Follett Report

Chapter 6 - Libraries and the Researcher


While the primary concern which led to the establishment of the Review related to library provision for taught course students, the Review Group has also considered the role of library and related information services in supporting the work of research staff and students. The funding and organisation of library support for researchers need to be addressed especially in relation to departments and institutions where research quality has emerged where previously there has been limited library support for research. It is also possible that more effective deployment of resources in support of research may in some cases help to release funds for use in other areas.
This chapter considers the role of libraries in supporting research, and briefly examines the present organisation and funding of provision. It then outlines recent developments which mean that both the need and the opportunity for change are substantial. Finally it examines the options for change which the Review Group has considered, and sets out its recommendations.

Role of Libraries in Support of Research

Distinguishing the role of libraries in supporting the information needs of researchers from their support for teaching is not straightforward. All academic staff, even if not directly involved in research themselves, require access to the research findings of others to enable them to keep abreast of developments in their fields and ensure that their teaching is well informed. Most libraries have made little or no explicit distinction in operational terms between provision for teaching and research. This has been reinforced by financial arrangements, with library budgets generally making no distinction between research related and teaching related expenditure.
These points were highlighted by the difficulty many respondents to the LISU survey had in differentiating between library activity in support of teaching and research. This was confirmed by the findings of the separate study conducted for the Review Group by the University of Sussex, where the existence of a machine readable archive file of loan transactions during the years 1981-91 covering monograph bookstock enabled analysis of loan patterns focusing on teaching and research use. This showed a very substantial degree of common use of bookstock for both teaching and research. This reinforces a similar conclusion reached in the 1987 report on research spending produced by Professor Keith Clayton (The Measurement of Research in Higher Education by Keith Clayton 1987, a research report commissioned by the Department for Education and Science, Sections 3.5-3.15).
It is also possible that developments in teaching methods have intensified the use of journals and monographs for teaching purposes, further blurring such distinctions. This is particularly so in cases where such material is used in projects and dissertations in final year undergraduate or taught masters courses.
The Review Group has nevertheless found it helpful to consider the research role of libraries separately from their teaching role. Even so, the discussion which follows should be read against the recognition of the practical difficulties of distinguishing these two functions, and of the overlap between them.

Libraries, Information Provision and the Researcher

Libraries provide a crucial resource for researchers across all subject areas. For most of those working in the sciences and in technological subjects, the journal or periodical is a major research tool. It is the means whereby the results of research are most often published, and access to a range of specialist journals is a prerequisite for those who need to keep up to date with the work of colleagues in the same and kindred iplines. Typically, there are a relatively large number of scientific journals in a given field, but in most disciplines the relevance of particular papers or issues may begin to wane quickly as research moves on (although this is not always so - for instance in some branches of mathematics). But usually it is access to a wide range of recent journal articles, rather than to long runs of back issues, which is needed.
The researcher usually also requires a facility to be able to browse through indices and abstracts of articles, and then obtain the full text of an article if detailed consideration is needed. The capacity to undertake literature searches, access to effective inter-library loan systems, and access to large bibliographic databases are also usually regarded as vital.
In the humanities and the social sciences the needs of most researchers tend to be different. Access to journals is also required, but the need for a long run of a particular title is often more important than in the sciences, because articles tend to retain their relevance for a much longer period. Moreover, periodical literature does not have the dominant significance which it holds for the scientific researcher. Books, in particular specialised monographs, complement the journal as the medium through which research is usually published. In addition, the library is often the principal repository for the primary sources on which a researcher may work. This material is of many kinds, but includes manuscript and printed items, often rare or unique and held in special collections, together with databases of primary material which are increasingly used by researchers in the economic and social sciences and in the humanities. Libraries often provide expertise and facilities to help with the analysis of such materials, ranging from palaeographical advice to computer facilities for database analysis.
For the humanities and social sciences in particular therefore, the effective research library must offer a range of professional support services. While the analogy the scientific laboratory can be pressed too far, it does illustrate an important point.

