Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
MONDAY 29 APRIL 2002
20. That is an important, is it not, that the
Library is seen as part and parcel of the infrastructure?
(Sir Howard Newby) Indeed.
21. Have you just made a submission or has there
(Mrs Brindley) We were able to invite members of that
Committee to visit us and also we made a formal submission. We
understand that there will be some inclusion in their report of
the importance of the British Library to underpin the science
base. Of course that stretches through to the fact that we underpin
quite a lot of the SME activity in terms of exploitation of research,
particularly through the Document Supply Centre.
22. You have told us that 50 per cent of your
customers are from higher education and research. Where does the
Department for Education and Skills sit in this discussion?
(Mrs Brindley) It does not sit there. Our sponsoring
department is the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
23. On all the points that I have made about
the strategy, supporting the infrastructure for research, the
Department is not there at all?
(Lord Eatwell) We have a rather complicated relationship
because clearly DCMS is our sponsoring ministry.
24. You are a big chunk of their budget, are
(Lord Eatwell) We are a big chunk of their budget,
25. A huge chunk of their budget.
(Lord Eatwell) Well, I would not say huge. I think
there are bigger chunks. As you have said, about 50 per cent of
our activities are in support of higher education. Another 25
per cent are broadly in support of DTI activities. This is my
standard dinner party question: given that three million documents
are consulted in the Library's Reading Rooms each year, what proportion
do you think are science and technology and which proportion do
you think are arts and humanities? Everybody thinks that the biggest
part is arts and humanities. Actually 75 per cent of it is science
and technology document provision. One of our biggest customers
is Glaxo SmithKline. A very important part is supporting hi-tech
SMEs, particularly in the biochemical area. That is very much
a DTI concern. Here we are, we have got 50 per cent higher education,
25 per cent DTI, and that only leaves a rather small proportion
of our activity which falls under the general issues of access
to culture and cultural exhibitions and all these sorts of things
that we do. We lead a rather complicated life in this respect.
26. You have told us that in the survey of libraries
across the world that the British Library came out tops, number
(Lord Eatwell) That is UK and US.
27. Do you think you arrived at this position
by luck or design and, if you are looking in your crystal ball
into the future as to where you want to be, large projects in
co-operation have not always been an outstanding success in this
country. Will we still be number one in 10 years' time and what
could go wrong? What are the banana skins or pitfalls that we
have to avoid in order to stay at the top?
(Lord Eatwell) As to how we arrive where we are today,
I think it was a combination of the collecting genius of the 18th
and 19th centuries. Remember, we grew out of the British Museum,
and so that was the basis of those historical collections. Then
there was the tremendous emphasis on and interest in developing
information services and collections after the Second World War,
the general collections described earlier by Sir Brian. These
were all brought together by the British Library Act in 1972,
and so now we have this remarkable institution. The criterion
used by the American Association of Research Libraries was to
look at the overall collections' budgets and compositions. That
was how they were doing their rankings and that was how we ranked
because our collections budget is higher than Harvard's and the
composition fitted in with what they defined as the basis of a
research library. What could undermine that? There are key things
for us to stay number one in the world. First of all is to sustain
those collections and maintain the collection strategy across
the range of areas in which we collect. That is the engine room
of the whole thing. There is no point worrying about access if
there is nothing to have access to. The second thing is to make
sure those collections are managed effectively by curators, that
they are really organised well, and then that we have access to
them. It is this access issue which feeds into the higher educational
issues which Sir Brian was discussing, how do we co-ordinate the
central collecting policy of the British Library with the needs
of British higher education, as well as the needs of British business,
which is another part of our activity, but, for the purpose of
this Committee, the needs of higher education, and how do we make
sure that people can effectively access those collections, hopefully
from their desk top or, in so far as it is paper based, they can
get them in 24 hours from Boston Spa.
28. Can I explore your relation to business
a bit more? There is closer co-operation now between universities
and business when it comes to science and technology and bioscience.
To what extent do you solicit the views of business with regard
to your review?
(Mrs Brindley) You are referring to Sir Brian through
(Mrs Brindley) It is primarily focused on researchers
30. But have you solicited business views on
that, or at least researchers involved in collaboration with business?
(Sir Brian Follett) No, we have not. We have not gone
to SMEs or to large industrial firms. In terms of what they require
though, it is improbable that they are going to be very different.
