Students and faculty members have expressed outrage over the Bodleian’s handling of the proposed relocation of the Oriental Institute library in an effort to reduce costs by between two and three per cent.
Under the proposal, the Oriental Institute library, which houses the majority of books used by Oriental Studies students, would be closed, and most of its books moved to the Sackler, which is the Classics faculty’s main library. The proposal is currently being considered by a number of committees, and the final move is expected to go ahead in summer 2016.
A document presented to the Committee on Library Provision and Strategy in Oriental Studies outlined the Bodleian’s line on using feedback from consultations, stating, “Further consultation may be required…but it is hoped that the outline proposal can be agreed soon so that necessary preparatory work can get under way.”
The document also stated, “Subject to further discussion and study, it is hoped that preparatory steps can start immediately (and indeed some are already agreed and under way) and continue steadily through to June 2016, with the major move taking place in July/August.” It warned of a possible curtailment of opening hours in the interim.
Professor Gillian Evans, a retired Cambridge professor and an outspoken critic of Bodleian management, told Cherwell, “What is happening now is a re-run of a lot of regrettable management practices we saw in 2012: secrecy, failure to consult all those affected in a timely way or at all, attempts to railroad a proposal onward in the teeth of extensive opposition, by the use of PR and ‘rewriting the story’, even constitutional shenanigans.”
Evans added, “This is coupled with a failure to work things out and cost them and timetable them properly in detail. Anyone who uses the Sackler or the Classics part of the LRR knows how short of seats Classics already is. If applicant numbers are rising as I hear they are in Oriental Studies, this is a recipe for a grim future of overcrowding.”
The Sackler currently has 250 reader spaces, and according to Bodleian statistics its average occupancy is 80, but the document did not contain data looking at peak-time occupancy, when the pressure on reader spaces would be most acute.
A spokesperson for the Bodleian stressed that student members had been present at all of the meetings of library committees where the proposal was discussed.
They added, “The proposal to relocate the Oriental Institute to the Sackler Library came about after pressure to make permanent cost savings from 2015/16. Consultation on the proposal has taken place and continues; a decision has not yet been taken and the proposal will go to the Curators of the University Library in 8th Week Trinity Term.
The suggested solution will not only generate cost savings but will also increase the opening hours of the Sackler Library/ the time that readers have access to the Sackler Library by more than a third.”
Tara Heuze, a Balliol Oriental Studies student, told Cherwell, “I frequent both the OI and the Sackler on a fairly regular basis. Both of these, when I go, happen to be packed with people, despite the space, and I often find that I have to get my books and scurry back to college if I am to study properly. If the seating availability is already in these dire straits at this point in time, when the two libraries are separate, I can hardly imagine what it would be like once the attempted merger goes through.
“Perhaps most importantly, the hypocrisy of the entire proceedings disgusts me. I heard rumours about the proposed move at least a month ago, but it is only now, when the decision is all but made, that the management have decided to ‘considerately’ send around an internet survey, which they’ll probably ignore anyway, but pretend that they didn’t, so that the entire procedure can have a (very) thin veneer of fairness.
“What surprises me the most is that the Classicists and the Art Historians, who will be as affected by it as us, do not seem to have been informed at all.
“It is disgusting, and would be shocking, if it weren’t so predictable, given the history of library moves in the past decade.”