The Availability of Library Support for Research

The provision of library facilities in support of research across the newly unified HE sector is very uneven. In part this reflects the different objectives of institutions in a heterogeneous sector, and in part inherited circumstances whose origins reach back over a long period - sometimes centuries.
Until recently all institutions in the former UFC sector were expected to undertake research on a substantial scale. While some had a stronger research base than others, or had particular strengths in certain subjects, all universities would expect to conduct research across all or most of the disciplines in which they also provided teaching. This inevitably had implications for their library provision. In particular, most such libraries were expected to provide to a reasonable level, for at least the basic research needs of their academic staff and research students. This usually meant holding important journals and significant monograph stocks, with inter-library loan facilities to supplement these local holdings.
Even so, within the former UFC sector there has always been considerable differentiation in how far libraries have been able to provide support for researchers in depth and across a full range of disciplines. Particularly in the humanities and social sciences researchers have long been accustomed to making use of facilities offered by libraries other than their own, and arrangements for them to do so are commonplace. The extensive use made of inter-library lending, including through the British Library's Document Supply Centre, is also an integral part of this system. So too, specialised research oriented collections, such as periodicals, books, or rare almost by definition concentrated in certain centres. The most obvious examples are the libraries of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, which as well as housing large historic collections are also legal deposit libraries, and thus share with the British L ibrary (BL) an important role in inter-library lending and document supply. As well as these, libraries in many other institutions, both large and small and of varying ages, house important collections; while in London the resources of the specialist institute libraries are often amongst the principal national collections in their fields.
It has therefore been an important starting point for the Review that even in the former UFC sector, research oriented library facilities are already to an extent unevenly spread; and that the sharing of research facilities is common, especially in the case of specialised material and collections.
The position in those universities not formerly in the UFC sector, and in colleges of HE, is very different. Until 1993-94, such institutions received minimal research-specific funding, and their library provision has accordingly been properly geared to meeting the needs of undergraduate and (more recently) taught postgraduate students. Monograph and periodical holdings have nevertheless developed in some former non-UFC sector institutions to support project-based undergraduate study and taught postgraduate work, and also to meet the scholarly needs of teaching staff.
Libraries and record offices outside the HE sector are also important in meeting the needs of researchers. The British Library is the most obvious example. Its holdings of both printed and manuscript materials make it an almost unrivalled resource for those researchers working in the humanities and social sciences, while its position as a legal deposit library reinforces its importance in all subject areas. In addition to the BL, the National Libraries of Scotland and Wales are particularly important, while in the humanities and social sciences the functions of the Public Record Office, and of other onal and local archives and record offices, are of considerable significance.

Recent Developments

Several developments over the last five years have led to concern about the capacity of libraries in higher education to meet the needs of research into the next century.
First, the increasingly selective distribution of research funding by the UFC prior to 1993-94 had already made it clear that at least some institutions in the former UFC sector could no longer expect to continue to carry out significant amounts of research across all the subjects which they taught. The expansion of the university sector through the merger of funding bodies, and the incorporation of the polytechnics and HE colleges into the unified HE sector has further highlighted this point; while the new funding councils have each continued to introduce a more selective approach to the allocation of research funding. As research selectivity increases, so will the differentiation between those institutions and departments which have substantial research activity and those which do not. This has important implications for their library provision.
Second, the establishment of separate funding streams for teaching and research by the new funding councils, and the requirement for much clearer accountability than hitherto for the research element, mean that libraries are likely to have to become more explicit about their separate roles in respect of teaching and research. Especially in institutions which are undertaking both functions on a large scale, the distinction between provision for teaching and provision for research will increasingly be necessary to meet funding council requirements for accountability.
Third, growing financial pressures on libraries have emphasised the need to ensure that scarce resources are used effectively. These pressures are in part general ones, t there are others which are specific to research-related provision in libraries. The single greatest of these is the rapid inflation in periodical prices in recent years, noted in chapter three. This has led to cancellation of subscriptions in many cases, which in turn has reinforced the upward trend in prices. A 1991 British Library survey (Research Libraries in Transition, Bob Erens, BL Library and Information Research Report No. 82, 1991) documented this trend clearly within the UK, and it has continued since. In the United States, the value of cancellations has doubled each year since 1990, with cumulative cancellations totalling $21.5 millions since 1990. here is evidence that the cancellation of journals leads to an increase in their price.
The pressure from rising prices has been compounded by the growing number of publications. Between 1987-88 and 1990-91, Ulrich's directory of world periodical publications showed an increase in the number of current periodicals of 14 per cent, with growth in the number of titles from 103,951 to 118,500. Some also regard successive UK Research Assessment Exercises as having been part of the reason for the increasing volume of publications.
The Review Group recognises that the problem of periodical prices is a complex and intractable issue. To address it in the immediate future, the Group recommends that the CVCP seeks cooperation with the Association of American Universities and other appropriate US bodies, to find practical and effective ways of influencing the periodicals market in a manner which both provides value for money for periodical purchasers and a fair return for publishers.
Book price trends have been similar to those affecting periodicals, and similar pressures have resulted. In addition attempts to maintain spending on periodicals has often adversely affected libraries' ability to buy monographs and undergraduate collections.
A final point is that developments in information technology are also creating new opportunities for managing and disseminating research findings, and these can place new demands on libraries. Particularly important are possibilities for electronic document delivery, provision of extensive on-line cataloguing and database facilities throughout the HE system on an inter-institutional basis, and electronic publishing. Proposals for a major extension of the existing CURL database made in chapter seven are relevant, and in general the success of the funding proposals set out in the rest of this chapter will be much less effective without the extensive use of IT.

