A textbook case of crisis

Nick Holdsworth finds out why university libraries are cutting back

Spending by university libraries on books has nearly halved over the past 10 years, creating a pervasive sense of crisis, according to a report by the Council of Academic and Professional Publishers.

The figures show that there is an alarming funding gap between the "new" and "old" universities. The average annual spend on students at new universities is £28, compared with £45 for those at traditional, older institutions - meaning that unless significant top-up funding is given to the new universities libraries, "a two-tier education system will continue to exist", the report says.

John Davies, director of Capp, fears that the chronic underfunding of libraries will erode the quality of education available to students and damage Britain's worldwide reputation for academic textbooks.

Mr Davies says: "The problem is most acute in the new universities ... some of them don't seem able to provide even an adequate collection of the basic books and journals."

The Higher Education Funding Council should identify a method of ensuring that reasonable provision is made for libraries, such as earmarking funds for books, Mr Davies says, adding that if purchases of textbooks fall further, it will become uneconomicalfor publishers to produce them.

But while university librarians agree there is a continuing crisis, they say the Capp report disguises a much wider crisis - one of function and purpose in a world of harsh financial realities, in which publishers' inflationary price increases are part of the problem.

Pat Noon, chief librarian at Coventry University - an inner city former polytechnic says the publishers are crying wolf. "I am very sceptical about their motives. They are not really interested in higher education, they're interested in selling more books. That's fine, but don't dress it up as concern for higher education."

In the past five years, book prices have increased by nearly 40 per cent, with an annual rate of between 3 and 5 per cent, according to the Library and Information Statistical Unit, based at Loughborough University. But Mr Noon says that the price of periodicals jumped by 15 per cent with rises of 66 per cent or 78 per cent not unheard of for scientific or technical journals.

Coventry, which last year spent just over £25 on books for each of its 15,000 students, has a budget of £2 million - around 3.5 per cent of the university's total expenditure. But Mr Noon needs more staff: library use by students has increased by 50 per cent over the past five years while staffing levels have remained almost static. "It's not a book-funding crisis, it's a crisis in higher education funding ... with [academic] publishers you have a group sucking the sector dry and then asking why there isn't more blood for them to suck."

For students, the crisis is evident in the pressures they find themselves under to find scarce core textbooks for essays or reports when many - especially in the new universities - can barely afford to buy their own. Theft and vandalism - razor-blading essential pages out of books - are not major problems, but often occur as project deadlines loom. Librarians and student union officers don't condone the practice, but understand the financial, social and academic pressures under which many students live.

Last year, the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals spent £41 on books per student at Warwick University - one of the newer traditional universities - compared with £47 at Birmingham and £48 at Leeds.

Dave Ryan, general secretary of the student union, said: "Everything about the university since it opened has been related to great progress and expenditure, yet the library is the one area where we've slipped behind the competition."

Dr John Henshall, Warwick's chief librarian, believes he is relatively fortunate: a recent £5.6 million library extension, housing the British Petroleum archives, has enabled him to provide an extra 400 study places in the 1,500-seat central library and a better short-term loan collection, and there are plans for more expansion. But he is still cutting back on periodicals - 300 cancelled out of 5,600 over the pastfour years, saving £75,000, with plans for another clear out soon.

For Dr Henshall, there is only one way to ensure libraries fulfill the needs of students and academics: co-operation and collaboration - concepts which many territorial academics finds very threatening.

Life and Style
Social media users in Mexico who commented on cartel violence have been killed in the past
techTweets not showing up or loading this morning, users say
Sport
premier leagueLive: All the latest news and scores from today's matches
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
politics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Senior Research Fellow in Water and Resilient communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: Our team of leading academic...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Special Needs Teaching Assistants...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker