business, the wider library network and wider educational goals, through its reading rooms, through its exhibition galleries, educational programmes and loans to other institutions, through its remote document supply services, and through provision of information and bibliographic services.

  3.  The British Library is an integral component of the national research infrastructure and it plays a correspondingly significant role in ensuring the research excellence of the UK. Its services are heavily used by higher education. Some 55 per cent of the readers who use the Library's reading rooms in its new flagship building at St Pancras come from the HE sector. And UK Higher Education accounts for some 50 per cent of UK usage of the Library's Document Supply Centre which responds to c. 1.2 million requests annually for documents from the sector in support of research.

  4.  The British Library spends c. £13.5 million on research level material for the collections each year and it is, in addition, the beneficiary of legal deposit. When the budgets for acquisitions in UK higher education institutions (HEIs) are ranked against those in the United States, the British Library acquisitions spend is on a par with the best UK research collections at Harvard and Yale. The highest ranking UK HEI to feature (Cambridge University Library which spends £3.5 million in addition to receiving copyright deposit material) comes in at 65th place; the first HEI, not benefiting from legal deposit (Manchester, John Rylands), comes at 83rd. More significantly, the last 85 places out of 221 are taken up by UK universities. This reflects the centralised model of provision within the UK, whereby the BL plays a key role in underpinning the academic research infrastructure through its provision of both reading room and remote document supply services. (In the United States, the Library of Congress currently spends c. £8.8 million on acquisitions and it receives "`legal deposit'" material worth c. £17.2 million. The Library of Congress does not however play the same national role as the British Library in underpinning its national library network either through remote document supply or reading room services). The comparatively lower levels of spend within the UK HE sector can arguably only be sustained because of the relatively high level of spend within the BL. We estimate that annual opportunity cost savings of £30-£40 million are made within the HE sector alone from their use of the BL remote document supply services.

  5.  The Library's role in underpinning services to the UK HE sector, through the collection of material beyond the scope/resources of other libraries, was reinforced by a number of the institutional returns to the 2001 consultation exercise over the Library's New Strategic Directions. In particular, the point was made in responses that the UK academic community has always looked to the BL for important monographs and serials in many languages, as well as for the titles that are more obscure or more expensive and that university libraries will not have acquired because of more restrictive collection policies or the high cost of single items. If the Library were to cease to collect such material no other library would have the resources to plug the gap.

  6.  The Library has highlighted a number of areas where additional investment in the national research infrastructure is required, including:

    (i)  Sustaining acquisitions funding. Inflation in the price of publications continues to rise at well above the level of general inflation—currently at 8 per cent for journals, 5 per cent for electronic materials and 4 per cent for books—and annual uplifts in the Library's acquisitions budget are required to sustain the quality of its collections.

    (ii)  Extending the national published archive to electronic media. Meeting the challenge of embracing new electronic information media presents new pressures on the Library in terms of digital storage requirements and processing costs. In addition the Library is proposing a web archiving programme to capture and retain important UK Web activity in recognition of the rapid migration of significant information to the Web, particularly in the scientific, medical and technical fields.

    (iii)  Information for the science base. The Library's Document Supply Centre requires urgent modernisation to bring remote document supply into the e-environment, in line with changing customer expectations, if it is to sustain its central position in the UK research infrastructure.

British Library-Higher Education collaboration

  7.  In recognition of the mutual interest of the British Library and the UK Higher Education sector in achieving closer strategic collaboration, the Chairman of the British Library Board and the Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) initiated the establishment in September 1999 of a Joint BL/HE Task Force, strongly focused on specific, practical and deliverable initiatives for mutual benefit. A number of other significant BL/HE collaborative initiatives include:

    —  establishment of the UK Digital Preservation Coalition with the funding bodies' Joint Information Steering Committee (JISC) and BL as co-founding members.

    —  JISC support for free HEI and FEI access to the Library's ZETOC service and to develop and extend the functionality of the service.

    —  Research Support Libraries Programme support for costs of HEI participation in the Library's Co-operation and Partnership Programme.

    —  engagement of the BL in the Distributed National Electronic Resource programme.

  8.  The British Library and HEFCE have signed a statement of strategic alliance for future collaboration and as the context within which specific joint actions, projects or programmes will be negotiated and agreed. The aims of the alliance are: to promote collaboration and undertake special projects in support of our common purpose; to ensure our strategies are mutually informed by relevant developments in both bodies and our respective networks; and to develop mutually beneficial information exchange and expertise sharing.

  9.  Of greatest significance is the establishment of the Research Support Libraries Group under the chairmanship of Professor Sir Brian Follett. This is charged with advising on the development of a national strategy for research library provision in the UK. The British Library's view is that the development of such a strategy is essential to ensure that UK researchers in all disciplines have access to world class information resources.

British Library

April 2002

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 9 July 2002