Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
MONDAY 29 APRIL 2002
1. Good afternoon. Could I welcome our visitors
and witnesses today and say what a pleasure it is to see some
very familiar faces: Lord Eatwell, who is Chairman of the British
Library Board, Sir Brian Follett, who many of us will relate to
Warwick University where he has recently been Vice Chancellor,
and of course Sir Brian is Chairman of Research Support Libraries
Group. You are a very familiar face, Howard. You have been in
front of this Committee many times, always wearing a different
hat. Lynne Brindley is Chief Executive of the British Library
and the first professional librarian who has ever been Chief Executive
of the Library. Welcome indeed. It is nice to have someone who
has had experience of Leeds University and the London School of
Economics. I am going to ask if Lord Eatwell wants to kick off
by giving a short presentation covering some of the issues. This
Committee takes very seriously its role in terms of not only carrying
out investigations into particular topics, and some of you will
know that we have just finished an investigation into the Individual
Learning Councils which will be published on Wednesday, but we
also like to keep in touch with those prime movers in the educational
sector and across the piste where we can call people in to find
out what the situation is in respect of their particular expertise.
We have had all the teaching unions recently before the Committee
to find out how they feel about life. We found rather differently
than they were telling their annual conferences. We have never
had the British Library and we think that is rather remiss of
this Committee, and so here you are. Lord Eatwell, would like
to kick off?
(Lord Eatwell) Chairman, thank you very
much indeed for inviting us to your hearings. Perhaps the reason
you have not had the British Library here before is of course
because the British Library comes under DCMS, not DfES but, despite
that, well over half of all the Library's activities are devoted
to the support of higher education research. It is an integral
part of the national research infrastructure. Just to place the
Library for you, in a recent survey of British and American research
libraries by an organisation called the American Association of
Research Libraries the British Library was ranked number one,
the best in the world, narrowly ahead of Harvard and Yale. The
next UK library, which is that of Cambridge University, was ranked
65th. The reason why UK university libraries can sustain excellent
research provision is that at the centre of the system stands
the British Library. For example, whereas a good university library
would collect around 10,000 periodicals, the British Library has
a collection covering 150,000 periodicals, 55,000 of which are
current. If you like, the British Library is the library of last
resort for British higher education. At the core of the British
Library stands its collections. Without its comprehensive collections
the Library would be incapable of performing this vital national
role. Those collections, let me say, are increasing by 12 kilometres
per year, so managing them, ensuring access to them and storing
them are all huge tasks for the British Library. Despite the fact
that we are DCMS funded, the British Library takes an active role
in developing close ties with UK higher education. The memorandum
we submitted to you describes some of the initiatives in which
the Library is involved. I would like to stress two of them which
may be of interest to the Committee. First, there is the strategic
alliance which we have just formed with the Higher Education Funding
Council for England, which will be the basis of strategic collaboration
going forward. Secondly, there is our work with the Research Support
Libraries Group chaired by Sir Brian Follett. Sir Brian's group
is charged with advising on development of a national strategy
for research library provision and you will be interested to know
that there is not one as yet. It is clear to me that the development
of such a strategy is essential to ensure that UK researchers
in all disciplines have access to world class information services
and at the centre of that information system will stand the British
Library. I wonder if it would be appropriate for me to ask Sir
Brian to come in now to tell you about the work of the Research
Support Libraries Group.
