Letter about library proposals in THE

This letter appeared in the Times Higher Education on Friday 27 January 2011:

Rewrites required

27 January 2011

The British Film Institute plans to remove its collection from an accessible site in central London to its archive store in Berkhamsted – with no public transport running between the archive and the nearest railway station (“Fears of the cutting room floor: BFI plans alarm sector”, 20 January).

A few selected items may be retained at the BFI’s site on the South Bank; for the rest we are offered “digitised delivery”. But what can this mean when thousands of books in the collection do not exist in digitised form, nor is the BFI likely to ensure that they do?

The best way of serving the public is not to cut off the root that has fostered and sustained the UK’s lively moving image culture. We are not aware of any consultation with library users, still less with donors to the collection.

A merger with the British Library seems to be the most promising solution. The BFI must talk to users who are directly affected by this disastrous decision and who, like us, can see the long-term damage it will cause.

Tim Bergfelder, University of Southampton, Charlotte Brunsdon, University of Warwick, Robert Burgoyne, University of St Andrews, Edward Buscombe, former head of BFI Publishing, John Caughie, University of Glasgow, Richard Collins, The Open University, Pam Cook, University of Southampton, Elizabeth Cowie, University of Kent, John Ellis, Royal Holloway, University of London, Christine Geraghty, Glasgow, Christine Gledhill, University of Sunderland, Mark Jancovich, University of East Anglia, Dina Jordanova, St Andrews, Annette Kuhn, Queen Mary, University of London, Barry Langford, Royal Holloway, Laura Mulvey, Birkbeck, University of London, Steven Neale, University of Exeter, Murray Smith, Kent, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, Queen Mary, Peter Stanfield, Kent, Sarah Street, University of Bristol, Yvonne Tasker, UEA, Terry Threadgold, pro vice-chancellor, Cardiff University, Ginette Vincendeau, King’s College London, Linda Ruth Williams, Southampton.

Times Higher Education – People news – Rewrites required

More about BFI library proposals

bfiwatch understands that the crucial question of how much space is available at the BFI Southbank premises to house the Stephen Street library study resources is not yet resolved.

Extracts from the BFI 2011-15 Proposals for Consultation:

3.2 BFI National Library The Library collections are core to the development, care and interpretation of the national collection, and essential to the curatorial R&D and creation of knowledge that inform development of our cultural programme. Developing access to collections continues to be a key goal. However, as a cultural organisation with limited public funding we can no longer afford the depth of information we provide at the moment by phone and email, and we need to balance the levels of service provided to the HE sector against increased services to the public. We believe that there is a market for a free library service, oriented towards the public and tied to audience development alongside a modernised service for researchers and students.

We propose therefore making our library offer part of our public offer, working with our education team to increase schools and young persons’ usage of the Library. We aim to continue serving higher education users in the reading room but will augment this through increased digital delivery and research access at the Conservation Centre. The subscription information service will be closed.

3.3 New facility in a new home Subject to an affordable capital investment plan — currently in development — the reading room will be located at BFI Southbank, using the former Gallery and its back offices and potentially incorporating the Mediatheque space. Initial thinking is that the new library will be open 50 hours per week (Tuesday – Saturday 11:00-20:00; Sunday 12:00-17:00; Monday closed).

Access in the reading room will be layered, with a free public access area; free but controlled-entry area and a research area (which may be charged). A proportion of library stock will be rotated both to meet the needs of specific user groups and to make accessible materials in association with the cultural programme. School group visits and events will be extended and promoted.

Options for creating a library stack at BFI Southbank are being explored to ensure we keep as much as possible of the current book and periodical collection intact when the Library relocates. Heavily used stock will be moved into the reading room to increase browsing access. Lightly-used stock will be transferred to storage at the Conservation Centre, alongside the Special Collections and (mainly pre-1940) library material which is already housed there.

The book and journal catalogues will be integrated with other collections databases and made publicly accessible online, so that materials may be selected and booked for viewing, wherever they are housed. Investment will be made in digitising some key collections to free staff from having to help users with antiquated systems. Digital-on-demand and materials which need to be brought in may be charged. Facilities at the Conservation Centre at Berkhamsted will be developed to offer additional research access to — for example — un-catalogued material, stills and posters, especially as part of partnered research projects with our curators.

[ … ] All library staff will be multi-skilled to run the reading room and deal with enquiries, but six designated individuals will take responsibility for professional library functions: acquisitions, journals, cataloguing, enquiries, reading room and research services (all posts proposed as full time). A further four full time equivalent posts will be generic librarian/library assistant roles to be deployed flexibly in accordance with workload and projects such as cataloguing and digitisation. Staff will be required to work as required in the reading room, library office, the stack or on the collections at Berkhamsted. We will use 2011/12 to plan and prepare for relocation of the reading room to BFI Southbank. The proposal is for the new staff structure to be in place from 1 April 2011 but opening hours will remain as now while we are at Stephen Street; a plan for transition to the new charging regime is being prepared, which will include obtaining agreements on new working patterns.

