Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the National Library of Scotland


1.1  National Library of Scotland: History and background

  The National Library of Scotland (NLS) has a history of more than 300 years, being the successor to the historic Library of the Faculty of Advocates, founded in the late seventeenth century. By Act of Parliament in 1925 the Government accepted the Faculty's offer to present its Library, with the exception of the law books and manuscripts, to the nation to become the National Library of Scotland.

  Today the NLS is Scotland's largest library, serving both as a general research library of international importance and particularly for the people of Scotland, and the world's leading repository for the printed and manuscript record of the country's history and culture. It is funded by the Scottish Parliament and is governed by a Board of Trustees.

  Its special characteristics derive from its status as a national and legal deposit library—the only one in Scotland.

1.2  NLS: Vision and Mission, and Principal Functions

  In 2003 a new Vision and Mission was agreed for the Library:

    The National Library of Scotland will enrich lives and communities, encouraging and promoting lifelong learning, research and scholarship, and universal access to information by comprehensively collecting and making available the recorded knowledge of Scotland, and promoting access to the ideas and cultures of the world.

  NLS has five Principal Functions that will enable it to achieve the Vision and Mission:

    to create, preserve and ensure access to a comprehensive collection of the recorded knowledge, culture and history of Scotland, for the benefit of the people of Scotland and throughout the world;

    to promote access to the recorded knowledge, culture and history of the world, particularly for the people of Scotland;

    to preserve, ensure access to, promote and, where appropriate, add to the National Library of Scotland's major historical and heritage collections;

    to encourage and support research and scholarship; and

    to provide support and leadership for the library and information sector in Scotland.

1.3  Collection Development

  1.3.1  Legal Deposit

  The privilege of legal deposit was first granted to the Advocates' Library in 1710, and confirmed by successive copyright legislation. Under the terms of the National Library of Scotland Act, 1925, the privilege was transferred to the National Library. Law material received by deposit is retained by the Advocates' Library, and users of the National Library have access to it through the National Library's reading-rooms.

  In October 2003, provisions of the Copyright Act 1911 regarding the deposit of publications were replaced by the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003[213]. This gives the Secretary of State the power to extend the legal deposit privilege to cover non-print media, including both hand-held resources such as CD-ROMs, and online publications such as electronic journals. It is understood, however, that it could be up to two years before the first regulations required under the Act for this extension can be put in place. Since January 2000 a code of practice for the voluntary deposit of non-print publications has operated which enables the Legal Deposit Libraries to request deposit of certain categories of new media. NLS has taken primary responsibility for requesting such materials published in Scotland.

  In 2002-03 the Library acquired 231,216 items through legal deposit and some 2,500 under the terms of the voluntary code.

  1.3.2  Purchase and Donation

  The Library supplements its legal deposit intake by purchase and donation in accordance with its collection development policies (currently under review). This includes both British and foreign non-print materials. The great majority of purchasing is funded by the annual Purchase Grant received as grant-in-aid from the Scottish Executive. This has remained static at £1.058m for the past four years, and it is anticipated that it will remain unchanged in 2004-05 and 2005-06. Funding is also available for the purchase of specified types of material from the Library's own Trust Funds, and grants are received, for example from the Heritage Lottery Fund, towards the purchase of particular items or collections.

1.4  Access

  Under current regulations access to the National Library is available to any individual who has a need to consult the resources it holds and who cannot readily obtain these resources elsewhere. Most material can be consulted in the General Reading Room, where in addition to the usual facilities there are 40 computers for public use. Readers in the Library can also plug in their own lap-top machines. All printed library material must be consulted on the premises, but photocopying is permitted under fair dealing within the terms of the copyright legislation. Electronic databases to which the Library subscribes are largely made available on the Library's Electronic Resources Network. This, too, may only be consulted on the premises. Some CD-ROM resources are networked, others must be consulted on stand-alone PCs.


  The National Library of Scotland employs three curatorial staff, all with part-time hours, to provide a Science Information Service, to select new stock and to promote the science collections.

2.1  Collection Development in Science

  The scientific academic community is international in its interests and publishing coverage. It is therefore necessary to supplement the acquisition of UK publications obtained through Legal Deposit by the purchase of scientific research publications produced abroad.

