Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 98)



  80. Do you think sufficient is being done at the present time to increase the linkages—and I totally agree with what you are saying—between further education establishments and higher education establishments because I think it is definitely happier. I represent a part of the world which is very badly served in terms of higher education establishments in the coal fields. We have got some good university towns around, I am on about the South Yorkshire coal fields area around Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley and we have not got one bona fide higher education establishment there so we depend, by and large, on access to further education colleges. Is that happening enough at the present time or does that need to expand drastically in the near future?
  (Sir Howard Newby) It needs to expand drastically in the future and in a variety of ways. I am visiting Doncaster in the next three weeks actually to look at the waterside development there. That is an interesting example of one way forward which is co-location of higher education and further education facilities on the same site which is both saving in costs but also lowers the barriers between HE and FE as far as the students are concerned. We have just developed a centre in Medway where two FE colleges and two universities have come together to form an integrated campus in Rochester.

Mr Shaw

  81. Chatham.
  (Sir Howard Newby) I beg your pardon, it is an important distinction in Medway. There will be other parts of the country I have no doubt which will follow that pattern of co-location. However, also, I think we need to look, and we are looking more and more, at blurring the boundaries between higher education and further education so that we might well see the growth of some hybrid institutions. We are looking at experiments in Bradford at the moment where the University is proposing to merge with Bradford College and I think there will be probably be some other takers elsewhere in the country as well.


  82. What was that about Bradford College?
  (Sir Howard Newby) Bradford University are proposing to merge with Bradford College to form an FHE, a hybrid organisation.

  Jeff Ennis: I find those comments very encouraging.

Mr Baron

  83. Very briefly. In trying to ensure the British Library remains number one, and conscious that competition is increasing, what lessons are you drawing from libraries abroad in trying to ensure you remain number one or what concerns do you have about initiatives abroad which we should be learning?
  (Mrs Brindley) I am very happy to start with that one. I think clearly we are very aware of what other major national libraries are doing and take best practice from anywhere, we are not too proud at all of adopting that. I think there are imaginative things happening in the whole digital domain in, for example, the National Library of Australia, which we are learning from. They are, for example, archiving aspects of the web, that is of value for research, and there are other European countries which have got digital legal deposit. There are some countries who are further advanced than we are in those areas. I think we are right up there in the front in terms of the more traditional areas so those are more on the digital side that we can learn best practise from elsewhere. I have just come back from Singapore and whilst it is a very small country, I think they are doing absolutely leading edge work there in terms of the infrastructure and the development of services. Perhaps a final one I would cite is the Library of Congress, again in the area we have not perhaps touched quite so much on, which is the digitisation of existing collections because what we can offer through digitisation is part of this enormously wide access to our material without having to visit at all. The Library of Congress has had massive programmes of digitisation which it makes available. It is material which is both of value to the researcher but also we interpret it is of value to the school child and to the FE college and so on. I think digitisation, digital archiving, digital legal deposit and Singapore's great infrastructure would probably be the four I would cite as areas of best practice we can learn from.

  84. Just taking it further, if I may, one final question. Are there any financial arrangements in place abroad which we can learn from as a way of generating revenue for the British Library?
  (Mrs Brindley) I do not know that anybody has got imaginative business models that are so advanced as ours, in fact I think they look to us as one of the more entrepreneurial national libraries because £25 million from trading is quite a lot of additional income so I am not aware of that. Clearly in the USA, the fundraising regime adds a significant amount but that is a rather different donor culture in the USA. The British Library is getting increasingly into fundraising. It is a very different environment.


