BFI response to the petition

The BFI and the petition – thoughts from Richard Collins.

After I started the petition about the BFI Library,  see and sign up at http://www.gopetition.com/petition/42006.html, Heather Stewart (BFI Cultural Programme Director) e-mailed me to challenge what she thought was my misleading account of the BFI’s proposed changes to the Library. Unfortunately Heather hasn’t agreed to post her e-mail to me, though I hope she will, but here’s my reply to her. It would be good if the BFI management posted their version of events – it’s not just me that’s interested after all! And doing so would be a tangible sign of their engagement  with the concern their plans has aroused in many of us – more than 370 signatures on the petition in little more than a day tells its own story. Hopefully they’ll participate in a dialogue and discussion on this site – Heather’s e-mail would be a good start. Here’s mine:

Dear Heather,

Thanks for your e-mail of the 13th – auspicious date! Before responding substantively let me state how much I appreciate the temperate and courteous tone of this (and your previous e-mails to me). As we both know, it is the fate of management to be misunderstood (though sometimes managers may be understood only too well) and you have remained patient, even though believing yourself to be misunderstood, which I appreciate very much.

Turning to the substantive content of your note, I’m a bit surprised because I think there is nothing in the statement introducing the petition on the BFI Library which does not respond to what you’ve written. In December, you wrote that much of the Collection would require off site storage – a reasonable person would understand this statement of yours to signify that more of the Collection would be off site than before – otherwise why would you state it? So I don’t see your point about the precedent of some printed materials historically having been held at Berkhamsted really having much bite on the claims in the first paragraph of the petition backgrounder. But others may see more substance in your claims than I do, so may I encourage you to post your note to me on the bfiwatch blogsite? As you may know this is at http://www.bfiwatch.wordpress.com/

But the above, though important, is a secondary issue. The real one is whether the BFI’s current plans will improve services for Library users. I haven’t seen anything in the senior management’s current proposals to suggest that they will – far from it. And this is what’s truly disturbing – when major changes are being proposed to the resource, which you rightly describe as “core to the development, care and interpretation of the national collection, and essential to the curatorial research and development and creation of knowledge”. In fact, the resource is being further Balkanised, access to much of it will be worsened and the atmosphere in the reading room where this (your words – and excellent words they are) “curatorial research and development and creation of knowledge” also promises to worsen. Were the BFI management to propose improvements in access and collection integration commensurate with the rhetorical importance given to the printed materials collection then it would enjoy enormous support from what was formerly a key group of supporters. That support has been lost and needs to be won back. A measure of users’ anger and dismay is that the petition, without publicity, has attracted considerably more than 250 signatures in less than 24 hours.

I hope you will post (or agree to me posting) your e-mail on the bfiwatch site and that begins a dialogue between the BFI management and users which, in turn we may hope, will begin a process that gives substantive, as well as rhetorical, support for, and yields improvements to, the integration, curation and accessibility of what we agree is one of the chief jewels in the national cultural and scholarly crown.

With best wishes, Richard.