  Development of the science collections is considered both in relation to the scientific information needs of the Scottish science base[214], and what has been deemed to be of particular relevance to the Scottish economy. "Scotland's scientific capacity is one of its prime assets and as such should be maintained and developed to its full potential to encourage outputs that will enrich the economic, social and environmental development of the people of Scotland and beyond." [215]. Budgetary constraints compel purchasing decisions to be made in the light of the strengths of other collections open to the public. Areas such as Earth Sciences are well covered by the British Geological Survey, for example, and Botany by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Priority areas are subject to change, but have been identified as those such as electronics, engineering, environmental science, biotechnology and aquaculture. A high priority is given to readers' suggestions, and the Library aims, as far as possible, to fill gaps in information provision, especially where these relate to Scottish interest. Collaboration with other major academic, research and public libraries has always been an important factor in the Library's development of collections, and this continues. With the increasing costs to all libraries however, it is not always possible for the National Library to fill as many of the gaps as are needed, and this is a source of anxiety to the Library, and indeed to other professionals. A particular strain has been placed on budgets by the excessive year-on-year inflation in the prices of scientific periodicals, which greatly outstrips increases in the RPI. This undermines the capability of libraries to purchase adequately in the fields of humanities and social sciences, and skews the balance of periodicals versus books in library collections.

  2.1.1  Printed Collections

  A significant proportion of printed material arriving in the Library is of a scientific or technical nature. Using its legal deposit privilege, the Library aims to stock all scholarly scientific publications published in Britain. In 2003, science accessions consisted of around 17,000 monographs and 10,000 current science journal titles. The majority of these are the British publications, but the figures also include non-British purchased and donated titles. The figures also include the foreign titles received following an agreement in 1981 with the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE). From its foundation in 1783, the RSE had acquired a large and important collection of periodicals, many of which were received by means of exchange of the Society's publications with those of learned institutions all over the world. Since 1981, the Library has maintained both this older collection and the current exchanges.

  2.1.2  Electronic Collections

  Although scientific electronic resources have been available in the Library since the 1980s, the Library has, since 2001, had a policy of investing more heavily in its electronic science collections. Chief among these has been a subscription (£80,000 pa) to the Elsevier ScienceDirect service[216], which indexes around 1,800 academic journal titles. A wide range of subjects is covered, with full-text access to a large proportion of the current titles. Other databases accessible in the Library include: ISI Web of Science[217], ISI Journal citation reports[218], Ei Compendex[219],. Environmental issues and policy index[220], ILI Standards Infobase[221] and Aquatic sciences and fisheries abstracts. [222]


3.1  What impact do publishers' current policies on pricing and provision of scientific journals, particularly "big deal schemes", have on libraries and the teaching and research communities they serve?

  The National Library at present can claim all British printed journals via legal deposit. Taking a "big deal scheme" may well result in unwanted duplication and would not be cost-effective. Moreover, other libraries take account of NLS's legal deposit status when defining their own collecting policies, and often depend on it both to fill gaps and to provide the permanent archive.

  Publishers have generally been unwilling to offer to the National Library "big deal schemes" together with the discount usually offered to academic libraries. Very often commercial subscription rates are applicable, making them too expensive for the Library to consider.

  The National Library does not serve a distinct teaching and research community and given the financial constraints it must define its priorities in order to meet the requirements of the largest proportion of users. For instance, the current subscription to the entire Elsevier ScienceDirect service (at a reduced rate for one year only) will enable the Library to determine the most used sections to which it will subscribe in future years.

  These schemes often involve licences for electronic products which limit access to certain categories of users. In academic libraries, this often restricts access to members of the academic community only. Where in the past, retired academics and private researchers may have been able to consult printed resources in academic libraries, they are not usually entitled to use electronic resources. These individuals then have to look for alternative sources of information, and often expect the National Library to provide them.

3.2  What action should Government, academic institutions and publishers be taking to promote a competitive market in scientific publications?

  The National Library has always wished to promote the highest degree of scholarship. It would therefore not want to see the scenario where competition might lead to "dumbing down"; where large publishing corporations more interested in quantity than quality became the key players within scientific publication. Many of the most important science journals are published by small publishers; the Library would not wish to see them squeezed out. The Government should continue to monitor the scientific journals market, working where necessary with competition and monopolies authorities of other governments.

3.3  What are the consequences of increasing numbers of open-access journals, for example for the operation of the Research Assessment Exercise and other selection processes? Should the Government support such a trend and, if so, how?

