Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) (BL 06)

  1.  SCONUL is a professional association representing the heads of library services in nearly all the UK's higher education institutions, and the directors of the UK's national libraries, including the British Library. (We also represent their counterparts in all the Irish Universities and the director of the National Library of Ireland).

  2.  We warmly endorse the points made by Sir Brian Follett in his memorandum to the Committee, in particular the key elements in paragraph 7. Indeed we have already written to Sir Brian, following his presentation at our annual conference in Cambridge on 12 April, supporting these ideas, and our letter is annexed to this memorandum. In brief, the concept of a national electronic library for research appeals to us; we agree that the Document Supply Centre of the British Library is a key element in the UK's research infrastructure; and we are in favour of closer collaboration between research libraries.

  3.  To expand a little on the last point, we agreed at our conference last month to extend the local collaboration between libraries (described by Sir Howard Newby at question 50 of the Examination of Witnesses at the Committee's hearing on 29 April). We have set up a group to finalise a scheme, now approved in principle, whereby a researcher from a UK higher education institution may borrow from the library of virtually any other such institution in addition to their own. We are also collaborating with the British Library on a fast-track referral scheme for researchers in higher education who need to consult the Library's collections at St Pancras (as described by Mrs Brindley at question 50). Most of our members participate in a collaborative scheme to provide borrowing facilities for distance learning students at a library more convenient to them than their "home" institution's library.[3] We recognise that excellent information support nowadays requires co-operative effort. Not only do we approve of collaboration but we actively engage in it.

  4.  Our only note of reservation concerns the optimism of HEFCE's memorandum at the end of paragraph 5. True, the pressure on hard copy materials for students may be eased by the increasing availability of teaching support materials in electronic form. But making such materials available in support of teaching is usually done by libraries, and in our experience electronic materials are rarely cheaper than their printed counterparts. Pure "teaching" materials in electronic form are actually rather scarce (as Sir Brian Follett acknowledges at the end of question 55): the keen appetite shown by students is for electronic material as background support for their courses. The implications, as institutions aim to attract for more students—as indicated by Sir Howard Newby at question 93—constitute a major challenge for libraries. We are eager to rise to it and are glad it has been recognised.

  Annex:  letter from SCONUL to Sir Brian Follett, 13 May 2002.[4]

3   The scheme, "UK Libraries Plus" helps part-time, distance learning and placement students. Back

4   Not printed. Back

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