HFL consultation “a sham”

News University News

History students have reacted furiously to last week’s news that they could soon be without a faculty library.

The History Faculty has faced criticism, with many students claiming that they first heard of the proposals to merge the History Faculty Library into the Radcliffe Camera was in press reports last week.

The University have also confirmed that funding issues are behind the suspension of the planned multi-million pound move to the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter.

Students have until March to persuade curators that the proposal will have a negative impact on the quality of education. Although the proposals could be approved by the University in mid-February, this is contingent on a positive consultation process, which will run until 5th March and a negative response could overturn the plans.

However, many students are angry both at the move and the openness of the consultation process.

A second-year historian said: “It’s good that they’re now asking for our opinions but I’ve little faith in them actually listening. They shouldn’t now be asking for our views just because we’ve read it in the OxStu. The consultation process is a complete sham.”

Queen’s historian Edmund Potts plans to set up a website with friends, containing articles in protest at the move, and an online petition, which he plans to present to the Faculty in February. He said: “I think the majority of students who use the HFL are certainly dismayed by the serious deficiencies in the proposed plan, which in itself clearly does not maintain the same level of services we have come to enjoy and expect from a world-class institution like Oxford; but more so by the contempt with which the Faculty seems to regard its students, keeping us in the dark and trying to make fundamental decisions without first consulting us. The Faculty must start being genuinely transparent and honest with us if we are to have any confidence in its decisions.”

Supporters of the plans have this week cited increased investment in the library resulting from the move. All savings from building costs will be used specifically by the History Faculty Library – mainly on resources and opening hours.

A statement from the Committee for Library Provision (CoLP) said: “Without the proposed move, the temporary funding for Sunday opening of the Radcliffe Camera and Gladstone Link will run out at the end of this academic year.”

Conrad Leyser, Chair of the CoLP, added: “The University is prepared to let us spend on the library the savings we would make on moving out. This isn’t a cut, let alone a betrayal; it’s a hard-wire increase for the HFL. If you follow university finances, you will see how stunningly unusual it is for an institution to do this; normally savings on space charges just go back into the central pot.  I’ve never seen anything like it here or at the other institutions at which I have worked.”

The History CoLP held a meeting on Monday, where student reps were present, and there was a meeting of undergraduate historians on Thursday.

The library website on Friday posted an article entitled ‘Proposed move of the HFL: have your say’, which invited students to leave their comments.

The article said: “The proposal reflects the strategic vision of the Bodleian Libraries to provide improved services through the integration and consolidation of a number of its satellite libraries, thereby reducing costs to Divisions and enabling improved services, such as longer hours of operation.

“If the proposal is implemented, the savings achieved by the relocation of the history collections to the Bodleian would free up resources for the purchase of additional books, journals, and databases and for the support of Sunday hours in both the Radcliffe Camera and Old Bodleian Library.”

The Faculty claim that the need to move is due to long-term issues, which include the necessary provision of a disabled access lift. Original plans had been to move to the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, a major development on a ten-acre site north of the city centre. However, that move has been temporarily suspended and the preferred move this summer has arisen partly because the Oxford Martin School are covering the costs so they can use the current HFL site.

A University spokesperson explained the delay in the ROQ development: “A capital expenditure moratorium has been in place since October 2008 to deal with the constrained funding environment: the University will not begin major capital projects (for example new buildings) until there is certainty that 90% of the funding is in place (for instance, from a committed external source such as a donor).”

The plans for the ROQ site include a unified Humanities library, which the University’s website says “aims to consolidate individual humanities faculties into one building”.


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