Saturday, February 25, 2012

What is happening to university libraries?

I have recently developed an interest in Graham Wallas. One of the thinkers at the heart of Peter Clarke's Liberals and Social Democrats, he began as a thoroughgoing Fabian but later broke with them over their support for protectionism and because he came to distrust their rather mechanical approach to politics.

There are two books devoted to Wallas: Between Two Worlds: Political Thought of Graham Wallas by Martin J. Wiener and Graham Wallas and the Great Society by Terence H. Qualter.

I have recently bought both via Amazon. When the books arrived I was surprised to find they had both been disposed of by British university libraries.

Why are universities getting rid of books when they are accepting more students than ever before?

Yes, time moves on. But Wallas is not as obscure as all that. Anyone researching the history of the Fabian Society will soon find that he was a significant figure in his day.

Has the undergraduate curriculum narrowed? Do students work from handouts now? I think we should be told.

4 comments:

David Johnson said...

It's more simple than that, simply a technological revolution. A great deal of research can now be conducted over the web, and there are a lot of titles that can be accessed on a computer by inter-university library connections.

Anonymous said...

If you're curious you can, if you wish, look at the online catalogues of most universities.

Oxford: solo.ouls.ox.ac.uk
Liverpool: library.liv.ac.uk/
Cambridge: http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/newton/
Manchester: http://man-fe.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/search.do
Sheffield: http://library.shef.ac.uk/
St. Andrew's: http://library.st-andrews.ac.uk/
Edinburgh: http://catalogue.lib.ed.ac.uk/

You might be pleasantly surprised. The Oxford system has no fewer than six copies of the Wiener title. Perhaps that's just being greedy...

Jonathan said...

Thanks for the comments. I received some on Twitter too.

I have searched and neither of the university libraries in question now holds a copy of the relevant book.

If texts are all available on the web now, can anyone purchase access? This is too useful to be left to students.

Ken said...

Jonathan, you're right to show concern about things being available on the web. The books you mention may be available now, but access is provided by companies like Google, or Readex, or ProQuest, who are trying to turn a profit. Access to electronic versions of old printed materials is wonderful; but there is a big potential risk, too - many things that are out of copyright, you still have to pay for access.