  85. Are you really as entrepreneurial as you think you are in the sense that some people have said that the British Library has struggled and is exhausted through that development phase with that wonderful new building you have. In terms of the broader imaginative things you are doing, we have all heard on the grapevine you might take over the National Film Archive, you might have a National Archive for Oral History or whatever it is called. Are you creative enough? Why are you not doing any of these things? You have Boston Spa and all its 1,200 staff, why can we not have a British Library in the north with a public manifestation in Bradford or Leeds perhaps or even Doncaster? Are you doing enough imaginative stuff that the British Library could be a focus for, if you like?
  (Lord Eatwell) Well, we have the National Audio Archive, Chairman. Any time you want to come along and listen to George Bernard Shaw you are very welcome.

  86. I thought there was going to be a new aspect of that.
  (Lord Eatwell) One of the proposals that we are putting forward at the moment to the Government is that we should have on site an access centre.

  87. That is what it was.
  (Lord Eatwell) Where people can come in and have access to absolutely everything in the Library that we can put through electronic and digital means, which includes the audio archive as well as those materials which have been digitalised. In that sense we are trying to create a new feeling, if you like, up at St Pancras where people feel they can drop in. It is a very open and accessible environment. One of the things that I find distressing as Chairman of the British Library Board is a lot of people think they cannot go there. They have this imagine that only Karl Marx sitting there in his chair scribbling away with his reader's ticket can actually get in, well this is not true. Anyone with a need to use the collection of the national library can obtain a readeres ticket to get into the Reading Rooms. You can get into the exhibition areas, you can go and see anything from the first folio to the Magna Carta to James Joyce's manuscript of Finnegans Wake, an extremely violent piece of work, it is amazing. Anybody can go, the public can walk in and see these things.

  88. Not many of them know that.
  (Lord Eatwell) By bringing the silent electronic dimension into this we feel we can draw the public into the British Library and give them the opportunity to have access to our extraordinary collections. With respect to the business side of the Library, I can assure you that we are determined to develop the document supply service, to develop it first of all in terms of investing in the delivery systems and modernising the delivery systems for document supply but also marketing it vigorously. If we can expand the charging rules suitably we hope to be able to see that we can actually make a greater contribution to the overall funding of the Library through our business activities.

  89. Can I just push you on the one. When is this public access to the audio archive going to take place? Is this just a pipe dream? I want the access thing to be stressed. That site cut off by the Euston Road does seem inaccessible to the ordinary public or the people we represent. It would be wonderful if there was something more which drew them on to this wonderful fine public building with all the treasures that it has. When are we going to get these new things that will drawn them there?
  (Lord Eatwell) There are two things happening. First of all, we are discussing with the Government right now the development of the access centre that I have just described.

  90. Yes.
  (Lord Eatwell) The land is available to put it on. You may know that to the north of the library there are four acres of land which were originally designated to be part of the Library but then were not used. About three quarters of that is now a port-a-cabin city supporting the work on Channel Tunnel Rail Link but there is a piece of land there which is available now which we hope to persuade the Government will be the position on which we could place our access centre. The other thing that is happening, of course, is the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and the whole development of the King's Cross area. We want to see the British Library as an integral part of that development. We want it to be part of an area where people come to, where people come and they are not just passing through and going to and from Continental trains but also where they stop and go to the British Library, they are brought in and have the chance to see the exhibitions and have access to the collections which are there.

  91. Is there any hope of having also the British Film Archive on your site or on this new site?
  (Lord Eatwell) That is not in our gift at the moment. That is not held by us, we do not hold the British Film Archive.

  92. There are rumours that it might be transferred to that site, no?
  (Lord Eatwell) There have been no discussions with us as yet about that.

Mr Chaytor

  93. Two questions, Chairman. First of all to Sir Howard. Are you confident that the existing HEFCE funding methodology recognises the changes to the role of libraries which are taking place as a result of the expansion of student numbers and the erosion of the divide between HE and FE?
  (Sir Howard Newby) No, I am not confident because we have declared that we will review it and if I was confident we would not be reviewing it. The reason being that we know the additional 362,000 students we need to attract to hit our target are likely to require more teaching and learning support than most of those who are already in the sector now and that has implications indeed for libraries and for the more generalised learning support which we were talking about earlier. We will need to reflect some of those additional costs in our funding methodology.

