Chapter 3 - Background Factors
The Student Population
- Between 1988-89 and 1992-93 the number of full-time equivalent
(FTE) Home and EC undergraduate students rose by 57 per cent from
517,000 to 811,000 (not counting 43,000 students in former DFE funded
institutions). Although the extent of this growth has widely between
institutions, all parts of the UK have experienced growth at a similar
rate. This is illustrated in figure 1.
- Initial figures for enrolments in 1993-94 suggest that while growth
has slowed slightly, it is still continuing. The data show that total
numbers are likely to reach approximately 900,000, and even if next
year's enrolments do not rise further, the continuing effect of existing
growth in enrolments will mean that total numbers will continue to rise.
The Government's overall objective is to raise numbers of undergraduate
students (FTE) yet further to 1,170,000 by the year 2000.
- To a considerable extent growth is being achieved by an increase in
the proportion of 18 year olds entering higher education. However, it is
also in part due to a significant increase in "non traditional"
students, such as mature students or those who are studying part-time.
In 1991-92, for instance, 55 per cent of all HE students, and 45 per
cent of new entrants, were aged 21 or over. Students of this kind often
place additional or distinctive demands on library services.
- This growth has been the most significant since the post Robbins
developments of the 1960s and has been widely welcomed. But it has also
occurred at a time when HEIs have been expected to make significant
annual efficiency gains, and when capital spending in particular has
been constrained. A serious concern in these circumstances has been how
far the infrastructure of teaching and learning support in HEIs,
especially library and related services, can cope with growth.
Particular areas which are often said to be under stress include:
- library space, both accommodation for readers and stock;
- book stock, periodicals and other materials;
- the ability of staff to deal effectively with greater and often
more diverse student demand.
- The impact of recent expansion on these areas and others relating
to library provision is illustrated in figure 2.
Investment in Libraries in Higher Education
- The major part played by libraries in meeting the information needs
of staff and students is illustrated by the scale of investment in them.
They represent one of the single most important categories of
expenditure made by higher education institutions. Total recurrent
spending on libraries across the HE sector as a whole currently exceeds
200 million each year (Figures for 1991-92, the latest available, show
expenditure of 134 million in the former UFC-sector universities; and
49.5 million in the 'new' universities. Figures are not available for
the HE colleges). There are also substantial costs associated with
maintaining library space.
- Much of this spending - just over half in most institutions -
comprises investment in library staff. In the former UFC sector, the
total number of staff working in libraries exceeded 2,500 in 1991-92,
and there were over 1,600 working in the former English polytechnic
sector (SCONUL and COPOL Annual Statistics, 1991-92).
- In the same year, 28 million was spent on books, and 35 million on
periodicals (This does not include former Scottish CIs; Sources USR,
COPOL Annual Statistics 1991-92, and HCLRG Survey 1993).
- The space occupied by libraries is also substantial, and the value
and importance the stock which they hold (books, periodicals,
manuscripts, and other material) is considerable. Virtually every
student in higher education will make significant use of the library, as
will academic staff in connection with both their teaching and research
responsibilities. Libraries in higher education are providing for well
over one million users each year.
Prices and Costs
- In the last decade there has been a disproportionate increase in
the price of books and periodicals, and in the volume of publications,
especially periodicals. The total number of periodicals cited in
Ulrich's International Periodicals directory rose from 62,000 in 1980 to
126,000 in 1992; (see figure 3), and while between 1980-81 and 1991-92
the Blackwell's Periodicals Price index rose by almost 300 per cent,
library spending within HE institutions on periodicals rose on average
only by 111 per cent, and the RPI by even less, 71 per cent.
- .These trends have intensified in the last two years, with
continuing substantial increases in periodical prices and in the prices
of specialist monographs. The prospect for 1994 is worse, with prices
rising faster than ever as a result of the combination of the recent
weakness of sterling against continental European and United States
currencies, and the (often associated) "harmonisation" of many
periodical subscription rates with prices elsewhere in Europe, which
almost invariably means an increase in UK rates. Blackwell's currently
estimates that there will be an average price increase of between 17 per
cent and 25 per cent during 1994.
