Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from The British Library


  1.  The British Library (BL) welcomes the opportunity to provide written evidence to the Science and Technology Committee to assist in its inquiry into Scientific Publications.


  2.  The British Library was established by statute in 1972 as the national library of the United Kingdom, consisting of a comprehensive collection of books, manuscripts, periodicals, films and other recorded material, whether printed or otherwise. The Library's duty is to act as the national centre for reference, study, bibliographical and other information services in relation both to scientific and technological matters and to the humanities. The Library is funded from the vote of the Department for Culture Media and Sport; in 2002-03 the BL's baseline Grant-in-aid was £85m and in addition the Library earned £27m in trading income. A recent independent economic impact study commissioned by the British Library suggests that the total value added to the UK economy by the Library each year is £363m, or £4.40 for every £1 of public funding. [314]

  3.  The British Library is one of the world's greatest research libraries, and the nation's most extensive source of published scientific information. The Library is the beneficiary of legal deposit, and it also purchases widely with a £15m annual budget for material of research value, of which broadly two-thirds is allocated to publications in the Science Technology and Medicine (STM) disciplines. Overall, the Library's STM collections include: 3.3 million books, 33,700 current serial titles (of its total holdings of 260,000 STM research titles), 0.5 million theses, 4 million official publications and reports, and 49 million patent specifications. The Library's STM collections reflect the international nature of scientific endeavour: 30% of the collections are UK publications, 30% are US publications, and 40 per cent are other overseas material.

  4.  The British Library is an integral component of the national research infrastructure and it plays a correspondingly significant role in ensuring the research excellence of the UK. When Professor Sir Brian Follett's Research Support Libraries Group (co-sponsored by the British Library, the four Higher Education Funding Councils, and the national libraries of Scotland and Wales) ranked the budgets for acquisitions in UK research libraries against those in the United States, the level of the British Library's acquisitions expenditure was on a par with the best US research collections at Harvard and Yale and significantly above the highest ranking UK universities. The Group concluded, "The resources of the British Library are, we believe, one of the main reasons why UK universities are able to match, and in many cases exceed, the quality and scale of research undertaken within similar sized universities in other parts of the world"[315]. The Library is to provide the home for the Research Libraries Network proposed by the Group to ensure a strategic and sustainable approach to the development of the national research library and information infrastructure.

  5.  Investing in innovation, the Government's July 2002 strategy for science, engineering and technology[316] recognised the value placed on the BL as a resource to scientific researchers in the UK, both public and private, as follows: "The British Library has an important role to play in supporting scientific research in the UK, by providing access to its scientific reading rooms, and through its document supply service . . . it has potential to provide particular benefit to smaller firms which are less able than large companies to hold substantial collections of scientific and other publications."

  6.  The British Library's current service portfolio for science, technology and innovation comprises: reading room services, document supply services, searchable databases, information services and research services. In 2002-03 over 4 million scientific journals, monographs and patents were consulted in the Library's reading rooms at St Pancras, and 2.8 million documents were supplied to remote users through the document supply service operated from the Library's site at Boston Spa, West Yorkshire. Some 50-55% of the Library's users—either of its reading rooms or its document supply services—come from the Higher Education sector while broadly 20% of the Library's service transactions relate to the delivery of information to industry and commerce. The Library is a key supplier of information to >80% of the UK's top 100 R&D Scoreboard companies.

  7.  Within the context of the terms of the Committee's current inquiry, the Library considers that it is uniquely positioned in the following respects:

    —  its statutory, public good, remit to collect, preserve and provide long-term access to research information in all published formats extends to the whole of the UK;

    —  it is guardian of the scientific intellectual property generated by others—it does not itself generate scientific intellectual property; and

    —  of the legal deposit libraries, the British Library is unique in terms of both the size of its STM collections and the scale of its acquisitions expenditure, and also its commitment to service provision in support of research (public and private) and innovation.


  8.  It is well documented that the subscription prices of scientific journals have increased over the last ten years or more at a much faster rate than general price inflation[317]. Of the Library's budgeted acquisitions spend (£14.9m in 2003-04) on research-level material for the collections, broadly two-thirds of the budget is allocated to publications in the Science, Technology and Medicine (STM) disciplines: £7.9m on STM serials and over £1.8m on other STM materials. Over the last five years to 2003-04, average STM journal prices have increased by 43 per cent; compared with UK general price inflation, as measured by the GDP deflator, over the same period of only 13 per cent. By taking strong steps to achieve efficiency gains over this period the British Library has within an overall cash-flat operational budget managed broadly to maintain the real terms buying power of its STM serials budget which has risen from £6.2m in 1998-99 to £7.9m in 2003-04. Prior to this, in 1998-99 and in 1996-97, the Library's financial position (exacerbated by higher-than-inflation book and serial price increases) required that major serials subscription cancellation exercises be undertaken. Some 7,000 STM titles were cancelled in 1998-99 and 1,300 humanities and social science titles were cancelled in 1996-97. In both instances the cancellations were focused on low-use titles and titles held in multiple copies to mitigate the impact on users.