  94. What is the timescale for that review?
  (Sir Howard Newby) We have already completed a study which tries to estimate the additional cost both of attracting and then retaining students from poorer socio-economic groups. Now we have a reasonably robust basis on which to do this in terms of the cost. We await the outcome of the spending review. If some of these additional costs can be met they will be reflected in next year's grant allocations to higher education institutions.

  95. My other question is to Mrs Brindley about the digitalisation. You have mentioned that other countries have started doing this. Has the British Library done any of this yet?
  (Mrs Brindley) Yes, we have. All of the key funding has come from outwith the grant in aid. We have, for example, at the present time, one Lottery funded project to make available 100,000 images across a whole digital collection, so it is a major project. We have also within our SR bid a bid to digitise about four million pages of newspapers which we believe to be both an enormous resource for research but a fantastic resource for school children and for lifelong learners. We do wish to do a significant amount of digitisation, yes.

  96. If this was extended and became part of the mainstream work out of your core grant, how would you prioritise the areas to be digitised?
  (Mrs Brindley) I think the first thing to say is that we are very nervous about funding it from our core grant at the present time because we see as a top priority, for the reasons that we have been talking about, to keep the purchasing power for our collections for wider benefit. In terms of prioritising, if there is funding, I think we want very much to digitise parts of our collection that can be repurposed right across that spectrum of our user groups, hence newspapers are a very good example rather than doing slightly more esoteric material. I think that would be the main criterion we would use. Just to finish. The Lottery-funded project is around the national sense of place, so national identity and hence appropriate for the British Library. I think a second area which we would like to prioritise that came home to me very much when I was in Singapore that we are the national library for most of the world, that is to say we have the best collections outside any country of their materials, we even have better collections than most. In term of shattered cultures like Afghanistan or even our colonial heritage from Hong Kong, we have got the world's material. I think we would take then themes relating to an international sense of place from countries particularly that we have had historical relationships with.

  Chairman: The last word is going to Valerie Davey.

Valerie Davey

  97. I do not want to open up a completely new area but the one area of criticism you have made is that on the quality of learning material, which is coming forward, as you expand your remit to take in the FE colleges and schools, these materials and how they are used in teaching is going to become a whole new dimension. It is not just that you have got qualified research people who know how to use it, whether it is manuscript or electronic material, but you have got young people coming up. What I am really saying is should not the DfES be part of this? Is there not a role for them? Are you knocking on their door and saying perhaps at this stage "The Select Committee has asked us to give evidence, perhaps we should be giving you evidence, DfES"?
  (Sir Howard Newby) It follows from everything you have said that at the funding council we do regard the work of the British Library as an absolutely key and crucial resource for higher education and further education now and even more so in the future. I think it was remarked earlier that the British Library is far and away DCMS's largest spending commitment. That is when I start—to use a word that was used by Lord Eatwell—to get a bit nervous then because I see a resource that is absolutely crucial to our meeting both our commitment to sustain the UK's position as a leading world nation in research and to meet our commitment to widen access to higher education, a resource that is crucial in both those things essentially being in a Department which, with the best will in the world, may have other priorities. I am making no criticism of DCMS, I am just trying to think of scenarios going forward. Now we do have a strategic alliance, as you have heard, and that does provide a very useful framework in which we can identify together joint areas in which we need to work together. This may be an issue on which the Committee may wish to take a view.


  98. I am sure we will. Can I thank you for not only your attendance but we have learnt a great deal and I hope it has been useful for you as contributors to this session. Thank you.
  (Lord Eatwell) I wonder, Chairman, if I could round up by inviting you and your Select Committee to visit the British Library. We would very much like you to come and have the opportunity to show you the resources which are available and also to brief you on our plans.

  Chairman: We would like that indeed. Thank you again.

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