What the younger researchers are saying very clearly to us is,
"Why do you ask the question? It is self-evident. We want
the material available on a screen in our laboratory and we want
access to all of it at no cost." The essence of it is this
desire of the younger generation, as we can all understand, to
shift across to screen based work. If you look at it from the
point of view particularly of SMEs, all one's experience of SMEs
in other contexts is that time is probably the most precious commodity
of all for them, and so one imagines that the way to handle the
SMEs is by packaged, highly targeted information going in. That
is not so difficult these days. It is perfectly possible for any
of us to create an individual scanning system that will look at
our particular research interest and every morning it will throw
up what has occurred during the night. The technology has been
developed in that sense but it is very important that they have
(Mrs Brindley) We have recently completed some work
in relation to the ways in which we would wish to develop our
services for SMEs and we have done quite a major piece of market
research. We have talked to a large number of both large R&D
based companies but also SMEs. What is very clear is that the
major demand for our developing services is around medium sized
companies with large R&D components. There are two ways in
which they wish us to develop. One is to increasingly package
our service so that they can have a one-stop "virtual"
service to include documents, information and intelligence, if
you like, and research work done and delivered virtually to the
desk top. That is one proposition that is very heavily supported.
The second is very much a physical manifestation in what we are
calling the Innovation Centre. The key figure here is that 44
per cent of SMEs within the UK are within one hour of our St Pancras
building, so the notion would be to replicate these services there
and to plan, because we are the major patents focus of the UK,
to have patents advice, financial advice, small companies advice,
and this is work we would prosecute with DTI support through their
department for small business services. That is very recent market
31. I imagine that is quite interesting. It
is certainly going to be very relevant, going forward on this
basis, of university libraries embracing business more and more,
not only as a way of exchanging ideas but as a source of revenue.
It is encouraging to hear that these views are being aired. What
can we expect to see within the next two or three years, say,
from the British Library? I am broadening this out quite considerably
now but with regard to closer links with business in order to
ensure that the British Library remains in pole position.
(Mrs Brindley) Those two propositions that I have
just mentioned, the Innovation Centre and the virtual service,
the virtual service would of course have to be profit making.
That would be the basis on which we would deliver it to business.
We have had a lot of support from the CBI for these propositions
as well. They have helped us, as have the Chambers of Commerce
and the RDAs. We would wish to see that implemented and delivered
within the next 18 months.
32. Do you see yourself becoming a sort of centre
of excellence in this area in the sense that there are a number
of universities that have a very good working relationship with
business, such as Nottingham? Do you see yourself not competing
with universities but supplementing them and becoming a centre
of excellence with regard to being a conduit between business
and perhaps the DTI, perhaps research and development facilities
(Mrs Brindley) Quite frankly, we already are that
centre of excellence. We do supply well over a million documents
per annum to business and industry. We supply almost all the top
R&D companies in the UK. About 30-odd per cent of our readers
are from the science and industry, and indeed for people like
patent researchers we are their office so to speak. There is an
excellence there already and our objective is to build on that
excellence but to make a more integrated offering that I think
frankly only the British Library can do because we will position
that integration around our enormous collections, around our research
and curatorial expertise, and around an ability to put all that
together in a system on which we would probably work with a partner.
33. You are in a favoured position, are you
(Mrs Brindley) I think we are in a position to really
support UK industry in that regard.
34. You specifically mentioned the cost in terms
of the inflation rise for periodicals being 10 per cent. Why is
it 10 per cent for periodicals?
(Sir Brian Follett) If we all knew the answer to that
we would all want to go and buy shares in publishing companies.
It is a complicated business as to why the inflation rate in this
whole area of periodicals, particularly in science and medicine,
has exceeded the average. I think in the end the publishers have
a very strong market position. It is an absolute necessity for
a scientist that he or she publishes their material in first line
journals, peer reviewed journals. That is a principle we have
adopted for 400 years and it seems to be the bedrock upon which
our entire knowledge base has been developed, and so in many ways
the individual researcher has a need to publish. The costs of
publishing for the individual researcher are actually a relatively
low part of the total cost of that individual's research. They
always complain about it but it is a very small percentage. Put
together, that has enabled a number of organisations to realise
that they can charge well above inflation year on year. It really
is quite a remarkable sustained growth. I am sure Lynne Brindley
knows much more than I do but it has gone on for nearly 20 years,
I would have thought.
(Mrs Brindley) Yes.
(Sir Brian Follett) At that rate, or at three times
the rate of inflation.
35. Do you think perhaps they feel as well somewhat
threatened? It seems to me that there is difficulty for them that,
once you have got it, and once you have bought the licence, then
initially the original author saw their book going to a library
and a lot of people borrowing it, whereas now, good heavens, it
is on the screen and anyone can access it internationally. I would
have expected the licensing to be a problem as well in terms of
expense. Is the licence also going up well above inflation?
(Sir Brian Follett) Yes. We are dealing with a number
of complications. As far as the publication of pieces of scientific
research is concerned, let us take that, the material is provided
to the publishers free of charge. The author receives no royalty
for offering the material. Indeed, he or she will actually buy
back the material at well above cost so that in that sense the
publisher is in a situation where they are receiving the material
free. They are receiving most of the editorial work on it free,
so that it is a very good business proposition for them. They
are naturally very concerned about how all this will play out
over the next 20 years, not least of course because for them if
they get the equation wrong they will go bankrupt. The situation
is very different for books. There of course the author retains
the copyright and receives a royalty, and so there is a very different
business relationship between the author and the publisher.