(Sir Brian Follett) Let me reiterate that I think
we should view the research information resources as important
a part of the research infrastructure as we would a high energy
nuclear physics facility or laboratories. It is one of the bedrocks
upon which it is built. Currently the UK has a good system. One
is not saying that the UK system is failing. All the evidence
is that we have a good system and it is built around university
collections but Lord Eatwell has pointed out the vital role that
the British Library has traditionally and still does play. It
is really the reason why individual university research libraries
need not purchase as much material as their peers in the United
States. Back of envelope calculations suggest that were the British
Library to disappear, for example, libraries would have to increase
their expenditure on books and periodicals, and periodicals really
lie at the heart of research, from about £150million a year,
which is their current expenditure across Britain, to about £400
million a year. That is really very good value for money and we
will come back to that in a few minutes. We think that the structure
is at risk though in the long run because of three things. The
first is that inflation in this area traditionally has run at
three times RPI. That is hard fact, ten per cent per annum inflation
in periodical prices. Secondly, the total volume of material is
rising rapidly in the knowledge economy. I am not talking about
the Internet. I am talking about scholarship and research. Thirdly,
the whole business is being transformed under our eyes, by the
world wide web and by IT. Suddenly the capacity and the need to
have libraries may not appear to be quite as important since one
can access the material electronically. Everybody knows these
facts. They are not rocket science. All countries are grappling
with them. We thought we wanted to try and grapple with them in
a way which would set the UK on a course which would keep its
research libraries in a strong position. We really want to try
and produce much more coherence in the system. I think we are
really trying to look at three ideas: first of all to improve
library co-operation. It can always be improved. Everybody can
co-operate more strongly, but particularly in terms of access,
perhaps optimising the spend on books so that there is less duplication,
and storage of older material. At a national level the access
of researchers to specialised material, for example, foreign language
material, is very difficult. If only six or eight institutions
are collecting it, it really would make a lot of sense if there
were some strategic overview in that particular area. We have
also got to handle the legacy collection. We have thrown a few
figures at you. We think there are around 300 million books on
the shelves of university libraries and the British Library. Not
all that material will be needed for ever more. We are talking
particularly about science periodicals that have a life span of
a decade. We must have long term legacy plans in place. So far
ideas have bubbled up from below and it has worked, but I think
the IT system has changed it. The big new idea, and this is the
one that is quite interesting, is to move to try and create something
like a national electronic research library. It sounds rather
fancy. I suppose it is really; rather arrogant in some ways. It
is a new idea in one way but it is not a new idea in other ways.
Fifty-odd years ago in the years after the Second World War the
scientists of those days created a scientific periodical collection
nationally. They put it in the Science Museum in South Kensington.
Later it was run by the old Department of Scientific and Industrial
Research [DSIR], which I suppose is three versions back from the
Office of Science and Technology. Then in the early seventies
it was fused with the National Central Library to create the British
Library. It was an idea where we would try to solve a problem
at a national level which would otherwise be exceedingly difficult
to solve separately. It would be much better to act jointly rather
than separately. It is that kind of principle that we are thinking
about here, not working from a blank sheet of paper. Seven years
ago Lynne Brindley and I were instrumental in creating what you
might call an embryonic electronic research library. It has a
fancy acronym (DNER) but it does not really matter. It is run
by HEFCE through the JISC, which is the network, the system down
in Bristol operated on behalf of all the universities in the UK
that drives the electronic network. What we are interested in
trying to do is to grow that. We do not want to create an overbearing
organisation. We have not worked out the details of this yet but
in some ways it has to be a kind of virtual organisation. It can
be quite small but what it will do is act as a gateway through
which any individual will access the material that lies behind
the screen without really knowing it. That is what most of us
do all the time when we enter the world wide web. You tap in and
you come up with something. You do not know how you do it but
you know somewhere there must be little gremlins running around
doing it all for you. Our idea is that we should access this research
material in this way. The electronic materials may come from your
own local library. They may well come from a library elsewhere
in the UK, but you may not know that necessarily. They may well
come from overseas. They may come from material which this organisation
licenses nationally on behalf of the nation. We do quite a bit
of that already. Some millions of pounds a year are spent licensing
material. This combination is put together in a virtual library.
At a specific level the kind of issue we think the library will
handle is obviously the collection policies. What are you going
to collect? What is worth collecting? There is an awful lot of
material out there which will not be worth collecting. It is what
libraries do, differential collection in effect. Secondly, to
generate search engines and catalogues. They are remarkably weak.
It is a bit depressing to realise that undergraduates often enter
the world wide web through the Google search engines. These are
very primitive search engines, so we need much better ones. Thirdly,
we need some kind of national strategy for what we choose to digitise
as distinct from leaving it in book form, because this is perhaps
older material. Fourthly, we need a strategy over electronic preservation.
All of these things are going on. As John has emphasised, they
are really going on as pieces, not being pulled together. We would
like to develop platforms and new tools for triggering better
ways of scholarly communication. Are there ways which are more
modern? Are there ways which are more cost effective? The whole
enterprise will depend on the Super JANET network, which is the
university network, and so its location, in which it is under
JISC, will be an important part. We envisage it as being a creature
of the funding councils plus the British Library, along with the
OST, (because that is the research councils), hopefully the Department
of Health, (and they are creating an electronic library of health),
and a number of private research libraries. The main thrust is
to put Britain in a position where it could be unique, certainly
among large countries, with a world structure which would evolve
over time. We set it up and then it runs for ten to 20 years.
