Select Committee on Science and Technology Tenth Report

5 Intelligent procurement

Library funding

95. Restrictions on academic library funding have greatly exacerbated problems with the provision of scientific publications. Library funding has declined as a proportion of total university budgets. John Cox, an independent publishing consultant, told us that, in the 1970s, library expenditure accounted for 4% of total university spend compared to 3% currently. These figures are in stark contrast to the 3% year on year increase in the output of scientific articles.[178] More recently, "the libraries' share of total UK university funding […] declined from 3.1% in 1998-99 to 2.8% in 2001-02 in the old [pre-1992] universities, and from 3.8% to 3.6% in the new [post-1992] universities".[179] Not only has library funding declined as a proportion of overall institutional spend, it has not kept pace with either research output or journal prices. The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) told us that, whilst between 1996-07 and 2000-01 the average journal price increased by 41%, over the same period the information resource budget of UK university libraries decreased by 29% in real terms.[180] Journal prices are increasing by rates of up to 10.6% per year.[181] The downward trend in academic library funding, both in real terms and within institutions, is of serious concern.

96. The mechanisms used to allocate library funding make it difficult to verify the accuracy of these statistics. Higher education institutions receive funds from a range of sources, both public and private. For many of these institutions, the block grant from HEFCE, provided under the terms of the Dual Support System, is a significant element, but the proportions vary within the broad range of 10-60%. Libraries are funded from the university's general funds, of which HEFCE's contribution from the block grant is one element. HEFCE does not ring fence funds for library provision. The Follett Report published in 1993 noted that "the principle which therefore underlies the allocation of almost all funding related to the provision of research libraries in HE [higher education] is that it is for the individual institutions to decide how to allocate resources to meet these needs, from within the general funds available to them". The report concluded that this flexibility was necessary because it enabled institutions "to distribute funding internally as they think best and helps to ensure responsiveness to local needs".[182] Whilst we are concerned that the library's share of the overall university budget is in decline, we recognise that UK higher education institutions are currently under severe financial pressure on all sides. The decline in library funding may well reflect added financial pressures elsewhere in the university's budget. Universities need to have the freedom to prioritise to meet the various demands placed upon them. We agree that universities should be able to allocate their budgets locally in response to the needs of their teaching and research communities.

97. We asked HEFCE what proportion of the block grant was spent on library provision. Rama Thirunamachandran told us that "ultimately HEFCE funds are less than half of what the totality of the university sector's general income is; so it is difficult to specify exactly how much of HEFCE's money might be going to libraries, but UK university libraries spend about £400 million".[183] We found this vagueness difficult to accept. HEFCE is the public body responsible for distributing funds to higher and further education institutions in support of research and teaching needs. In order to be able to allocate its funds, HEFCE has to be aware of the nature and extent of these needs, as well as the extent to which they are currently being met. The library is an invaluable component of an institution's teaching and research provision: the cost of the services that it provides form part of the full economic costs of research. At the very least, HEFCE should make itself aware of the financial pressures facing academic libraries when it calculates the funding to be allocated through the block grant. It cannot do this unless it takes an active interest in library budgets. HEFCE funds a recently-formed think tank, the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI). HEPI states that one of its roles is "to inform policy makers (notably civil servants and politicians, journalists and academic decision makers) and the wider public about the issues, relevant experience and research".[184] We believe that HEPI would be well placed to conduct research into current library funding and future funding needs. It is unacceptable that HEFCE has shown so little interest in library budgets. We recommend that it commission a study from HEPI to ascertain both current library funding levels and library funding needs. The results of this study could be used to inform the allocation of the block grant.

98. Although it would not be appropriate for HEFCE to ring fence funding within the block grant, it does have a role in offering guidance to universities about how the money might be spent. In the revised version of its Strategic Plan, HEFCE states that "to ensure that our funding is put to good use, we will identify opportunities arising from the funding relationship to offer advice and guidance to the sector, often through the sharing of good practice from within the sector itself".[185] The severe pressures faced by academic libraries present an opportunity for HEFCE to put this into practice. HEFCE has a valuable role to play in advising universities on library funding requirements. We recommend that HEFCE establish a code of good practice for library funding that universities can draw upon when allocating their budgets.

99. Periodicals account for 25% of the average library acquisitions budget, or a total of 10% of the average total academic library budget. Increases in research output and journal prices put pressure on the area of the budget dedicated to STM serials. All of the libraries who submitted evidence told us that they had to reduce the number of journal subscriptions they took each year. The British Library told us that, of their subscriptions, "some 7,000 [STM journal] titles were cancelled in 1998/99 and 1,300 humanities and social science titles were cancelled in 1996-98.[186] The British Library receives free copies of all UK-based journals under legal deposit legislation, thus these figures relate to subscriptions to journals published abroad. Other areas of the acquisitions budget are also under pressure: spending on books in particular is down. Table 2 below illustrates this trend:Table 2
(£ sterling)
Information provision 2000-2001
Information provision 2001-2002
HE colleges
HE Colleges
Periodicals spend per user* 51.5826.60 19.6352.98 28.4120.65
Average cost of periodicals 127.4279.68 77.55111.10° 77.0467.22
Book spend per user* 26.7923.23 21.8725.03 22.1023.96
Average cost of books 19.7417.21 13.3215.65° 17.1714.23

*User = students, academic staff and external users. °Copyright deposit items free.

