Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. But if the British Library is the number one library in the world for its collections then that in itself would have a status. The British Library electronic research library would presumably have that cachet that scientists are looking for.
  (Sir Brian Follett) I think so.

  41. It is a huge marketing possibility here for the British Library to take over the historic monopolies that all these obscure journals have previously enjoyed, and then you will return to the Treasury far in excess of £30 million a year.
  (Mrs Brindley) I think it is very clear that changes to the scholarly communication system, which you are right to allude to, have got to be owned by the researchers themselves and the institutions. That is where you need to see the change. In one or two disciplines it is very clear that it is moving fast but in most disciplines it quite simply is not. As we move from basically collecting print to also increasingly collecting electronically, there is one other issue which we have not alluded to yet, which is the need to extend our legal deposit arrangements from the print to the electronic world. And that would be an absolutely core requirement to that because at the present time publishers are required to deposit with the UK copyright; libraries—anything that is published in print but there is no equal requirement for legal deposit of electronic journals or electronic publications. So potentially, until we get that legislation, there will be quite a major gap in our collections that will pt at risk our premier position, so that is a point we need to address.

  42. Can I put to you one final question and it is to do with the question of cost again? Earlier, Sir Brian, you mentioned the figure of £150 million that was spent on acquisitions of journals that would have been £400 million without the role of the British Library making them available nationally. My question is, what assessment have you made, if any, of the scale of the duplication that still exists and if I can quote the obvious example of the universities nearest to my constituency, UMIST, Manchester Metropolitan, Victoria University in Manchester, Salford University a mile and a half in the other direction, how on earth can you possibly justify each of those four universities having fully fledged research libraries and each buying every month their own copy of the Journal of Theoretical Physics?
  (Sir Howard Newby) The answer is we cannot and we do not.

  43. The question is whether there is a lot of money involved or whether there is going to be a bid to the spending review either this year or the spending review in three years' time or whether the electronic research library can be developed entirely by readjusting the existing budgets through eliminating the duplication of multiple purchasing?
  (Sir Howard Newby) First of all, Manchester is, of course, a rather sensitive issue at the moment. As it happens the four universities in the city of Manchester do collaborate very closely and have reciprocal library rights. Leaving that to one side, your general point is quite right. What Brian's group was asked to consider was whether as a funding council together with our partners we needed to put in place rather more robust mechanisms for co-ordination which might exist in Manchester but might not exist between Manchester and somewhere else or indeed over specific subject disciplines nationally. There is also an issue about whether very specialist centres need to be created and sustained serving a national remit or whether we just leave it to the laissez-faire of the university individual collecting policies. We rather suspect we should not leave it to individual collection policies in individual universities.

  44. Are you working on a more robust mechanism?
  (Sir Howard Newby) That is what we have asked Brian's group to come up with.

  Chairman: Thank you, gentlemen. I want to move on to electronic resources in a more focused way. Paul, would you like to start?

Paul Holmes

  45. Just a question on the technicalities. Are people accessing new information electronically? Are they reading it online or downloading it and reading it offline?
  (Mrs Brindley) I think it is both. Licensing arrangements are different, so in many cases you can read on screen freely but if you choose to print off that can be done.

  46. As the volume of access electronically has grown and grown are there the problems of accession over too many people trying to get on to the site or does it get sluggish at particular times of the day?
  (Mrs Brindley) I think that is partly a question for Howard.
  (Sir Howard Newby) Yes. The individual universities, I can say that I think all the major research universities encourage a degree of reading offline and I think all of them now have created a cache system so if you are accessing, whether it is the British Library or indeed overseas, you are not wasting or using resources unnecessarily by constantly going online.

  47. Yes.
  (Sir Howard Newby) My old university at Southampton certainly operated a very successful cache system which enabled that to happen effectively. This is an issue we need to keep an eye on constantly as a sector.

  48. You are not getting any problems with the capacity of the system? I am thinking of the PRO where they crashed in January.
  (Sir Howard Newby) Touch wood, not yet. One of the things that JISC has successfully done—and I think this is an achievement that we can be very proud of actually—it has constantly kept ahead of the game in that regard. JANET, the network created by JISC, was created a long, long time ago, a long time before the internet so that when the internet came along it was unproblematic as far as most academics were concerned and indeed these days as far as most students are concerned. We have always tried to upgrade the academic network, JANET, to keep ahead of any likelihood of predicted demand and so far we have managed to do that.