It is not a great absorber of resources but it will slowly shift
the centre of balance, the centre of gravity, of the research
library collections away from the traditional way, which is to
have individual research libraries scattered geographically around
the country. As the electronic world comes to dominate it, so
more and more of that material can be held "centrally".
It is not actually held, but you go through a central organisation
to get at it, and we think it is that sort of modelthe
details can be worked out laterwhich will keep Britain
in the forefront of this information resource business which we
need to be in if we are going to be in research.
2. Thank you very much for that. We will in
a minute come back to our other two witnesses for the link-up
with higher education, but could we press a few questions on both
of you? Your final report is not out yet?
(Sir Brian Follett) Oh, no.
3. When is it due?
(Sir Brian Follett) September/October.
4. Will it have cost implications? As I understand
it, you are trying to keep us at number one in the world, certainly
(Sir Brian Follett) Yes.
5. And of course we all understand, with the
changes that you have mentioned, that it is not going to come
(Sir Brian Follett) It will not come free.
6. But are you going to be able to put a cost
(Sir Brian Follett) Yes, we shall be able to put a
cost on the various components, of which the electronic library
is one. We already spend quite a bit of moneyand Howard
can tell you more about how much money we are already spendingbut
it may be a question as much of re-focusing quite a lot of current
expenditure. It may go up slightly.
7. In terms of the way you conduct an inquiry,
in terms of who you have been talking to and the broadness of
the consultation, can you give us some indication of how broadly
you have consulted, only because, reading through all the material
that you let us have, on the one hand, while we want you to be
an international centre for information and learning, we wondered
what the balance was between what you do and who uses it, in other
words British taxpayers, British institutions, British researchers.
Are you open enough to that market?
(Sir Brian Follett) I would hope we are. We started
by asking the researchers what they believed they wanted ten or
20 years from now, and we focussed on young researchers who will
be using it in 20 years' time. The story was very much as expected.
We were very struck by the need to maximise access for all researchers
in the United Kingdom. These are professional researchers. We
are using the word in that sense, not somebody who just happens
to have an interest. We are really dealing right now with an issue
over professional research only. The number of people in the UK
who will access these facilities and who currently access all
the libraries in the country, including the British Library, is
huge. We did a quick estimate of Sir Howard's old university and
worked out that there must be about 4,000 researchers on the campus
at Southampton. We can take that as read for at least 20 to 25
of the universities around the country, so we are talking of very
large numbers of researchers. We would hope that this would involve
most of the public sector, the government research institutes.
I do not think we have got round to how the private researchers
working in GlaxoSmithKline will access it. It is an international
business and I imagine that there will be a very strong linkage
between whatever facilities we establish and the facilities that
are established elsewhere in the world. This normally operates
in the universities by free reciprocal access, so you do not really
know that you have accessed a server in Ohio or in Beijing. That
is fixed. We have got to be the people behind the scene putting
it together for the researchers.
8. That is interesting. The Guardian
this morning had a very interesting article on your Boston Spa
operation, which we are delighted is in Boston Spa, and some of
my colleagues may want to press you on that. I quote from one
Mr Walker, a customer service operator with the British Library.
He says: "We have 17,000 requests daily. Ninety per cent
of them are e-mailed from around the world. The US is our largest
market outside the UK." He uses the term "market".
This is all free access. No-one actually pays for the information
that they get.
(Lord Eatwell) Oh, no. They pay.
9. How do they pay? Tell us how they pay.
(Mrs Brindley) The metrics of the document supply
operation, which is what is run from Boston Spa, is that broadly
we are supplying well over three million items per annum of which
at least two million are in the UK. The basis on which we supply
overseas copies is very much dictated by Treasury rules on pricing
and so on and we would expect our overseas operations to make
a net contribution. Overall, the Library's trading income is around
the £25 million per annum level, and documemnt supply revenue
is running at £17 million per annum. It is a large revenue
earnerthat covers in UK terms full costs and in overseas
terms it covers the full cost plus a contribution to overheads,
so it is differential pricing.
