Libraries and financial cuts

This article is a response to the piece that appeared in the 0th week edition of Cherwell.

We want, as student members of the Curators of the University Libraries, the committee that oversees the work of the Bodleian, to respond to an article about changes to the Oriental Institute Library that appeared in the 0th week edition of Cherwell. We deeply regret the obvious unease in the student body about the proposed changes, and want to explain the context and clarify the situati on for all concerned.

The Curators of the Libraries were required by the central University to find significant financial savings for 2015/16. This is common to most University services, and results from the need for the University to make a 5% overall surplus. James has been a Curator all year (Jack’ s first meeting was in late Hilary term), and is also a member of the main budget-setting committee of the University, which i s called PRAC. We sit on these committees to represent students at the highest level of decision-making in the University.

In response to the financial impetus from the central University, the Bodleian is exploring many different options. During Hilary Term, students and staff in the affected faculties were consulted, through the Committees for Library Provision & Strategy, on the possibility of merging the Oriental Institute Library into the Sackler Library.

It is now clear that this was insufficient as consultation, and the Curators have endorsed a further surveying of students and more meetings with the relevant faculties’ leaderships. We, as student members, have reached out to the student representatives i n the Oriental Institute and reported back to the other Curators that we found a very significant unease with the changes in the student body. The Libraries’ leadership very willingly agreed to meet with students affected and talk the proposals through with them, and the Curators have made clear that a decision has
not yet been made.
The current plan is that a decision will be made in the 8th week meeting of the Curators this term. That meeting will consider the results of the consultation very carefully indeed, as students and staff have the right to expect. Professor Evans, who is quoted extensively in the article, and is a consistent and vocal but utterly misinformed critic of the Bodleian, is, in our view, wrong to describe this process as railroading or secrecy or failure to consult. We hope students realize that we would never support, or allow to proceed, any proposal that did not include clear consultation with students before a decision has been made. The Curators endorsed consultation with students and staff in all the faculties that are affected, including Classics and Art History. While the initial proposal from the Bodleian does support the changes, a paper that supports a proposal does not mean the decision has been made, or that we are not prepared to listen to different views.
We are working closely with senior staff in the Bodleian to help them enhance their consultation processes and we expect the Bodleian to be among the first sections of the University to make use of the benchmark on effective student consultation that OUSU has been developing over the vacation (and which will go forward to OUSU
Council for approval in early Trinity). We find it therefore very sad indeed that Professor Evans’ comments were included by Cherwell without any response from those who know how sincere and thoughtful the leadership of the Bodleian is about listening to students.Tara Heuze calls the decision ‘ all but made’. That is far from true and if students feel that to be true then we, as Curators, have failed in our duty. If students and staff in all affected faculties make a strong case against the change, they will be listened to.
It is very clear to us as student representatives that, while the financial challenge is real and serious, the academic mission of the University is the first priority. Nonetheless the Curators have to balance the view of affected library users with the financial imperatives imposed by the central University (and in origin by the government) and
with the strategic objectives of the Bodleian. To reiterate: no decision has been made. No decision will be made without listening to the results of a robust and effective consultation, which has the opportunity to engage students and staff of all relevant faculties in developing a new, shared vision for the future of their libraries. Our work, as your student representatives, across the University is centred on ensuring, indeed insisting, that student views are at the heart of how and what decisions are made in the University, and our commitment to that is unyielding.