Saturday, 14 March 2009

Researchers can't get 'essential' texts

Postgraduate students desperate for new books critical to furthering their research are being told by the Library “we must not order books that are not on reading lists,” Leeds Student has discovered.

Bertie Russell, a Geography PhD student, has been unable to use a book “essential” to his research because the library does not stock it and his purchase suggestion was rejected.

After Bertie placed a proposal for ‘Deleuze and the Social’ he received an email reply from Sara Thornes, Faculty Team Librarian for the Edward Boyle library which read: “Unfortunately the fluctuation in the exchange rates that has come with the credit crunch has hit the library budget hard, and we have recently been told that we must not start any new subscriptions or order books that are not on reading lists.”

Bertie was dismayed at the response: “It is one of only two books that have been written on the issue – so, it is essential that I have access to it. It costs £20 but I can’t get the book, as there are no funds available.”

He explained that the only way for him to obtain the book is if a sympathetic lecturer were to place it on a reading list. “But that means research is largely being determined by the remit of what is already being taught,” he said.

“It’s quite illogical if research is supposed to be producing something new. There is not much precedent for my subject area within Leeds Uni, so the Library is particularly scarce on the newer books.”

“The recent fall in the value of sterling has hit the Library, as some of our purchases are made in dollars and euros.” Margaret Coutts, University Librarian and Keeper of the Brotherton Collection, said. “Subscriptions in US dollars are currently costing an additional 37%, and those in Euros an additional 19% above the anticipated cost.”

Thornes was on hand to explain the Library’s reasoning. “Texts on reading lists are used by large numbers of students, typically a single copy of a reading list book would be used by around 20 students,” she said. “Books requested for research, tend to be used extensively by only one individual.”

The Library’s current stance is at odds with information provided at start of the year. “I was informed before starting my PhD that the Library appreciate the suggestions of research students as it means less work for the faculty librarian.” Bertie said. “The books a PhD student recommend are also likely to be at the ‘cutting edge’ of research, helping to open access to these topics for students in all cohorts.”

An article in the Times Higher Education highlights the problem as a national one. THE reported that the fall in the value of the pound is having a ‘crippling effect’ on the budgets of UK university libraries with Glasgow University estimating that every time the pound went down either a euro cent or a US cent over a year, it would cost their library £12,000 and £7,000, respectively.

“This is indeed a national problem and all university libraries are experiencing the same,” Coutts explained.

The Library say that the block on orders will be in place until May, after book costing has been reassessed. For the time being PhD students should be offered alternatives, such as document supply or inter-library loans.

The Vice-Chancellor Michael Arthur was open in his assessment of the cash flow problem. “We’re facing quite a bit of financial turmoil,” he admitted during a recent question and answer session with students. “I’ve been putting the Library under some pressure by asking for an extra five per cent efficiency as a way of coping with the economic downturn.”

Arthur added: “We’ll try and ensure that material for students is affected least; the research side might be affected more.

“Library costs actually inflate at way above the rate of inflation – about 6 per cent per annum. When I arrived here we were actually spending about £8m in the library and we’re now spending £12m.

“The library is not suffering a cutback in funding, we’re talking about not increasing it by as much as we had planned.”

Originally published in Leeds Student on March 13

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