10. So anyone in Sir Howard's old university
or the like, would they be cautious about using the services of
the British Library because it would have a cost implication for
the university or the department?
(Mrs Brindley) Maybe we can both answer. From our
point of view usually the budget is held by the library itself
so essentially, if an item is not in the library there, then the
request will be referred to Boston Spa.
(Sir Howard Newby) The answer to your question is
that in general no, there is not any inhibition. Different universities
operate different charging regimes at departmental level but the
usual practice is to try to ensure that these services are free
at point of use within the university. They are covered by the
general library budget of the university, but practice does vary.
11. Sir Brian, can I come back to you and to
Lord Eatwell? When your inquiry is completed you are going to
come up with something along the lines of what you have described
to us today in order to keep us in the forefront of this and meet
the challenge of the new technology. Are you being rather modest
about what this will cost? Nothing comes free. Most other areas
that I know about in terms of remaining in front of the global
competition cost money; it costs investment over time. Will you
be coming with some pretty hard figures?
(Sir Brian Follett) We will be coming with hard figures.
I do not think initially they will be large. What we are really
intending to do is to take the existing budgets, which are running
into low tens of millions of pounds, which largely come from the
funding councils, and spend those maybe in a slightly different
way but essentially the same. Then we will put it on a track whereby,
if the idea works, and, for example, we negotiate national site
licences for access to particular materials. That is a cost and
it may well be necessary at that point to work out how that cost
is going to be met, whether it is going to be charged back against
individual universities or whether it is carried as a top slice.
Those sorts of matters will have to be resolved, but I do not
see this machine as a great absorber of new money.
12. Lord Eatwell, can I ask you this? Although
you are really responsible to the department of Culture, Media
and Sport, and of course we have a very great interest in you
because you supply so much for higher education and research in
the educational sector, on the one hand here is money flowing
from the research councils: where else do you get your money from?
(Lord Eatwell) We do not get any of that.
13. You do not get any of that?
(Lord Eatwell) No.
14. Can you explain the difference between your
income streams then?
(Lord Eatwell) Our income is a grant in aid of round
about £82 million per year from DCMS plus the funding you
have just heard that we have earned from our document supply service,
plus a small amount of fund raising, usually for special documents
or special books or whatever that are to be saved for the nation,
that sort of thing.
It is rather a small amount. The key expenditure at the heart
of this system will actually lie paradoxically outside higher
education because it will be maintaining the collections of the
British Library. We are suffering this inflation rate of about
ten per cent per year in our collections expenditure. I should
point out that our collections come from two sources. One is the
amount of money we spend literally buying books and periodicals,
which is about £13.5 million per year, plus of course we
have copyright deposit which we get "free". The material
comes free but it has to be stored, it has to have a curator organising
it and so on, so there is a real cost of maintaining the copyright
library. The cost of sustaining that collection is going to lie
at the core of the system which Sir Brian has described. We are
at a very awkward stage historically at the moment because, whilst
digital materials are coming on line and we have to think about
collecting digital materials, it is also true that more books
and papers and things are being published than ever before. Digital
platforms have not taken over from books as yet. They may do in
15 or 20 years' time or whatever; we may see a switch-over, but
at the moment both are rising and so we need to sustain collections
both of books and papers and newspapers and all the other things
that we have traditionally collected, plus start to develop digital
collections. Thirdly, of course, we have to develop a strategy
for digitalising paper collections which we can then put on the
web, which is actually fabulously expensive. If we were to digitalise
the whole of Boston Spa so that all our materials were to be available
on the web it would cost about four billion pounds.
(Mrs Brindley) That would be just to
do the journals, and not including all of the conference proceedings,
reports literature, etc. It would be a vast task.
15. Sir Howard, you have come in with this gang
and we invited you with them. Are you happy with the quality of
what you are getting out of this market?
(Sir Howard Newby) Yes, we are very happy. The issues
we are facing are more if you like the problems of success rather
than failure. From our standpoint in the Funding Council we not
only have to sustain the arrangements you have heard about with
regard to research information but also within the universities
themselves of course this has to be co-ordinated with all the
libraries for teaching and learning purposes as well. You have
heard from Brian about the Joint Information Systems Committee,
JISC, which actually was set up a long time ago to establish a
network which networked originally all British universities together,
which is the joint academic network now. That has grown over time.