  9.  The Library seeks specific recognition from Government of the pressure of journal price increases on the Library's resources. The Board considers this to be a crucial issue due to the central role played by the British Library's collections in underpinning UK research library provision and because it is unlikely that the Library will be able to sustain the buying power of its serials budget beyond the current planning period.

  10.  In the face of journal subscription price increases and falling library budgets, UK university and other libraries have struggled to maintain strong collections and they increasingly turned to interlibrary loans and individual document delivery as a means of filling the gaps created in particular from cancelled serial titles. At its peak level of demand in 1998-99, the British Library's document supply service was fulfilling 3.8 million requests for individual documents annually. However, the introduction of publishers' `Big Deal Schemes' (which were made possible by the advent of the electronic journal and which provide access to all the journals of a particular publisher) and their widespread take-up by UK higher education institutions, has led to a significant decline in demand for the British Library's document supply service. Nonetheless, this service remains invaluable and essential in terms of both sustaining the breadth of access to journal articles particularly from the smaller publishers that are not available online and also supporting customers outside the HE sector where the take-up of the Big Deal Schemes has been far less pronounced.

  11.  There remains widespread support for the British Library's centralised document supply service from stakeholders. The joint evidence to the Committee from CURL (the Consortium of University Research Libraries) and SCONUL (the Society of College National and University Libraries) states in Para 47: "We also stress the importance of the British Library and the other national libraries maintaining and improving their acquisition of all scholarly publications, to enable the continuation of a comprehensive document supply service, serving the requirements of scholars and researchers". However the take-up of the Big Deal Schemes, and the consequential decline in demand for document supply from HEIs, represents a significant challenge to the existing financial model of the Library's document supply service. The Library is responding to this challenge in the short-term by adopting a twin-track approach of aggressive cost reduction and innovative product development. This saw the introduction in December 2003 of a new Secure Electronic Delivery service which gives access to 100 million documents which can be delivered electronically to researchers' desktops. This investment by the Library in improved online services has been warmly welcomed by the Library's university research library partners. Meantime there is recognition of the need for discussions on alternative business models for this crucial element of the UK research infrastructure to ensure that its support for the science base and innovation is sustained into the medium- to long-term.

  12.  A further factor that is exacerbating the position of the Library's document supply service is the inconsistent approach taken by Member States to implementation of the European Copyright Directive (in terms of how the levels of recompense for rightsholders are determined in each State) which has undermined the UK's competitive position in information supply. The Library would welcome the Committee's support for obtaining Government recognition of the need to address the differences in implementation of the European Copyright Directive by Member States if a level playing field in European information supply is to be attained.

  13.  The shift towards electronic publication has created an additional financial pressure for university library budgets. While print publications are zero-rated for VAT, electronic information attracts VAT at the standard rate of 17.5 per cent. The VAT differential is a disincentive, and an additional cost, to libraries making the transition towards electronic access to meet researcher needs. As a member of both CURL and SCONUL the British Library would welcome the Committee's support for obtaining Government recognition of this pressure on university library budgets and the need to exempt education institutions from payment of VAT on electronic information resources, including electronic journals.

  14.  In September 2002, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) report, The market for scientific, technical and medical journals[318], concluded that it would not be appropriate, given possible changes including the use of new technology, for the competition authorities to intervene in the market at that point, but that the position would be kept under review. As further concentration of the commercial scientific publishing sector is undesirable, the Library believes there is a case for OFT to revisit its earlier study to ensure that a genuinely competitive market operates. Given the international nature of the journals market, action will require close liaison with other competition authorities in Europe and the United States.


  15.  In recent years the Library has collected significant amounts of digital material, in addition to the vast paper-based collection resources which can now be supplied digitally on demand (Paragraphs 11,17). The Library currently subscribes to over 4,000 of the most highly-used electronic journals, and this number is growing continuously. The Library took a leading role in seeking to secure reform of UK legal deposit legislation to take account of electronic publications, and the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 represents a significant step forward in safeguarding the nation's digital heritage for future generations. The Act extends the concept of legal deposit to electronic and other non-print publications and will be implemented incrementally through a series of Regulations requiring the affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament. The United Kingdom is the first major publishing country in the world to have introduced this change. In the meantime some 2,000 electronic monographs, 400 hand-held electronic serial titles, and 900 online serial titles have been deposited with the Library to date under a voluntary scheme with publishers.