Loughborough University, the Library Information and Statistics Unit (LISU),

From 2000—01 to 2001—02, the periodicals spend per user increased by 3% in pre-1992 universities, 7% in post-1992 universities and 5% in higher education colleges - an average increase of 5%. By contrast, book spend per user over the same period decreased by 7% in pre-1992 universities and 5% in post-1992 universities, although it increased by 10% in higher education colleges. The average decrease in book spend in universities was 6%. The average cost of both books and periodicals was down, although, for periodicals this may reflect an increase in bundled deals: see paragraphs 56—68 for an explanation of bundle pricing policy. Pressure on library journal acquisitions budgets has resulted in cancelled subscriptions and has contributed to a decline in book purchasing. This compromises the library's ability to provide the full range of services required by its user community.

100. Some of the evidence we received argued that the pressure on library budgets could be reduced through efficiency savings. Bob Campbell of Blackwell Publishing told us that "most of the cost in the information system is directly related to the library and its overheads - about two thirds - while expenditure on publications is at most one third".[187] This figure is borne out by evidence from Cambridge University Library, for whom 60% of the library budget is spent on non-acquisitions related goods and services.[188] However, some of the evidence we received questioned whether these proportions represent system inefficiencies. Aslib told us that the exponential growth in information to be processed and managed required an increasing number of staff with specialist information management skills.[189] Similarly, Cambridge University Library told us that, "whilst the provision of materials for readers' use is the single most important role of a university library, the library also provides many other services that cannot simply be described as overheads". This added value includes:

  • "the work essential to selecting, acquiring, cataloguing, negotiating licences and making available to readers the books, journals and electronic resources they need
  • assistance to users of the collections, in the form of direct help across the desk, web-based support, e-mail help-desks, and training sessions for users at all levels from undergraduate to research professor
  • the provision of borrowing, photocopying and other imaging services, document delivery between libraries, etc
  • management of the collections - the provision of adequate storage facilities, preservation and repair; and growing use of digital storage; without these the materials will not be available for future generations".[190]

Accordingly, 52% of Cambridge University Library's budget is spent on staff.

101. It is commonly asserted that, by switching to a digital-only environment, libraries could make significant efficiency gains. As is explained in paragraphs 84—89 above, however, libraries are unlikely to make this transition whilst VAT is charged on digital publications. Digitisation also incurs some added costs for the library. Digital archiving, discussed at greater length in chapter 8, is time-consuming and expensive. In addition, the advent of digital licences has greatly complicated the originally very simple subscription model. The Research Council Libraries & Information Consortium (RESCOLINC) told us that "the variety of pricing models that exist within the market makes it very time-consuming for library staff to investigate all of the options and to manage the access agreements arising out of any deals".[191] The University of Hertfordshire has seen an overall increase in its information provision budget, but has had to make staff cuts in order to finance re-structuring designed to increase the emphasis on digital materials.[192] It is unreasonable to expect libraries to deliver improved services with less resources. There is undoubtedly some scope for libraries to make efficiency savings, as there is for most organisations. Nonetheless, the valuable services provided by the library are expensive and staff-intensive. It is unlikely that libraries will have more to spend on acquisitions until they see an increase in budgets.

Purchasing power


102. The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) has undertaken a national initiative for the licensing of electronic journals on behalf of the higher and further education and research communities: the second National Electronic Site Licence Initiative (NESLi2). The initiative will run from 2003—06. It follows the three year Pilot Site Licence Initiative (1995—1997) and the original NESLi deal (1998—2001). The key features of NESLi2 are as follows:

103. The purpose of NESLi2 is to "increase access and to get better value for money" in the procurement of digital journals.[194] In oral evidence, Frederick Friend, from JISC, told us that the initiative had "increased access to a limited extent, but it is quite labour-intensive in terms of negotiation, both national negotiations and at local level as well".[195] This was a matter of some concern for us. Considerable time and resources are invested in negotiations for the national licensing deal. The allocation of these resources would be called into question if it could not be proved that NESLi2 was providing value for money for academic libraries in the UK.