  Chairman: Valerie, do you want to come in on this?

  Valerie Davey: No, I think mine has been covered. I was concerned particularly, as David has pointed out, about the information between the provider, the publisher and this. Like David, I am working gradually towards why is there a publisher. I think my point has been covered, thank you, Chair.

  Chairman: Let us move on to the relationship between the British Library and the universities. I think Meg Munn wants to take you to task on this.

Ms Munn

  49. Given what we have been talking about, about the different resources that there are, and given the way that higher education is developing and the fact that we want to open up access and ensure more people can get access. How are you going to be able to ensure that there is an equality of access to quality resources for all researchers from all universities wherever they might be based?
  (Sir Howard Newby) I think at the moment, because JANET is run as a national system and because the agreements we have, including our strategic alliance with the British Library, are nationally based then we can say with our hand on our heart that as far as researchers are concerned, staff in any British higher education institution, broadly speaking, have equality of access to online materials, I do not think there is a problem there. I did hint earlier that there is a wider problem because we have to recognise that today's research is tomorrow's teaching materials. Many of the users, of course, these days are students. It began as an issue of researchers but now students are the major users of JANET. We have to see how we can ensure access by students—full-time, part-time, in their halls of residence, not just in the library and so on and so forth—that has been a challenge, to try to keep ahead of that growth in demand. The technology has changed very rapidly and we have had to have successive waves of investment in our education institutions to keep up with that and that will remain a challenge, there is no doubt about that.

  50. Moving away a bit from the electronic information, given what was said earlier about all the stuff that goes back lots and lots of years, it has not all going to be there electronically for a long, long time, and what was said in your memorandum about the fact that universities which have a longer history of research will have more research information available and given the newer universities, how are we going to get over that problem?
  (Sir Howard Newby) Certainly we have encouraged universities to come together locally and regionally so they can organise themselves into groupings which offer reciprocal rights to both students and staff. In other words, if you are in a relatively new institution which has not had a history of building up its collection, both staff and students at that institution should be able to access what they need on a 24 hour basis either from Boston Spa or from a local institution with a longer history as far as its library is concerned, and indeed vice versa. That has worked pretty well, I think.
  (Mrs Brindley) I think we do see ourselves through Sir Brian's review co-ordinating much more at a regional level this equality of physical access. Certainly the British Library is playing its part in that by being part of a national referral scheme so that, if you like, the first port of call is where you are, the second port of call may be Manchester or may be your region and then you will be fast tracked through to the British Library. That is becoming quite an integrated referral scheme. We work too, of course, with the public libraries—partly again because of our positioning—very much to increasingly use the public library as the vehicle through which we would deliver British Library services for the citizen, but also the life long learner, if you like, and the setting up of learning centres in public libraries is a critical part of that complementary infrastructure. In fact, of course, many students actually work in public libraries so it is getting that new system to work together.

  51. Yes. Certainly I would see that as a very important aspect if we are looking at people coming in at an older age, perhaps—not students going away physically to university and they have other demands on life—actually using those facilities. Do you feel those resources are adequately publicised in terms of people knowing that they can have that level of access and those systems are in place?
  (Mrs Brindley) Yes. I think it is quite early days. We are just putting into place some of these national referral schemes. We have one, for example, in the M25 region that works right across all libraries within the M25, which is just one example. I think it is very early days and I think our work, particularly with the public libraries, has got a long way to go to get to fruition, to get to understand that actually people do have access to the British Library, they may not know they have got access to the British Library and in one sense that does not matter but they do have access. The whole inter-lending system which our Boston Spa site supports, not just document delivery but the inter-lending of books, the public library is a major user of that.


