While I hope this is just a case of necessary lobbying to avoid budget cuts, I thought it important enough to pass along anyway. The Independent reports today that if planned budget slashes ("up 7 per cent of its £100 million" budget) are enacted, services would have to be drastically reduced.
A plan to cope with the cuts calls for reduction of operating hours by a third, charging admission for researchers in the BL's reading room, the closure of all public exhibitions and the National Newspaper Archive, as well as a permanent reduction of the collections by 15%. A spokesman for the Department of Culture told the paper "The cultural sector has had huge real-terms increases in funding since 1997. Clearly, this cannot go on indefinitely."
The report quotes several angry members of the House of Lords, including Lord Bragg, who called the library of "massive importance in a society ... that depends more and more on information, creativity and brains. It needs to be nourished, not hobbled." In a letter to Chancellor Gordon Brown, Lord Avebury adds "It is difficult to fathom the mind of a Government that sets out to wreck a world-class public institution, as you would if the British Library is forced to make these cuts."
Scholar AN Wilson has weighed in over at This is London, saying "I'm astounded by this. It's outrageous because the British Library is our national library and technically anybody should be able to use it for free. The Department of Culture should not cut its budget, especially when the sum we are talking about is a tiny proportion of what it is spending on the Olympic Games."
To protest the proposed cuts, the staff of the BL is planning a system-wide strike on Wednesday, noting "The strike is not aimed at the Library but at the Government, and other public service institutions will be affected." All reading rooms will be closed for the day.
As I said at the outset, I hope this is simply a move by the BL to head off cuts by predicting (probably accurately) some possible consequences. I hope, too, that it works. Charging for use of the reading room at the BL would truly mark a sad day for the world.