Research viewings—the proposal is to move towards digital delivery, with as much material as possible booked directly by users searching in the CID database. The requested material will be digitised on demand by the Film Acquisitions & Access team (see below) and streamed or downloaded to an appropriate viewing station in the library / mediatheque. Complex research viewing requests requiring desktop research to identify appropriate materials will be handled by the Collections Gateway team (see below). Current viewing facilities for analogue materials will be retained at Stephen Street whilst the digital delivery service is developed. [ … ]

BFI FAQ on library proposals

From the BFI website:

FAQs on a proposal for changes at the BFI Library

The BFI is at the centre of the biggest change in the UK film landscape for over ten years. We are seeing the start of a new era in which the BFI takes on activities currently carried out by the UK Film Council, becomes the strategic lead for film in the UK and provides a clear focus internationally. It is an opportunity that the BFI is addressing with energy and optimism, but it comes at a time when we also face a difficult economic environment and one where our Government grant is being significantly cut over the next four years.

We are meeting the challenge head on and have set ourselves on a path to transform our Board, to transform our executive and management capability, to adopt a dynamic approach to new partnerships and to invest in modernisation. We have announced a number of measures to help us adapt for the change coming and these were announced in December 2010. The announcement includes a proposal for the BFI Library at Stephen Street in London.

We still have work to do in examining the feasibility of the proposal for the Library and before we begin to consult on it publicly, but in the meantime here are a number of frequently asked questions that explain in more detail the rationale for changes and what those will mean for users.

What is happening to the BFI Library?

We are proposing to relocate the BFI Library and as much of the Book & periodical collection that exists there currently, from Stephen Street to BFI Southbank. This will have the benefit of allowing us to tie it closer to our public cultural programmes and to the Mediatheque there, and to provide greater access for free. BFI Southbank is open seven days a week and is a very popular destination for people to engage fully with film. We believe such a move will enable the Library to be used by more people.

Why is the BFI doing this?

One of the drivers for change at the BFI is our ambition to offer increased public access to BFI Collections and to engage with more people and a wide range of users. Also, we have long wanted to invest in the BFI Library to improve the user experience and to integrate it more closely with our public and cultural programmes. Relocating the Library to BFI Southbank has the benefit of making it more open to the public, in a building that is open seven days a week and for free.

What happens to the Collections of books, leaflets, periodicals and other items currently in the Library?

We aim to relocate as much as possible of the collection currently held in the BFI Library to the new site in BFI Southbank. At the moment, 80% of the Library collection (largely Books, Periodicals and Biographies) is held at Stephen Street. The remaining 20% of the Library collection and 100% of our ‘Special Collections’ (company and personal papers, scripts, posters, designs, stills, press books) are housed in our Conservation Centre in Berkhamsted, and always have been. These collections are held off-site as it is not economical to hold rarely-used materials in high cost central London real estate, and we also need to care for them in appropriate environmental conditions.

Is the collection being split between sites and thus become difficult to access?

No. The collection of books and periodicals at the Library at Stephen Street is the most comprehensive of its kind in the world and it grows in size and depth every year. Storage space has been an ongoing issue for a long time. Under the new proposals, we aim to use modern storage solutions to enable us to keep as much of the actively used collection as possible with the Library when it relocates to BFI Southbank. But we also estimate that we will be able to move some collections to Berkhamsted without diminishing the service we offer to Library users when it relocates to BFI Southbank.

What about the other collections of film and TV material, scripts and private papers of filmmakers – will I have to go to Berkhamsted to view those?

No. Currently, anyone wishing to view the Special Collections (company and personal papers, scripts, posters, designs, stills, press books) can request them from the Archive in Berkhamsted. There is generally a one day turnaround and they are brought to London on a daily van run. This arrangement will remain unchanged under the new proposals.

The same goes for anyone wishing to view material from the film and Television collection. They request the material in advance from our Research Viewing Services facility.

We are planning a digital-on-demand service that will also allow desktop delivery of materials. For example, our nitrate collections are not viewable, but could be if we digitise them on request. For researchers and curators who need to work on major collections (we have a few researchers at the moment who need this service, but we cannot accommodate them properly at the Conservation Centre) a bespoke facility will be created at Berkhamsted where the Collections are physically held.

If some parts of the collection are not on view in the Library, how do I know what is available to be seen?

A significant percentage of the collections held at the BFI are catalogued and we are working hard to improve this. We have been able to make investments from the Screen Heritage project which means that for the first time ever our database of titles held in the BFI National Archive moving image collections will be available online. In the course of next year we want to merge the Library catalogue, special collections and posters and designs data. Library users will be able to access the catalogue online to see what is in the collection and where it is held, so they can order up items if they are not physically in the Library. We will also rotate stock in the Library as user needs dictate – something we have always done. Elements of the collection that are rarely seen or used will be part of that rotation process.