36. It seems to me that as the potential users
the universities in this position are really in a win-win situation.
I think it is incredibly valuable for them, the work that you
are now doing. I am still concerned at the cost to the researchers,
the cost to people in the interim, those middle people who are
taking the cost out of it rather, who are benefiting. How do we
ensure that the work you do is paid for at a reasonable level
without people exploiting it en route?
(Sir Brian Follett) I am not too worried about the
publishers. They will make licensing arrangements as far as their
material which they have published is concerned. Those licensing
arrangements may be local at a university or they may be national.
There are certain countries, like Canada and Finland, where there
are now national arrangements for a number of journals and scientific
periodicals. There are complicated negotiations inevitably in
such a licensing arrangement, but I think the publishers themselves
are well able to work out their cost base as far. The vital component
in the university, to go back to something Howard Newby said,
is that these materials should be free at the point of use for
the university academic or the postgraduate research student.
They are not involved in this. Nobody is expecting that. That
is part and parcel of being an employee of a research-led university,
that you receive these materials free. They are a given along
with electricity and a variety of other things. We are trying
to organise that behind the scenes as it were. They do not need
to know that at this point.
37. Pursuing the question of the relative bargaining
power of the publisher and the university, has there been no effort
in the United Kingdom to do what you say Canada and Finland have
done? Is that not what this is about, shifting the balance of
power by preferably all universities collaborating so that there
is a sole customer, because the publishers' ability to add 10
per cent a year is obviously reduced if the number of customers
(Sir Brian Follett) There is a long history, sir,
of trying to resolve this problem. The United Kingdom by itself
is a very small component of the world market and so our ability
as a nation to lever this is minimal. However, about eight years
ago the funding council in Bristol did indeed begin a series of
national site licence agreements with a number of publishers and
some of those have held very well. In other cases, after a few
years the publishers withdrew because they believe they can do
better elsewhere. I think it is possible to put it together but,
having consulted with the Canadians a few weeks ago, it is clear
that they have had some success, but very large publishing companies
have enormous muscle. They are not all automatically going to
wish to go down this road. I imagine the British Library has already
run into this.
(Mrs Brindley) We have certainly had very robust negotiations
with publishers over licence arrangements. To some extent they
are in a monopolistic position because you cannot easily substitute
the materials supplied by one publisher by those of another. That
limits the kind of bargaining space. If that publisher has the
major journals in a discipline then quite simply you cannot get
them from anywhere else so, whilst it is a market, it is not quite
operating like a normal market would.
Mr Chaytor: Can I just pursue this a bit further
because, looking forward to the time at which you are planning
that the electronic research library is established, the obvious
question to us is, if you have an electronic research library
who is the publisher? If I am beavering away on some obscure topic
at one of the British universities, and if I have no copyright
over my research and I am entirely dependent for the enhancement
of my career in getting it published in the Journal of Theoretical
Physics, why do I not simply post it on your web site? Why
do I not allow you to get on with the job of classifying it and
making it accessible to peer review?
38. That is not peer review, is it?
(Sir Brian Follett) There are two things. Part of
it is the quality control of peer review. These scientific journals
really are bundling mechanisms and some of them have enormous
prestige. If you can get a paper published in this particular
journal that will be very good and everybody will read it. Certainly
though, as I did say towards the end of what I said about a national
electronic library, one of the things we will be trying to do
will be to look at the provision of electronic platforms upon
which individuals or individual groups of researchers in the United
Kingdom might develop alternative scholarly publishing models.
Such models are being developed around the world but I cannot
say that over the last five or 10 years one has seen very much
39. In terms of the funding mechanism of the
new attachment, this is a sort of Gutenberg-ish concept, is it
not? We have moved beyond that. My son and daughter are doing
their studies now and they spend all their time at the screen.
They do not have an emotional attachment to books and prints that
our generation had. I just come back to this question of peer
review as a near obligation. On this platform you are proposing
is it not possible to construct a platform where there is stage
one, which is articles posted on the web which have not been subject
to peer review, they are then available for peer review, and stage
two is when they have been peer reviewed? I do not see why it
is not possible to essentially destroy the monopoly of power that
publishers of scientific journals have through the world wide
(Sir Howard Newby) What you describe is happening.
You mentioned physics and that is one area where it certainly
is happening. Psychology is another, where precisely what you
have described does take place. There is a posting of an article
on the web which is not peer reviewed but, as Brian was saying,
there are a number of other reasons, not least of which are ones
of status enhancement, as to why there is still quite a drive
to see something published in the conventional manner in a high