  The National Library welcomes more open availability of scientific information, especially under initiatives such as SPARC[223], where peer review and levels of scholarship are maintained. "If people have the opportunity to access scientific information they will be better placed to make informed choices on issues that affect them and allow them to influence others"[224]. The National Library of Scotland aims to ensure universal access to information for Scotland's citizens. In particular, we believe that scientific research which has been funded from the public purse should be freely available. The government should support Open Access publishing, and should initiate an inquiry into the academic peer review process, with the aim of disengaging this essential process from the operations of commercial publishers. The Research Assessment Exercise, and the assessment of the work of individual researchers should include a process of encouraging researchers to publish in open access journals, subject to the retention of the independently validation (peer review) process in open access publications.

  One concern in this process for the National Library relates to its preservation and archival function. It is vital that information published in open access journals is stored and can be cited, indexed and retrieved for future reference—especially if this scenario leads to the disappearance of the traditional journal.

3.4  How effectively are the Legal Deposit Libraries making available non-print scientific publications to the research community, and what steps should they be taking in this respect?

  The National Library is eager to make its non-print scientific holdings as widely available to the people of Scotland as possible—not only to the research community, but also to the general public. Current subscriptions are accessible on NLS premises to all registered users. In order to register as a user, an individual has only to establish a need to use material not readily available to him/her elsewhere. The Library is not therefore bound by a licence to allow access to a strictly defined category of user. This contrasts with the situation in academic libraries where licences usually limit access to members of that academic community.

  However, the Library is constrained by a number of related problems. These are not unique to scientific publications, but are at present particularly acute in that field.

  3.4.1.  Problems relating to publications obtained through Legal Deposit

    1.  The fact that we are seeing a trend from simultaneous print / online publishing through to online only. The Library welcomes the recent Legal Deposit Libraries Act[225]. However the enabling legislation to allow the Library to request non-print materials, especially on-line resources, may not be in place for several years. In this interim period if publishers are unwilling to deposit voluntarily, the Library will be required to pay for material it received free when it was in print form, or else cease to take it and accept having significant gaps in its holdings.

    2.  Evidence from users' enquiries shows that the public perception is that the Library has the right to claim now, leading to the general expectation that many electronic resources are, or ought to be, available in the Library.

    3.  Publishers often provide to subscribers services such as simultaneous print and electronic versions of their publications or value-added services (eg searching of archives, indexes, cumulations, updates, links to supplementary material). These are deemed not to be applicable to legal deposit libraries, since these libraries are not paying a subscription. This means that for a British publication, such as a journal, only the most basic print version can be provided unless additional payment is made—usually the full cost of the institutional subscription.

    4.  The issues of storage and archiving of the data provided in such electronic resources remains to be addressed by the Library. It is likely that instead of retaining everything received, which has tended to be the policy of the Library in the past, NLS will be able to collaborate with other depositories and may take full responsibility for only certain types of electronic publication. At the most basic level, this could extend to Scottish material only, or that with Scottish content. It will be important to ensure that through such collaboration the full range of information continues to be available to future scholars.

  3.4.2.  Problems relating to publications obtained through purchase

    1.  The cost of such resources, exacerbated by the fact that no academic (or other) discounts seem to apply to the Library, which is usually expected to pay commercial subscription rates.

    2.  The fact that the non-print format attracts VAT, adding an extra charge to subscriptions which cannot at present be reclaimed.

    3.  The Library is keen that its users should both have access to material which is only available electronically, and also benefit from the improvements the technology can provide in terms of searching and access. The extent to which it can do so is limited by the finances available. The case has already been made to the Scottish Executive, the Library's funding body, for a significant increase to the annual Purchase Grant. However, early indications about the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review are not encouraging.

    4.  The Library has been actively pursuing publishers of databases to which it subscribes to provide passwords to allow Library users remote access. Publishers are not so far prepared to grant this facility, and will only permit their resources to be consulted "on-site". One representative from a provider said that his company has "a large commercial interest, and is therefore wary of letting passwords get into the wrong hands". This contrasts with the situation in academic libraries which have means of issuing remote access passwords to all their authenticated users. Transport and communication problems particular to Scotland because of its geography mean that members of the general public in large areas of the country cannot, without coming to Edinburgh, gain access to the resources the Library has, and which they cannot have access to through a higher education body. Printing out from on-line resources is generally only allowed on-site by licence restrictions. It is frustrating that the Library is prevented from exploiting fully the technology to satisfy the needs of its users and potential users through remote access to electronic resources.