Why are you not keeping all of the collections together on a single, easily accessible site?

All the great cultural collections are stored on multiple sites and rarely more than 5% of each is on public display at any one time. Even with other collections such as those of the British Library in London and the Library of Congress in Washington, the vast majority is not kept onsite. The BFI has a significant collection taking up 33 acres of land and issues of space and the need for the right storage conditions do not make it practical to store everything in Central London. The current turnaround time for calling items from the Collection at the BFI National Archive to be viewed in London is one working day – for other national collections it can take a lot longer at 5 days or more.

Why create a research facility at Berkhamsted where it is more difficult to reach geographically?

The collections will still be accessible in London. We do understand the issues about the Berkhamsted location, but the majority of the film, TV and paper collections specifically are more fragile by nature and the better the conditions the material is kept in, and the less it is moved, the better it is from a conservation point of view. Our proposal is to create dedicated space at the Archive for partnered and in-depth research into existing and new collections, where they are held and where curators are on hand to assist and work with the researchers. This augments rather than replaces our current offer and is something that many researchers have requested.

What about users from outside London and overseas – how will their needs be catered for when they cannot reach Berkhamsted easily?

With the relocation to BFI Southbank we are planning to retain most of the collection of books and periodicals currently held at Stephen Street, so users regardless of where they are based should still be able to carry out their research in London. Currently, if they need to reference parts of the collection that are kept offsite then they do so by calling it up from the Archive. This arrangement does not change under these proposals.

The uniqueness of the BFI’s collections is that they are interlinked and one discovery leads to another part of the collection, so how does the BFI propose to allow that to continue?

By keeping as much of the collection currently actively used together in the relocated Library, we are confident that we will be able to continue to provide an open-ended research and reference experience.

What will happen to the staff at the BFI Library, many of whom are experts and of great assistance to researchers and other users?

We will still be retaining much of the knowledge and experience in the Library when it relocates, and although we will sadly be losing some posts as a result of the modernisation process, we are confident that we will be able to maintain the overall user experience.

How will the BFI’s plans for ‘digital-on-demand’ impact on its viewing services facility?

Most of the collections are currently only in analogue format and can only be viewed or researched in situ. Our proposal is to over time digitise a great deal more of the Collection so that it can be viewed online or delivered for viewing on dedicated terminals on-demand. We need to work through a number of issues as we carry out feasibility on this but we are currently investing in new equipment and looking at how when we can start to deliver on it.

BFI | Library & Research | Is it available?

BFI library protest in the New Statesman

From the New Statesman Cultural Capital blog today:

Further cuts to UK film bodies amidst growing protest

Posted by Lucian Robinson – 19 January 2011 17:42

The BFI continues to pursue its cuts program.

Twenty five leading film academics, including Professor Pam Cook who runs the anti-cuts bfiwatch blog, have written to the British Film Institute (BFI) to protest against the proposed move of the BFI library from its current site just off Tottenham Court Road, one of the latest moves in the series of potential cuts measures to be enforced at the BFI, as a result of a 15% budget cut over the next four years. The BFI has suggested moving the collection in part to its Southbank building and in part to the National Archive Facility in Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire.

The letter offers vehement opposition to the move:

It’s as if the British Library were to move to Hertfordshire. The BFI National Library has underpinned the growth of UK film and moving image scholarship, which has in turn supported the UK’s thriving cultural and creative industries. We are not aware of any consultation with library users, who, incidentally, pay an annual fee for the service, still less with donors to the collection – some of whom made gifts because the BFI offered central London access.

It also became clear today that Screen Yorkshire, the body which was responsible for much of the location scouting for the Bafta nominated film The King’s Speech could potentially lose up to 15 out of its current 19 employees, because of the abolition of the regional development agency for Yorkshire, Yorkshire Forward, which had previously provided the film funding body with finance from a £10.2 million contract for the promotion of film in the area.

The cuts program has already taken effect in some areas of the BFI with the closure of the gallery at BFI Southbank, the announcement of a ” editorial and production review” in March for the BFI’s magazineSight and Sound, a proposed pay freeze for all staff until April 2012 and some 37 reduncies at the organisation acknoweldged to be almost certain.

When announcing the cuts in December last year, the director of the BFI Amanda Nevill, said:

It is imperative the BFI builds on its successes and remains commercially astute in this tough new environment. We have an incredible opportunity in the months and years ahead to create something very special for film in the UK and these proposals are both bold and necessary.

The recent abolition of the UK Film Council has also led to the BFI being compelled to take on the former body’s funding and distribution responsibilities.

When Culture Minister Ed Vaizey gave a speech outlining his department’s vision for the future of the UK film industry last November, he talked about a “more open” and “more engaged” BFI and concluded that his proposals offered “an exciting new vision for the British film industry”. From the detail of the cuts that are beginning to emerge, it seems that in fact these changes risk creating a more parochial, target-driven and less creative British film industry.

New Statesman – Further cuts to UK film bodies amidst growing protest