104. The limited success of NESLi2 seems to be due, in part, to the attitude adopted by some of the libraries. Di Martin from the University of Hertfordshire told us that "from our perspective, certainly where a publisher has adopted the model licence terms that have been agreed nationally, it has made it much easier to manage and deliver those journals to our staff and students".[196] Nonetheless she stated that "the deal that has been put forward now for higher education, if we were to move to that, would give us much fewer options and we would have to take a set package".[197] National licence deals are negotiated in an attempt to secure the maximum benefits for the greatest number of libraries. As Frederick Friend reported, they involve intense negotiation at a local, as well as a national, level. They work by attracting a critical mass of library support, which, in combination, gives the negotiator greater leverage with the publisher. The Follett Report observed that, "although when compared with the US market UK purchasing power is small, within this country higher education institutions have a potentially powerful role as buyers, and there is arguably significant scope for negotiated price discounts".[198] Each library that opts out of the deal significantly reduces that scope. Whilst we accept that it is important that libraries are responsive to local needs, opting out of national licensing deals negotiated with those needs in mind only makes the situation faced by libraries worse.

105. The success of national licensing deals has also been hampered by the fragmented way in which they are negotiated. Procurement for Libraries, an umbrella group representing the seven higher education regional purchasing consortia for libraries, the Research Council Libraries' Consortium and the British Library, told us that "NESLi2, JISC Collections and Eduserv Chest seem to negotiate agreements for the same type of content. Arrangements made previously under NESLI have cut across agreements negotiated by the regional consortia and have cost libraries money in terms of forfeited discounts".[199] National licensing deals have the potential to deliver significantly more value for money and have the advantage of combining the purchasing power of all UK academic libraries. Nonetheless, they seem to have been implemented in a haphazard way. Since it would appear that all the libraries, regional consortia and national bodies are striving towards the same goal, it would make sense for them to agree a common strategy. We recommend that the Joint Information Systems Committee negotiate with libraries, regional purchasing consortia and other national bodies responsible for procurement to agree a common strategy. Only by combining their resources will they be able to negotiate a licensing deal that secures national support and brings real benefits.

The role of the academic

106. Problems with procurement cannot be wholly attributed to libraries and the organisations that negotiate on their behalf. It is one of the peculiarities of the market outlined in paragraph 11 that "researchers are cushioned from the real cost of publication".[200] The Council of Australian University Libraries (CAUL) told us that "academic staff are generally not responsible for expenditures: finding funds to pay for journal subscriptions is the 'library's problem'".[201] The evidence we received suggested that the reverse was true. Frederick Friend told us that "ultimately we are in the hands of our academic community, and if the academic community do not back the library up in saying 'no', then the library alone could not take action".[202] This message was reinforced throughout the evidence we received. The Open University, for example, argued that "the locus of power lies with the senior academics who control the publication of the journals".[203] This is because, as end users, academics constitute the audience that publishers are keen to please.

107. Some of the academics we spoke to held themselves aloof from the problems being explored by this inquiry. This position was typified by Save British Science, a pressure group with the aim of promoting science within the UK, which stated:

"The market in scientific publication should not […] be looked at in terms of what is cheapest for researchers or what makes most money for publishers, but at what gives the widest range of researchers access to the widest range of scientific ideas, coupled with appropriate information about the degree to which those ideas have been tested. […] Whether or not individual libraries are hampered by 'big deals' and whether or not publishing companies are making big profits are not therefore the most appropriate questions."[204]

This is a surprising position. Research does not take place in a vacuum: it is reliant on funding mechanisms for its survival. Meeting the needs of researchers costs money, and the more value for money that can be achieved, the more effectively those needs can be met. By refusing to engage with the issues, academics are curbing the ability of libraries to negotiate satisfactory deals with publishers. Publishers will not be persuaded to change their pricing policies if the end users profess themselves to be satisfied with the status quo. We suspect that the indifference of many academics to the difficulties faced by the libraries is exacerbating the serials crisis. It is disappointing that many academics are content to ignore the significant difficulties faced by libraries. Until they start to see the provision of journals as, in part, their problem, the situation will not improve.

178   Ev 134 Back

179   Ev 100-101 Back

180   Ev 411 Back

181   The Library & Information Statistics Unit (LISU), Loughborough University, "Library & Information Statistics Tables", 2003 Back

182   The Follett Report, paras 216-17 Back

183   Q 337 Back

184 Back

185   Higher Education Funding Council for England, Strategic Plan, 2003-08, revised 2004 edition, p 7 Back

186   Ev 355 Back

187   Ev 306 Back

188   Ev 461 Back

189   Ev 330 Back

190   Ev 461 Back

191   Ev 334 Back

192   Ev 476 Back

193 Back

194   Q 240. Frederick Friend. Back

195   Q 241 Back

196   Q 232 Back

197   Q 222 Back

198   The Follett Report, para 129 Back

199   Ev 154 Back

200   Public Library of Science, Ev 273 Back

201   Ev 362 Back

202   Q 224 Back

203   Ev 323 Back

204   Ev 373 Back

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