Funding Arrangements

At present, recurrent funding for the information and library needs of the research community in HE is provided largely through the general resources available to individual institutions in the form of block grant from the funding councils and fee income from postgraduate research students. In addition, the two legal deposit libraries of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge each receive a specific non-formulaic funding allocation of 1.1 million per annum to cover the additional costs created by their legal deposit status.
The block grant for research provided by the funding councils is allocated between institutions on the basis of a funding formula whose principal element is driven by measures of research quality as assessed through periodic research assessment exercises, together with measures of research volume. These latter include numbers of research active staff (the most important measure), numbers of research assistants, numbers of research students, and research income from charitable sources.
In the calculation of block grant allocations, no explicit element is included to cover library and information requirements. The formula is based on the assumption that hese can in practice be adequately reflected in the formula as a whole. Nor is the funding formula based on any assessment of the costs of undertaking a piece of research, or of the costs of library provision. The principle which therefore underlies the allocation of almost all funding related to the provision of research libraries in HE is that it is for individual institutions to decide how to allocate resources to meet these needs, from within the general funds available to them.
The Review Group considered the possibility that the library requirements of researchers might be the subject of a separate element within the recurrent research funding allocated by the funding councils, but has firmly rejected such an approach, for reasons similar to those which led it to reject an analogous suggestion in relation to funding for teaching. Given that the criteria adopted for allocations would inevitably be similar to those used for the remainder of the research grant, it is not easy to see that much would be gained. As with teaching, the Review Group considers that the principal stream for the delivery of grant to HEIs to enable them to provide for the library needs of research staff and students should be the unhypothecated income from grant and fees. This enables HEIs to distribute funding internally as they think best and helps to ensure responsiveness to local needs.
The Review Group thus recommends that the principal library and information needs of research staff and students should continue to be provided largely from within the unhypothecated grant for research provided by the funding councils.

Future Information Provision in Support of Research

While prime responsibility for meeting the library and information needs of researchers should continue to rest with their home institution, there are also opportunities to develop a more strategic approach and to promote more cooperation and ement the facilities available at any one institution.
Selective research funding, financial constraints, and the explosion of publications and their costs mean that it is neither feasible nor even desirable to expect each institution itself to provide itself for all the research needs of its staff and users. Instead, in order to provide for specialist or very expensive needs, networks of research libraries should be encouraged to develop at national or regional level, which might be discipline based or cover a number of subject areas. In each case they would draw on the strengths of particular libraries or groups of libraries. This will require a willingness on the part of individual HEIs, and representative bodies such as the CVCP, as well as the funding councils, to take such an approach.
The case for adopting such an approach rests on several considerations, and in particular:
Considerable specialisation already exists, and there is the much to be gained from more widespread sharing of these resources.
The selective allocation of research block grant does not any longer coincide with the historic disposition of library facilities in support of research. This applies to some extent to journal and monograph provision, but much more significantly to archival and specialist research collections and facilities. The simple operation of selectivity in recurrent research funding through the block grant is not adequate to ensure that sufficient resources reach all research related collections to maintain them.
The management of research library and information provision needs to take place over a long timescale, which cannot always be catered for within the operation of the annual block grant allocation. The development of collections of books, manuscripts, and ase facilities is a lengthy process, while long runs of journals can be turned off, but not on again, quickly. The approach advocated here would avoid this problem by enabling funding for certain specialised research support facilities in libraries to be allocated independently of the annual block grant.
The Review Group makes three proposals based on this approach, and these are considered below.