    5.  Sometimes it is more cost-effective to provide "pay-as-you-go" access to certain infrequently used yet important databases. These services tend to be expensive for a single search, and the Library has to decide, based on usage pattern, whether any of the cost should be passed on to the reader. This leads to discrimination in terms of ability to pay.

  3.4.3  Despite these financial and commercial constraints the Library is committed to making its electronic resources available more effectively:

    1.  by promoting the services on the Library website[226], on posters, in information to personal users and direct contact with librarians of other institutions;

    2.  by identifying gaps in information provision and providing alternative access where possible. One example here was Chemical abstracts. For many years, the Library subscribed to the print edition. The cost eventually became too high to justify the subscription. A small number of readers voiced their dissatisfaction. The solution has been to subscribe to the STN[227] "pay-as-you-go" service, which has proved to be much more cost-effective;

    3.  by collaboration with other institutions eg Scottish Confederation of University and Research Libraries Science Information Strategy Working Group, the NHS E-Library, local academic libraries, public libraries;

    4.  by continuing to make the case with publishers for remote access within agreed limits;

    5.  by negotiating as good a deal as possible, and exploring the scope for consortial purchase or subscription.

3.5  What impact will trends in academic journal publishing have on the risks of scientific fraud and malpractice?

  As long as the well-respected peer review process contained in the dissemination of scientific information continues, and is incorporated into the new publishing methods such as Open Access journals, these risks will be minimized. The Library would see the danger arising not so much from academic journals but from the vast amount of unsubstantiated information available freely on the Internet. While the Library and its staff cannot exert any sort of censorship, it is incumbent upon it to ensure access to reputable information, especially for the general public with little or no other access to this sort of information. Library staff would then always take steps to provide and promote authenticated resources.


  1.  Secondary legislation to implement the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 should be brought in as quickly as possible.

  2.  Publishers of electronic resources should be encouraged by government to provide a degree of remote access for registered library users of public and national libraries, ideally through national licences which, in Scotland, it would be appropriate for the National Library to lead in co-operation with other interested libraries.

  3.  The funding bodies which support major research libraries should take cognisance of the fact that high inflation rates in the prices of periodicals, unless reflected in the libraries' purchase grants, limit the ability of libraries to meet the needs of researchers.

  4.  The Government should remove VAT from electronic publications.

  5.  The Government should seek methods of encouraging small publishers, and should continue to monitor the scientific journals market, working where necessary with competition and monopolies authorities of other governments.

  6.  The Government should encourage researchers to publish in Open Access journals and should instigate an inquiry into methods of disengaging the peer review process from commercial concerns.

February 2004

213   Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003. Website viewed on 3 Feb 2004. Back

214   SCOTTISH SCIENCE ADVISORY COMMITTEE. Science matters : making the right connections for Scotland : first report of the Scottish Science Advisory Committee. Edinburgh : The Committee, 2004. Section 4.1, page 26. Back

215   SCOTTISH SCIENCE ADVISORY COMMITTEE. Science matters : making the right connections for Scotland : first report of the Scottish Science Advisory Committee. Edinburgh : The Committee, 2004. Section 2.4, page 14. Back

216   ELSEVIER B. V. ScienceDirect. Website viewed on 4 Feb 2004. Back

217   ISI Web of science. Website viewed on 4 Feb 2004. Back

218   ISI Journal citation reports. Website viewed on 4 Feb 2004. Back

219   THOMSON Dialog@site. Ei Compendex. Website viewed on 4 Feb 2004. Back

220   EBSCO. Environmental issues and policy index. Website viewed on 4 Feb 2004. Back

221   ILI Standards infobase. Website viewed on 4 Feb 2004. Back

222   CAMBRIDGE SCIENTIFIC ABSTRACTS. Aquatic sciences and fisheries abstracts. Website viewed on 8 Jan 2004. Back

223   SCHOLARLY PUBLISHING AND ACADEMIC RESOURCES COALITION. [SPARC home page]. Website viewed on 4 Feb 2004. Back

224   SCOTTISH EXECUTIVE. A science strategy for Scotland. Edinburgh : The Stationery Office, 2001., pg 40. Back

225   Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003. Website viewed on 3 Feb 2004. Back

226   NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SCOTLAND. [Website home page]. Viewed on 4 Feb 2004. Back

227   as above. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2004
Prepared 20 July 2004