30 September 2007

NOT the British library?

A certain amount of publicity has surrounded the British Library's announcement that it is to make available in digital form some 100,000 old titles - mainly from the 19th century. It is good news that the collection will be open to staff and students of UK universities, but bad news that it will not be open access to all. The British Library Act of 1972 gives the Board the right to impose charges, with the approval of the relevant Secretary of State, but it seems to be entirely against the intent of the major provision of the Act. The Library is defined as consisting of "a comprehensive collection of books, manuscripts, periodicals, films and other recorded matter, whether printed or otherwise." and when reasons of preservation, or otherwise, require the provision of digital versions of documents, they surely become part of the 'collections' referred to, and have no special status, and, therefore, no special reason for charging. With the likelihood that the provision of digital resources will become more and more the norm for the British Library, can we expect more charged-for services? The costs of running the Library and the costs of digitisation are derived from tax - with the exception that relationships with such as Microsoft may provide additional resources - and we have the usual situation in the UK of the citizen being required to pay twice for anything connected in any way with government information and data. Write to your MP today! The British Library needs more money to preserve its present services, and is going to need more to enable it to fulfil the role of national library more effectively and more openly.

1 comment:

  1. I think there are two issues raised in Tom Wilson's "Not the national
    library" which need to be ddressed.
    As a non-academic I get frustrated time and time again by research resources being available to "universities" or "registered HE and FE institutions" and so on. Surely if a service has been paid for from central government funds
    then the service should, with appropriate safeguards for confidentiality and
    security, be available to all? This is not something which is unique to the
    British Library.
    Charging for a service, over and above the funding that comes to an
    organisation from government, is, I suggest, a different issue to be resolved by the
    board of the organisation and the funding body. In the case of the British
    Library, as I understand it, the Director was charged with the task of
    increasing usage and she's certainly achieved that -- the reading rooms are
    frequently so full that getting a seat of any kind is impossible. There is a buzz
    about the place that says the building is used and enjoyed. Increased usage does,
    however, mean that more money is needed not less -- more cleaners, more security people, more staff in the basement getting books and journals out, more staff at the reading room desks to answer queries ... I don't need to go on,
    do I? The response of government? Cuts, in real terms, to the budget.
    Can't write more now -- I'm off to the BL to do more research!