Trends in Library Spending
- Concern over increases in prices and costs has been compounded by
trends in library spending in the last decade. Rising costs have created
major problems for academic libraries, and expenditure has not been able
to keep pace with price rises. As a result libraries have found it
necessary to reduce the number of periodicals to which they subscribe,
or to avoid taking out subscriptions to new journals. Attempts to
protect periodical spending have often been at the expense of book
purchasing. There is a vicious circle in which higher prices prompt more
cancellations, which in turn promote further price rises.
- In many respects, libraries have faced more difficult pressures
than other areas of higher education. Although in former UFC
institutions (combined data for all HE institutions does not exist for
these years) total spending on libraries between 1980-81 and 1990-91
more than kept pace with the increase in the retail price index (RPI),
the RPI is an inadequate benchmark in the case of book and periodical
prices because they have risen at a much faster rate than the RPI. (See
figure 4). They have also risen faster than other university costs as
expressed in the Universities Pay and Prices Index (UPPI) as depicted in
- Particular concern is often expressed over two features of recent
trends which are shown in figure 6. First, spending on libraries in the
former UFC sector has declined as a proportion of total institutional
recurrent expenditure: spending on libraries formed just over four per
cent of such expenditure in 1980-81, but this had fallen to about 2.8
per cent in 1991-92 (the latest year for which information is
available). The second feature is the decline in overall library
expenditure per capita (including both students and staff); and the more
significant decline in spending on books per capita (see figures 6 and
- Comparable data for former English PCFC sector institutions suggest
broadly similar trends, with expenditure on libraries as a percentage of
total recurrent spending declined from just under five per cent in
1984-85 to about four per cent by the end of the 1980s; and some decline
in real book and periodical expenditure per capita during the 1980's
(see figures 7, 8 and 9).
- As in other areas of higher education the decline in library
spending per capita may partly be the result of increases in efficiency
and productivity on the part of libraries themselves. Per capita spend
has declined in almost every area of higher education, as student
numbers have risen. It is also possible that the decline in library
spending as a proportion of universities' total recurrent spending is
the result of conscious decisions to divert resources into other areas,
some of which may complement library provision. However, while it is not
possible to obtain reliable figures for spending on all categories of
information provision, much of the investment in IT which has taken
place will have had only a limited impact on information provision.
- The data cited above represent averages across what is now a very
diverse sector, and there are inevitably substantial variations between
institutions. Figures 13-16 illustrate some of these. They underline the
heterogeneity of library provision in higher education, and the
different approaches adopted in order to meet users' needs. They also
point to the need for care in interpreting such data, since the
relationship between a particular index and the quality or scale of
provision is not always straightforward.
The Organisation of Teaching and Learning
- As well as growth in student numbers, the review has also taken
place at a time when many other developments in HE are creating a new
environment for those aspects of library and related provision which
support teaching. Some of these developments create opportunities for
improvements, and others create new and more diverse demands. In each
case however they have contributed to the need for reassessment.
- These developments include:
- Changes in the make-up of the student population, with more
part-time and mature students, who tend to create different demands on
- Modularisation, which is proceeding apace in many HEIs, and which
has implications for the way in which libraries are managed.
- An increasing focus on the needs and perspective of students as
"users" of libraries, and on the library as the provider of a service.
- Changes in teaching and learning methods which put more stress on
student centred learning, and require the coherent development of
learning and information resources of which libraries are a part.
- A decline in students' book purchasing. This is in part the result
of disproportionate increases in book prices, but may also relate to
changes in the student support system.
Certainly, the results of the
LISU survey showed a consistent trend whereby students in all subject
areas were relying less on their own purchases to meet their needs for
books (figure 9).
- Developments in information technology, which often complement
those at (d) and which equally place new demands on libraries, students
and their teachers.
- New approaches to quality assessment and performance indicators,
which highlight the need to examine the role of libraries in supporting
- As noted above, a major concern over recent years has been the rate
of increase in periodical prices, especially scientific periodicals, and
the growth in their number. The result has been that periodicals are
taking an increasing share of library spending (see figure 10), and
there are renewed pressures to cancel titles and reduce coverage. These
trends have been well documented (for instance in the LISU Annual
Library Statistics, 1992), but there has as yet been no clear strategy
for dealing with the problems created. While recognising the
complexities of the situation, and the limitations on what the UK alone
can achieve, the Review Group has sought to address this difficult
- Three other quite unrelated developments have also made clear the
need for a reassessment of the role of libraries in supporting research:
- First, greater selectivity in the allocation of research funding by
the UFC and its successor councils has highlighted the fact that by no
means all HE libraries can or should be expected to provide support for
research to the same extent as they do for teaching. This raises the
question of how library provision in support of research can most
effectively be made, bearing in mind that research collections are
unevenly distributed between HEIs.
