History library scrapped?
By Tim Williams
History students will be without their own faculty library from this summer if plans being rushed through to merge their library with the Radcliffe Camera are approved.
The move would be until a site near the Radcliffe Observatory is ready, a date which the University said it “can’t speculate on”.
The proposed changes now include moving all History lending books from their current location in the Old Indian Institute to the Lower Radcliffe Camera and Gladstone Link. English and Theology non-lending material will be moved to the Upper Camera. The material currently in the Upper Camera will be moved to a space in the Gladstone Link. Work would take place over the summer.
Members of the faculty have until this Friday to give feedback on plans, which were leaked to The Oxford Student. There will be an “extraordinary meeting” of the History Committee for Library Provision (CoLP) next week. A letter sent to the Faculty on 18th January from Conrad Leyser, the Chairman of the History CoLP, said: “If we wish to activate the proposal, we need to tell the University by February 12th.” He admitted the “stunningly tight” timing was “regrettable”.
The History Faculty Library is planning to move to the Radcliffe Observatory site but there has now been a “temporary suspension” of these plans. Alternative proposals were drawn up over the end of last term when “the opportunity arose to finance a move this year.”
Tutors are concerned at the involvement of the Oxford Martin School, which is one of the main reasons behind the proposals and the need for them to be passed so quickly. The proposals state: “the desire of the Oxford Martin School to take over the whole of the Old Indian Institute [and its offer of a substantial financial inducement to facilitate the move providing this takes place before September 2012].”
Leyser’s letter said: “If all concerned can live with the speed of this process and the short-term disruption, there are some real medium to long-term benefits.”
The leaked documents claim advantages of the proposals include longer opening hours, which will increase to 9am-10pm Mon-Fri. It is also proposed “to reinvest part of the savings […] to establish Sunday opening” in term time of the Radcliffe Camera and Gladstone Link, which will also benefit students of English and Theology and mean the Radcliffe Camera will “be available for seven days a week in term.”
Merging the collections will also be “more convenient for readers,” according to the plans.
However, the impact of the changes will mean less space for books and more students using an already busy library. The plans state: “At this stage, we are confident that there is room for at least 90-95 percent of each category in the right room.”
James Legg, Head of the Bodleian’s Humanities Libraries, said he was “really quite confident that there would be space for all the relevant books. We will be using the Gladstone Link, which currently has space.”
“This is very much an interim step,” he added. “It will save £105,000 in operating costs each year, which is one of the main motivating factors behind the move. There will also be disruptive building works in the Old Indian Institute [the current library location].”
Legg said that he would prefer the consultation to continue until “mid-March” but foresaw approval of the proposal to vacate the current site being passed.
When asked why the plans had not been made clear to students, Legg explained: “We are in consultation with each of the faculties and it is up to them to bring in students as they see fit. There are also student representatives on our committees.”
A graduate history student, who teaches but wished to remain anonymous, said: “The proposal has a number of serious flaws, but it’s being pushed through as if there is no other viable option. Part of the reason given for the move is the lack of disabled access to the current library, but this will still be a problem if the library moves to the Radcliffe Camera.
“The role of the Martin School in speeding the process along is extremely concerning – they have offered to cover the costs of the move only if it takes place before September 2012.
“It’s left a lot of students feeling disenfranchised. Students are the main users of the HFL, not tutors, who tend to work in the Bod, yet no students have been consulted on the proposals. History is the second largest undergraduate course, yet under these plans it would become the only major department without its own library, and the Radcliffe Camera is already overcrowded. It feels like financial considerations have abrogated academic concerns.”
Johnny Rix, a St Anne’s first-year historian, said: “I feel angry and betrayed that the University would move our treasured library for mere economic expedience.”
A second-year historian at New agreed: “It is outrageous that they’d consider closing such an integral resource for every History student.”
Oscar Lee, New’s JCR President and second-year History student said he was “horrified at the prospect. I’m sure there’ll be protests. I think it’s shocking and I’m very annoyed about the lack of consultation. In the past they’ve asked us before making decisions, like opening at weekends.”
A University spokesperson added: “We can’t speculate on when the Radcliffe site will be ready. Timing is dependent on funding. We are always committed to making sure all students have a good educational experience.”
The Oxford Martin School declined to comment.