Specialised Research Collections for the Humanities

Specialist provision relevant to the humanities is already concentrated in particular locations and is often used by researchers from outside the institution in which the facility is located. However, arrangements for access to such facilities are variable, and host institutions may have progressive difficulty in supporting from purely institutional funds the costs of a facility whose benefits are enjoyed more widely. The costs of storage, conservation and of providing access are good examples of areas where the possession of specialist facilities gives rise to extra costs which can be substantial. If these facilities are to be exploited for the benefit of the system as a whole then it is not acceptable that one institution should be expected to bear the full costs of their upkeep from regular recurrent grant.
The Government's recently announced decision not to establish a Humanities Research Council is also important. This has highlighted the role of the funding councils in ensuring that library provision to support research in the humanities can be made effectively. The Review Group recognises that without a clear initiative from the funding councils, individual institutions might increasingly find it necessary to charge users from other institutions. The Review Group therefore proposes that a small proportion of the funds currently allocated for research through the main funding rved for allocation specifically to support certain specialised research library collections and provision. This would primarily be aimed at supporting provision in the humanities, where there is no possibility of research council initiatives (of the kind now being promoted by the ESRC in the social sciences) to support library and information provision. While funds to provide for access by individual researchers to these facilities (for instance for travel and other incidental costs) would continue to be met by their own institutions from within the main research element of the block grant, additional earmarked funds would provide for the extra costs of enhancement of the facility, external access, processing, storage, reader support and conservation.
Non-formula funding would enable support to be targeted at such specialised centres on the basis that the facilities being supported were equally available to staff and research students from throughout the HE system, with the arrangements defined by clear service level agreements with institutions receiving funding. This would also be consistent with the criteria applied by the councils to other elements of non-formula funding.
The facilities covered by recurrent funding of this kind would be diverse. They would be likely to include some specialist libraries within the University of London, special collections elsewhere, and especially strong collections of periodicals or other material which was not generally available. The criteria and mechanisms for implementing this proposal would require careful attention by the funding councils. The Review Group considers that up to 10 million a year should be allocated in this way. The precise sums will depend on decisions by the four funding bodies individually and collectively.
The particular position of London and its specialist research libraries and institutes would need to be considered in the light of this proposed strategy. There are specialist libraries (such as those at the Institutes of Historical Research and Classics, and the Warburg Institute) which provide a nation-wide facility but within ch are too small and too specialised to be supported effectively from within the main block grant formulaic allocations. These libraries would be eligible for special support through the recommended approach. Support for the mainstream collection of the University of London Senate House Library would not fall into this category.
Unlike the more general initiative proposed below (paragraphs 232-237) covering all subjects, this is an area where the funding councils can act immediately. The Review Group therefore recommends that the funding councils should invite bids from institutions for recurrent non-formula funding in support of specialised research collections which are widely used by researchers in the humanities from other institutions, but whose provision and maintenance gives rise to significant additional costs which cannot reasonably be met from resources provided through the block grant. Such funding would be provided on the condition that free access was granted to bona fide researchers from within the UK.

Legal Deposit libraries

Under both the UGC and the UFC, and provisionally for 1993-94 under the HEFCE, non-formula funding of about 1.1 million a year each was made available to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in view of their position as hosts of legal deposit libraries. The Review Group has considered the future of the existing non- formula funding arrangements for these two libraries as part of its general remit.
The availability of extensive collections accumulated over several centuries by these libraries under the legal deposit legislation is an important asset which it is legitimate for the HEFCE to support through non formula funding. The Group therefore recommends continuation of existing non-formula funding to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge by the HEFCE in respect of their position as legal deposit libraries. The atisfied that the current level of non-formula funding inherited by the HEFCE from the UFC is both adequate and reasonable given the additional cataloguing, storage and access costs which the libraries incur.
Additionally however the Review Group recommends that the allocation of this support should be conditional on clear agreement that the facilities which are supported in this way at the two libraries concerned should be available without additional cost to all bona fide research staff and research students from within the UK. The Review Group is particularly concerned that a clear definition of those users who may legitimately have access should be arrived at. It therefore recommends that the HEFCE should define these in consultation with the other funding bodies and with the libraries concerned, and that brief but clear service levels agreements should be drawn up between the HEFCE and the two universities.

Library Provision for Researchers: a National and Regional strategy

The Review Group also considers that the strategic approach which it recommends the funding councils to adopt in the case of provision related to the humanities should be extended to other subject areas. This would involve developing networks and groupings of institutions based on particular centres to support particular subjects. It would include integrated acquisitions and disposals policies, and investment in document supply, electronic database and catalogue facilities which would help to make library research facilities accessible on a regional and national basis.
Different aspects of the strategy would support different subjects, but all would benefit. It would also address an area of difficulty which can arise under the present funding system, namely where a researcher of the highest quality is working in a department whose overall ratings (and hence resource levels) are much lower, and n help to make more widely available strong research collections relating to departments whose ratings are low.
There may be advantages in pursuing a regional approach to this, particularly for institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In other cases the natural groupings of libraries may straddle such boundaries.
The Review Group views this proposal as a long term development of high priority, with potentially far reaching implications. It recommends that it should be discussed at the highest level with the CVCP, SCOP, the research councils, the British Academy, the British Library, the national libraries of Scotland and Wales, and the new Libraries Commission. These further discussions would also need to consider such issues as whether there should be a specifically regional approach, for instance ensuring the presence of certain facilities in each region; how far a UK wide strategy as opposed to separate English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish approaches should be fostered; and how to ensure accessibility to facilities by those not in host HEIs. In pursuing this, those concerned should build on recent initiatives such as the ESRC's Resource Centre competitions, which in their own field are designed to develop the quality of and access to research resources of particular importance.
Those involved should be required to report back to their parent bodies with firm proposals within one year.
If the full benefits of this recommendation are to be realised, it is essential that additional investment in information technology should take place. The next chapter of this report deals with this in more detail.

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