  16.  The British Library is joint chair (together with the Digital Content Forum, for the publishers) of the newly formed Joint Committee on Legal Deposit, which has recently commenced work to prepare for the progressive implementation of the Act. Careful implementation of the Act is vital to ensuring the collection, storage, preservation and access of the non-print national published archive for the benefit of present and future generations. By virtue of its scale and the depth and breadth of its collections, the major responsibility will fall upon the British Library. Together with CURL and SCONUL, we believe it is essential that the Library is funded at an appropriate level to enable it to discharge this responsibility. It is also imperative that, as Regulations are made, reasonable access arrangements are introduced for material which will be deposited or harvested under the Act. A judicious balance must be struck between the national interest (which requires access) on the one hand and the protection of the legitimate economic interests of the publishing industry on the other.

  17.  The Library provides access to the 4,000 electronic journals to which it subscribes in both its reading rooms and through its document supply service as a result of licensing agreements secured with the relevant publishers. New technology introduced into the Library's document supply service (developed in collaboration with Adobe and Relais) enables almost any item in the collection—be it print, digital, or microfilm—to be delivered to researchers electronically. The Library is working with partners in higher education to implement digital signatures so that documents can be delivered to individual end-users under the "library privilege" provisions of copyright law.

  18.  The new electronic publishing models have significant implications for collecting, storing and making material available for the long-term. The Library is co-founder (with JISC—the Joint Information Systems Committee) of the Digital Preservation Coalition and it is collaborating with higher education institutions on pilot projects under the JISC FAIR Programme to test the long-term sustainability of emerging models. The Library is developing a digital object management system to ensure the long-term preservation and access for digital material. There is widespread support from the British Library's university research library partners for its continuing role in ensuring long term preservation of the national digital archive. The principal concern lies in the cost of preserving material for future generations. The Library is seeking specific recognition from Government of this particular funding requirement in the forthcoming Spending Review and would welcome the Committee's endorsement of that requirement.


  19.  Currently it is estimated there are 15-18,000 core scholarly scientific journal titles worldwide, containing over one million articles per annum, reliant on an extensive network of researchers to provide peer review and quality control. However there is widespread recognition of the need to re-engineer the scholarly communication process and new business models are emerging, including:

    —  open access journals—where the author pays for the articles to be published and as a result the articles and the journals can be widely distributed without an access charge;

    —  institutional repositories—where the institutional generators of intellectual property (eg the universities and other research centres) make the products of publicly-funded research undertaken on their campuses freely available on a central server; and

    —  disciplinary-based e-print services—where researchers post their online manuscripts on such services and allow free access and download.

  20.  The new publishing models that are emerging are still in the early stages of their development and have yet to prove sustainable in the long-term. They raise questions about how quality control is to be maintained in the re-engineered environment and how the scientific record is to be maintained and preserved for future generations. And while the number of open access journals is growing, at the time of writing the Directory of Open Access Journals compiled by Lund University in Sweden[319] lists only 739 fully peer-reviewed journals that place no barriers between the papers published online and readers. Thus at this stage the Library is maintaining a close watching brief on technological and business developments, including involvement in pilot projects and other development initiatives.


  21.  The British Library does not itself generate scientific intellectual property—its mission is to underpin science—and thus it takes a balanced and long-term view of the particular business models or formats that might emerge from this evolving market (although it naturally welcomes moves to increase the dissemination of publicly-funded scientific research). The Library's responsibility is to preserve and provide access to the definitive record of science for the long-term, and the legal deposit arrangements for printed publications and, increasingly in the future, for electronic publications make a critical contribution to this. In the light of the developments under way in scientific scholarly communication, the Library would welcome the Committee's general support for its continuing leadership position in ensuring long term preservation of the national digital archive and its recognition of the resource implications of the necessary investment in the digital infrastructure.

  22.  The Library also seeks the Committee's specific support for:

    (a)  the importance of maintaining the real terms value of the British Library's acquisitions budget for scientific publications (Paragraph 9)

    (b)  the need to address anomalies in the implementation of the European Copyright Directive (Paragraph 12)

    (c)  the need to exempt education institutions from payment of VAT on electronic information resources, including electronic journals (Paragraph 13)

    (d)  a further review of the market for scientific, technical and medicine journals by the Office of Fair Trading (Paragraph 14)

    (e)  timely and effective Regulations under the Legal Deposit Libraries Act (Paragraph 16)

    (f)  investment in the digital infrastructure required to preserve and to provide long-term access to the UK's national published archive of scientific publications in electronic form (paragraph 18)

February 2004  

314    Measuring our Value: Results of an independent economic impact study commissioned by the British Library to measure the Library's direct and indirect value to the UK economy (December 2003). Back

315    Research Support Libraries Group. Report. 2003. Back

316    HM Treasury. Investing in innovation: a strategy for science, engineering and technology. 2002. Back

317    Annual periodical prices for . . . Library Association Record, May 1994-May 2000; and, Serials price increases. Swets Blackwell, 2001-2003. Back

318    Office of Fair Trading. The market for scientific, technical and medical journals. London: OFT, September 2002, p.1 [] Back

319 Back

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