- Second, new advances in IT have made it much easier to envisage the
common use of research facilities. In particular, electronic document
delivery and on-line catalogue and database facilities have highlighted
the possibilities for developing a regional and national network of
specialist research provision, with the emphasis on access rather than
- Third, the Government recently announced its decision that a
Humanities Research Council should not be established; and that public
funding in support of research and research facilities in the humanities
should continue to be allocated largely through the HEFCs. This has
emphasised the importance for research in the humanities of the funding
provided by the HEFCs which is used to support library and related
- The business of libraries is the provision and management of
information, and developments in technology which facilitate these
operations have opened up many new possibilities, as well as creating
many new demands on libraries. Some of these developments have
potentially very wide ranging implications. They may, for instance,
facilitate resource sharing and exchange, help to involve libraries and
their staff directly in new forms of technologically based teaching and
learning, and encourage a change in the role of the library to become a
means of access to information wherever it is held.
- Technology has already changed the nature of the library, and the
rate of change is accelerating, enabling wholly new services to be
provided. Students are likely to be increasingly aware of different
sources of information, with changed expectations about its provision.
Networking developments mean that international communications are
possible from the campus and the desktop, and can support new forms of
publishing. These advances have management and organisational
implications which must be dealt with if they are to be exploited
effectively and if library services are to continue to be effective in
meeting the needs of their users.
- However, whilst technology has the potential fundamentally to
change information provision in higher education, even its most
optimistic advocates suggest that change take place gradually, and will
need to be managed in conjunction with handling traditional library
resources. It is very unlikely that books, periodicals and other
traditional media will be superseded in the foreseeable future. In the
last decade, for instance, when the scope and range of information
technology has dramatically increased, so equally has the number of
periodicals being published, and the number of books. What is likely is
that traditional media will be supplemented by new technology based
forms of information storage and dissemination. This is a conclusion
which was also reached by the Working Party set up by the Australian
National Board of Employment Education and Training, chaired by F G
Ross, and whose report was published in December 1990 (Library Provision
in Higher Education, Commissioned Report No. 7 Australian National Board
of Employment, Education and Training 1990).
- The Review Group has sought to take a measured view of the
implications and the potential of IT for library services in the UK. It
has focused on those areas where developments look to be practical
propositions, and has considered whether action might be taken over and
above that which might be stimulated by normal commercial developments.
However, even with these caveats, the potential created by developments
in IT is very considerable, particularly in support of research
The Heterogeneity of the Sector
- An important feature of the higher education sector for which the
new funding councils are responsible is that it is more heterogeneous as
well as larger than its predecessors. Institutions vary enormously in
size and character, ranging from small specialist colleges to large
universities with over 20,000 students. Many require library provision
in support of both teaching and research, but others are devoted largely
or even solely to teaching. Some have taken conscious decisions to
deploy resources in ways which have favoured other services at the
expense of library e library service provided to students will differ
from one institution to another because of variations in their aims and
objectives; because of differences in the way in which library and
related services are organised and funded (the LISU survey showed much
variety here); and because of historical factors. The extent of an
institution's involvement in research, both now and in the past, will
also be important.
- An important principle which has therefore been adopted throughout
this report is that no single blueprint and no simple prescriptions can
be developed to fit the many different types of libraries in higher
- Issues concerning copyright have arisen in many of the Review
Group's discussions, and have been a matter of concern to many in both
higher education and publishing for some years.
- The main concerns of those seeking to use copyright material is
that copyright owners will seek to impose what are seen as excessive
restrictions or excessive costs on the use of material. Conversely,
copyright owners and publishers fear the loss of legitimate control over
their material. The potential for exploitation, and hence the fears of
copyright holders, have been greatly intensified by developments in
information technology. These threaten not only their revenues but also
the integrity of the material over which they possess copyright, as well
as the moral rights of authors. The Review Group also noted developments
in the United States focusing on the possible co-ownership of copyright
in research papers between publishers on the one hand and their academic
authors on the other.
- The Review Group has considered these issues and they are discussed
in more detail n chapter seven. It has made recommendations which, while
they will not deal with every difficulty, should represent an important
practical step in taking matters forward.