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Study space struggle: Books lose their seats

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Image: Exeter University

University academics have expressed concern about the removal of books from the Forum Library as a result of the planned addition of extra study spaces.

Library staff have revealed plans to remove less popular texts from the library and scale down identical copies of unpopular books in order to accommodate increased study space.

The methods of disposal for removed books used by the library have been called into question by academics. Exeposé were made aware of ‘book burning’ as being a potential method for the disposal of removed books. When questioned about the rumour, Head of Library Claire Powne labelled the accusations “insulting” to librarians and commented that it is “really unhelpful” for such rumours to be spread.

She said: “We know that some aspects of necessary library space management can be misinterpreted and want the academic community to be aware of the scope of work required to meet all expectations of what the Library should offer.”

Despite this clarification from Library management, Henry French, Head of History, said that his department has “remaining concerns” about the developments. Dr French listed his concerns in an email to Exeposé, stating his dissatisfaction with the University’s ‘Digital First’ policy, claiming that online versions of texts “do not always offer proper coverage of illustrations, maps, or prefatory material”.

Other academics have voiced similar fears. Lecturer in nineteenth-century literature Dr Emily Bernhard-Jackson said: “My concern is that the library may start getting rid of actual books… and many of those books are, truly, irreplaceable.”

Academics have also voiced fears that study space for students is being prioritised over the preservation of extensive physical research collections.

Dr Bernhard-Jackson described study space as “often only a place for students to eat, drink, and settle in to use the computer… for hours and hours”. She said: “I’m not sure I’d want any books sacrificed to more of that nonsense”.

VP Education Ben Street commented: “There is a fine balance to be struck between the strong demand from students for study space, and the necessity of a well stocked Library and resource centre.

“I understand the concerns of some academics. However, having spoken to the Library regarding this issue, the plans are not to remove essential texts and publications, but simply to remove duplicate copies of books that have not been accessed for several years. To compliment the increase in study space, we will continue to work with the Library to increase the levels of online materials and e-resources.”

Complaints were initially received after Library staff sent an email to all lecturers, citing “urgently needed study space” as the reason for the developments. After substantial feedback from academics, a second email was sent out explaining the plans in more detail, as well as detailing how removed books would be disposed. Exeposé has received transcripts of both emails.

The Library recognises that selling or giving away unwanted books to staff and students is an option, but they claim they do not have the “staff resources” to do this. However, there are alternative approaches. The Foreign Language Centre regularly leaves unwanted and second-hand books on a table, which are free for students to take.

This news follows the University’s addition of 76 new study spaces for the current examination period. This summer, the Library plans to introduce a further 100 new study spaces, followed by 300 more to be introduced in the next two years.

There are also plans for Express Collections to be adapted. This comes after research conducted by library staff found that the use of the facility has greatly declined in the last few years, with only 350 out of 7,500 books in Express Collections having been borrowed ten or more times.

Eamonn Crowe, Deputy Editor

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Third year English student and aspiring journalist. Exeposé Deputy Editor, HuffPost Young Voices blogger, Freelance Editorial Assistant at The Handbook and lover of Arena (it will never be Unit 1 to me).

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