Memorandum from Sir Brian Follett (BL02)
1. The Research Support Libraries Group
(RSLG) was established under my chairmanship by the four UK higher
education funding bodies, the British Library, the National Library
of Scotland and the National Library of Wales. The membership
and terms of reference for the Group are attached at Annex A.
The Group aims to produce a report to its sponsors in autumn 2002.
2. The Group has its origins in the concern
that, while the UK has excellent research libraries at present,
it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain these standards
for the future. The twin challenges of rising costs and growing
volume of material have already brought us to the point where
no individual library can realistically aim to collect and hold
all of the resources that its researcher users require, forcing
them increasingly to pursue these resources externally; and it
is not evident that even the aggregated national research collection
can continue to meet all of their needs in its present form. In
addition, the advent of the web has fundamentally altered the
technology available for delivering research information to library
customers. Whilst this can create its own problems it offers great
opportunities to researchers since all universities are linked
by a world-class network and the customers are highly computer
literate. The RSLG was established to advise on a national response
to all of these issues, and to develop strategies to ensure that
UK researchers continue to have access to the full range of world-class
3. The Group's primary focus is on the needs
of professional researchers, mainly in the public sector (university
academic staff, university researchers and research students,
government research scientists). We have consulted widely within
the research and library communities, and have commissioned a
major research study on current patterns and future trends in
researchers' use of libraries and other information sources. The
results of this study (which is now nearing conclusion) will underpin
the Group's final recommendations. Other elements of the Group's
(a) A sub-group on e-science, which will
advise on the requirements of research scientists involved in
generating, sharing and studying very large electronic datasets.
(b) A sub-group on scholarly communications
to advise on trends in scholarly publishing and the transition
from print to electronic formats.
(c) A sub-group to look at the role of the
British Library Document Supply Centre in supporting UK research;
(d) Commissioned studies of current practice
in research library collaboration in the UK and in other countries.
In addition the Group has drawn on a range of
work undertaken by other bodies in the research and academic library
4. A crucial reference point for the Group
has been the emergence of the hybrid library, with which
we believe most if not all researchers will be working within
and beyond our 10-year planning horizon. By "hybrid"
we mean a library with a mixture of materials in hard copy and
electronic form, with the range and nature of the mix varying
for researchers in different subject areas and research environments.
Some of the material in electronic form may be provided from local
sources, but a progressively greater proportion of such material
is now being provided at a distance and is accessed through the
library or directly from the researcher's desk.
5. The pace at which materials in electronic
form are adopted by researchers, and how completely, will vary
between disciplines. For example, many research historians will
continue to regard access to printed historical documents as indispensable,
although they may increasingly use electronic means to search
for the whereabouts of these documents. At the other end of the
spectrum, there are already research scientists who work entirely
with resources in electronic form. Between these two extremes,
there is much diversity of demand for print and electronic resources,
and any future national strategy to enhance access to the resources
must embrace this variation.
6. The Group considers that new strategies
are required to ensure that the needs of UK researchers continue
to be met adequately; and that there is an opportunity to be seized
for the UK to become a major player in determining the new research
information landscape. If we do nothing, the risks are that the
body of material available in the UK will become less well matched
to researcher needs, and that we shall increasingly be forced
to rely on other countries or on purely commercial vendors for
our research information resources.
7. The four key elements in the Group's
a. The UK must pursue the vision of a national
electronic research library (NERL).
Researchers have told us that they require rapid
and easy access to the broadest possible range of resources. They
also need to be assured of the quality of the information and
research outputs that they use. We expect the volume of online
research resources to grow exponentially within the next few years,
creating a requirement for sophisticated new tools to navigate
the electronic environment. On present form this material is likely
to be of variable quality, and more difficult than it should be
to locate and access. We should be working now to develop mechanisms
to give cohesion and direction to decisions on what research material
is made available online; to map and classify this material; to
safeguard its security; to make sure that it is both widely accessible
and fully quality-assured; and to encourage new channels of scholarly
communication. The development of these mechanisms carries considerable
challenges, but it has exceptional potential to enhance the quality
of UK research. The vision of acting together to create national
structures that grow over the years is not new. In the years immediately
after World War II the country established a collection of science
journals that were lent from a central location. That was combined
with the national central library in the early seventies to create
The British Library. Its document supply division at Boston Spa
in Yorkshire is the direct successor to the science collection
and last year it issued 2.4 million documents by inter-library
lending: one every three seconds of the working year. It is the
largest and best such service in the world. Within the last decade
the funding councils created the Distributed National Electronic
Resource (DNER) which is in effect a test bed for a national electronic
library. Its success in providing all types of resources electronically
to researchers suggests that it could form the basic platform
for the NERL.
b. Collaboration between research libraries
should be extended.
No academic library can fully meet its users'
needs without external assistance; at the same time there is still
much scope for reducing duplication in holdings of less heavily
used materials. Almost all research libraries in the UK are already
involved in some form of bilateral or multilateral collaborative
activity, extending at least to local or regional schemes for
sharing access to print resources. These activities could profitably
be extended into new areas, such as planned collaborative acquisition
and retention policies, to improve the coverage of the aggregated
collection. They should be supplemented by more collaboration
at national level, for example in producing a single national
online catalogue of research resources.
c. A national print collection should continue
to be managed by the British Library.
It is clear from our consultations with researchers
that the print holdings of the British Library, and the services
of its Document Supply Centre, are essential to the success of
research in many disciplines. We can see no other way of providing
this. The availability of a very wide range of serial publications,
delivered to the researcher's desktop, through the British Libraryequalled
by no other national collectionis the main reason why UK
HEIs are able to collect fewer journals than their peers in other
countries and yet maintain parity in research standards.
d. There will continue to be a role for librarians
and other information professionals.
We envisage a key role for print collections
for many years to come. Despite the growth of online resources,
we see no evidence at present of any slackening in the flow of
printed material, and equally we anticipate that much material
now available in hard copy will never appear in digital form.
Beyond this, the switch to online resources will create a new
role for information professionals helping researchers to keep
up to date with what is available in their field in all media.
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