Campaign to keep BFI library together and accessible: letter to the press

A campaign has been set up to oppose the BFI proposals to split its library study resources between its Southbank site and Berkhamsted. The following letter will be sent to the press for publication, and details of a petition will be posted shortly.

Sir,

The British Film Institute (BFI) is the custodian of one of the world’s great collections of books and periodicals about cinema and television. Generations of critics and scholars have enjoyed the priceless resource of the BFI library and benefitted from the expertise and dedication of the BFI library staff. But now the policy of the senior management of the BFI is to remove the collection from an accessible site in central London to the BFI’s archive store in Berkhamsted – with no public transport running between archive and the nearest railway station. A few selected items, it seems, may be retained for consultation at the BFI’s site on the South Bank; as for the rest of the material, we are offered ‘digitised delivery’. But what can this mean when the many thousands of books in the BFI’s collection do not exist in digitised form, nor is the BFI likely to ensure that they do so? It’s as if the British Library were to move to bosky Hertfordshire leaving behind in London only a few of its most popular works.

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. The Library attracts significant numbers of overseas scholars testifying both to the excellence and comprehensiveness of its collection and to the contribution its users make to the “tourist” economy. We are told that the BFI ‘cannot afford’ to offer its previous level of service to researchers. Instead, it will reorient itself to servicing ‘audience development’. No one would deny the BFI has a responsibility to the general public. But the best way of serving that 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 (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.  Another solution must be found if the BFI insists on curtailing access to one of the UK’s key intellectual resources. Merger with the British Library seems the most promising solution. And the BFI must talk to users who are most directly affected by this disastrous decision and who, like us, can see the long-term and wide-ranging damage done by such a decision.

From the following UK Professors of Film and Media Studies.

Professor Tim Bergfelder.  University of Southampton.

Professor Robert Burgoyne. University of St Andrews.

Professor Edward Buscombe. Former Head BFI Publishing.

Professor John Caughie. University of Glasgow.

Professor Richard Collins. The Open University.

Professor Pam Cook. University of Southampton.

Professor Elizabeth Cowie. University of Kent.

Professor John Ellis. Royal Holloway College. University of London.

Professor Christine Geraghty. University of Glasgow.

Professor Christine Gledhill. University of Sunderland.

Professor Mark Jancovich. University of East Anglia.

Professor Dina Iordanova. University of St Andrews.

Professor Annette Kuhn. Queen Mary College. University of London.

Professor Laura Mulvey. Birkbeck College, University of London.

Professor Stephen Neale. University of Exeter.

Professor Murray Smith. University of Kent.

Professor Geoffrey Nowell-Smith. Queen Mary College. University of London.

Dr Peter Stanfield. University of Kent.

Professor Sarah Street. University of Bristol.

Professor Yvonne Tasker. University of East Anglia.

Professor  Ginette Vincendeau. King’s College. University of London.

Professor Linda Ruth Williams. University of Southampton.

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