It has also extended now into all FE colleges and through them
into schools, so we are beginning to grope our way towards a kind
of national learning infrastructure at all levels and all ages.
While that has been going on JISC has also been involved not just
in providing infrastructure but over time has also provided a
lot of information services, negotiating software licences on
behalf of the sector, providing data services. What we are seeing
is a convergence, slowly but surely, of the activities of JISC
on the one hand with the activities of the British Library on
the other which has also been providing services. They are beginning
slowly but surely to converge. Hence our strategic alliance. From
the Higher Education Funding Council's standpoint we need to continue
to ensure that all of this, both on the research side and on the
teaching and learning side, is properly co-ordinated and as far
as the users are concerned they are not too fussed when they sit
at their terminals where the information comes from or who is
delivering it to them provided they can get it quickly and efficiently
16. So essentially you are happy, but are you
particularly happy because it does not cost you much?
(Sir Howard Newby) We are particularly happy because
the service is an extremely good one. Looking at it from a higher
education standpoint, as you know we are going to face a major
expansion in the years ahead with regard to hitting our widening
participation targets. That means supplying a whole range of services
that span both research and learning to a much greater number
of people, many of them in quite different settings from the conventional
university library. All of that has to be planned and co-ordinated
in a rather seamless way, as I said, from schools through further
education colleges to universities and beyond. It is ensuring
that we as a funding council do this on the one hand without inadvertently
damaging the research base on the other.
17. Sir Brian, you have said that the contributions
that you receive when you are talking to researchers, and you
said you were speaking particularly to young researchers, were
what you might expect them to be. When you publish your report
in September have you got a pretty good idea of what action you
expect to be called for? What will the Government have to do?
(Sir Brian Follett) I think we have a fairly clear
idea. It should be said that it is all very interim. The Committee
has yet to approve this.
18. You can leave it to us.
(Sir Brian Follett) I think we are likely to come
up with a package of recommendations that will sustain the research
library structure. One will be this library co-operation, which
is existing, by the way. The second will be a number of comments
about sustaining Boston Spa and the document supply centre. That
is particularly a problem over the next few years. The shift from
paper to electronics could undermine stability of Boston Spa,
which has been there for a generation now, has been shaken and
is being shaken as we speak, and we cannot allow that to get us
down at the present stage. There will be comment on that and there
will be comment on the scholarly publishing agenda. There will
then be a kind of visionary statement about the suggestions we
have for creating an office of the national electronic library.
There will be three or four things. What will happen is that the
report will go to the boards of the four funding councilsNorthern
Ireland, Wales, England and Scotlandand, I assume, to the
board of the British Library and to the National Library of Wales
and of Scotland, where there will be discussions over the autumn
and into the new year. At the end of it I assume they will decide
which parts of it they wish to accept. They will by then have
looked at some of the implications in terms of cost and politics
for putting it all on to the ground. I am very aware as Chairman
of the Committee that we are treading across a number of boundaries
that have either been created in the last 20 years, such as where
the British Library is and where the universities are located
within Whitehall, or are relatively new boundaries that have been
created inside the UK as a result of the devolved territories,
and so there is a fair amount of trickiness right now if you come
up with any kind of suggestion which tends to join together government.
I think we would all sign up to the fact that we wish to see more
joined-up government but it is rather difficult to deliver it
on the ground.
19. The glue that joins the departments up and
the various institutions is often found in the Treasury. Has there
been a dialogue with Treasury in terms of the new strategy?
(Sir Brian Follett) Not yet. That is because in some
senses the precise financial pattern of what you might recommend
is not clear yet. All I am indicating to you is that it is not
seeking a vast injection of money, save in that area which in
some ways is outwith this Committee of the need of the acquisitions
budget of the British Library to be protected.
(Sir Howard Newby) I think it is worth adding, Chairman,
that as part of the Treasury's cost cutting review of science,
which is currently under way as part of the spending review, both
Lynne and I did ensure that the Treasury considered the position
of the British Library as part of that review. As I think we are
all saying, we do regard it as as important a part of the UK research
infrastructure as the major laboratories and so on. That is falling
within their remit.
2 Note by witness: The Library's baseline operational
grant-in-aid in 2000-01 was £82.693 million. Total trading
income during that year was £24.5 million. Donations and
Investment Income was £3.5 million. Back