Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 2, No. 209. Monday, 9 Sep 1991.
Date: Sat, 7 Sep 1991 21:07:00 -0400
From: William Proctor Williams <TB0WPW1@NIU.BITNET>
Subject: New BL
To all who are concerned users of the British Library
6 September 1991
Oh my, oh my! Why is it always the case that any attempts by readers in a
library to influence the practices of that library are treated as
anachronistic? The Regular Readers Group (RRG) does not wish to cause
further problems for the administration of the British Library (BL). We
do, I believe, wish to help the administration in making the new BL, in
whatever configuration, a better place to do the work we do.
It may not be thought, by many, that members of the RRG do any work at all.
But for those who know we do I would like to make the following points:
1) The suggestion that the Round Reading Room, North Library, and
associated stacks be retained for use by readers of books printed before
1850 was made in the hope that all, or nearly all, material should be stored
and available in London. Some of us may be "nostalgics," but anyone using a
library is, to some extent, a nostalgic. Libraries contain only material
which has been. The BL has no holdings of materials which are "now" or
"to be"; it only has materials which "were."
2) If the government were to agree, at once, that they would build the
proposed New BL in all its parts and with all the appropriate additions, this
Regular Reader would very much alter his views about the St Pancras site.
I support the BL totally, but support of the BL does not necessarily mean
that I support the current BL administration. This administration seems
entirely too willing to accept government decrees rather than to fight its
corner and to resign if necessary. It is, I think, a characteristic of
good administration that it should be willing to resign (or to take some
commensurate action) if it cannot live with the circumstances forced upon it
by its superiors. Of course, readers cannot resign, but they can support
those persons who administer the libraries they use and they can
recognize those who have, in the past, put up a fight about the New BL and
can also recognize those who have accepted the shoddy way HM
Government has treated the New BL.
3) The RRG has always been concerned about the abandonment of the printed
catalogue. Anyone who has used a library with a computerized library
catalogue knows that computer systems go down; have certain oddities
(viz. the New Library of Congress computer catalogue is often not able to
tell the reader whether the book requested is in the general collection,
rare books, or elsewhere); and contain errors which must be rechecked against
the printed catalogue (the New Library of Congress has retained its card
catalogue and users of the computer catalogue are told to consult it when
they cannot tell from the computer if the book they want is rare or not).
Furthermore, experience indicates that at least 25% of the hardware (i.e.,
terminals, printers, etc.) will be out of service at any given time. There
have been plenty of occasions when ALL the terminals of the BL's present
electronic catalogue have been down. As the RRG has constantly stressed,
such a view of the reality of electronic media demands that the
printed catalogue be retained as a backup of the useful but fragile electronic
4) During its meeting with Mr Smethurst and his staff in the summer of 1990
the RRG pointed out that there needed to be more terminals, more
seating, and a better system of integration between printed books, rare
printed books, and manuscripts than is currently the case in the BL.
We also raised the question of the current backward, costly, and slow methods
of acquiring photoreproductions of materials in the BL's holdings. I have
seen none of these questions addressed by anything which has been made public
in the following 14 months. The recently-instituted self-service copy
facility is minimal and expensive.
5) Finally, the BL needs the RRG and the RRG needs the BL. In nearly all
academic libraries there exists an advisory committee of readers, elected
by the readers, not appointed by the library administrators (I know this
because I was, for a period, the director of a large university library
and worked with some success with such a committee) and I suggest that the BL
administration might save itself, the RRG, and other readers further grief
and bad press if it were to make a valid and true effort to establish
such a committee. It is perfectly clear that the "committee" which it
appointed in the past has neither the support of the RRG nor the support of
some of the people appointed to it. Would it not be better if the librarians
and the readers worked together for a change rather than fought amongst
themselves? I am sure that HM Government have been much diverted by the
reports in the press of our fallings out (as the press seems to have been
much diverted by the failings of the mechanical shelving), but might pay more
attention to our mutual interests if we could present a united front.
I still encourage readers to write to Tim Renton, I still encourage readers
to join the RRG, and I still encourage the staff of the BL to do both and
to join with readers in working for the very best BL that can be created.
William Proctor Williams, Department of English
Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL 60115
[Please forward or cross-post this to any other appropriate lists. Thanks]