  52. To push you here on that for a moment. The picture one always gets of higher education is of the research rich universities having more books, more access, more librarians, more of everything. In a sense, is not HEFCE in a way missing a trick here? Is this not the one way—this wonderful central resource—of compensating those universities that do not have rich endowments and are research rich in every sense? Is this not the way to compensate? We go to universities, we went to Manchester and they had this very good system of sharing library resource, that does not occur everywhere and you do not have that advantage of a mix of universities in one town.
  (Sir Howard Newby) First of all, we have invested heavily—disproportionately heavily—in the learning resources in new universities and they have actually responded in quite innovative ways. On the whole they have not tended to go down the route of, if you like, if I can put it this way, the traditional library but rather to invest in learning centres which combine access, yes to books and periodicals and so on, on the one hand, but online access to electronic materials, on the other. If you go into one of these buildings it is rather like a cross between a library and an internet café. The finest learning centre I have been in recently has been at the University of Sunderland and I would commend any of you if you are in that part of the world to go and look at it, it is really wonderful. It provides the kind of environment which is attractive to the kinds of students we want to bring in.

  53. Is it open 24 hours?
  (Sir Howard Newby) It is indeed open 24 hours, it is 24 seven.

  Ms Munn: Let us have a late night visit then, Chair.


  54. Thank you, Meg.
  (Sir Howard Newby) You will be interested to learn, Chairman, that in Sunderland—I know this for a fact I was there recently—one of the peak periods is between, let us get this right, 2 am and 6 am when students have finished with some of their social activity but need to go in to meet their deadlines.

Mr Baron

  55. Good quality research.
  (Sir Howard Newby) Indeed. Where the sector has, I think, been successful, there is always a constant challenge. Indeed, it has been negotiating national agreements over copyright for learning materials, this has not been easy. There has recently been a legal challenge in one particular case so that all the universities and colleges, under a national agreement, can make available to students photocopied and other kinds of reproduced materials for learning purposes and we have been quite successful in negotiating that. I think the new universities have been far more innovative in the way they have approached students' needs for learning and teaching than the older universities which are rather sort of stuck with their historical inheritance in terms of buildings and infrastructure.
  (Sir Brian Follett) Can I add. I agree with you, the fact that in many ways Super JANET itself is a good example of providing a remarkably world class network to all institutions regardless by taking money off the very top of the budget line to provide that. Really that is what is happening in many ways with some of the research resources and that is one way in which a research electronic library has grown. You have been talking particularly in the last few minutes about the teaching and learning side, and of course they are connected, but in many ways the research problem is a question of vast amounts of information, any one piece of which will only be accessed by the odd individual. The situation in teaching and learning is really the opposite way round, relatively small amounts of material which will accessed by tens of thousands of individuals, perhaps simultaneously. That is a very interesting challenge. Now it could have been done within this one committee that I am chairing, in fact it was decided, I think wisely, not to mix them together because there is a bit of apples and pears. JISC which runs the network has been charged, and has begun working heavily now on providing over the network what are called managed learning environments. Those managed learning environments also include the capacity to access learning materials over the web. That is being done particularly because of the new responsibilities that JISC has for FE. When I happened to write a report on this JISC about 18 months ago, it was made very clear to me by the further education principals I met that they were delighted to join the higher education network, they have got access to a wonderful network, but they did expect that the emphasis would shift and that their priorities, which are mass access to teaching and learning material, would figure much more prominently, and that is rapidly under way. The irony is that not only are there difficulties with copyright on teaching and learning materials, the truth is that for all our talk there are not all that many good electronic teaching and learning materials available.

Mr Chaytor

  56. Could I pursue the question about access by looking at the issue of the recharge costs? At the moment, the British Library takes 50 per cent of its inquiries from higher education, and I think you have already said 25 per cent from commercial sources.
  (Sir Howard Newby) Business, yes.

  57. You quoted Glaxo Wellcome in particular.
  (Sir Howard Newby) Yes.

  58. Assume a particular university carries nothing from tax, that is because the recharge is between the library and the individual university. What is the differential between the conventional recharge cost to an individual university and a typical recharge cost to a commercial organisation?
  (Mrs Brindley) For the same service, for example for a document supplied, there is not a differential charge because of the Treasury rules for charging. We work very clearly within the Treasury guidelines. For the same service we are obliged to charge the same price. That said, the sort of thing we were talking about earlier in terms of some of the more highly value added services that we were planning, we would only offer those on a fully commercial basis.

  59. Again, looking forward to the establishment of the electronic resource library, if an individual, not registered with the university, wishes to access that, will there be a charge to an individual, somebody who simply has a lifelong passion in some area?
  (Mrs Brindley) I think unless, for example, they could convince their public library to fund them or some other organisation they were affiliated to, if they came simply as an individual they would be charged, yes.

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