The UK Research Reserve (UKRR) sounds a bit like a Dad’s Army of retired researchers ready to be pressed into service in time of dire emergency – Your laboratory needs you!. But in reality UKRR is much duller: an attempt to resolve the tension between the future and the past of journals.
The future of journals, and the present for that matter, is clearly as electronic entities. Ask any scientist the last time they went to the library shelves to find a print version of an article that was published after about 1998 (when ejournals became dominant). Chances are they only did it because there was a power cut or network outage that caused them to look for the print copy, or else they fancied the Library Assistant on duty and wanted to get a closer look. Yes, publishers (with help from librarians) have created a great success story in electronic journals. Every scientist loves them and uses them to the almost total exclusion of print journals.
The past of journals is still partly as print entities, though these backfiles are relatively little-used. Librarians have therefore been evaluating the amount of space that print journals take up in the library and and are making plans to reallocate that space for other users (study space, collaboration space, training and seminar rooms). Perhaps surprisingly, library users are not always happy at this abandonment of the ideal of a “proper” library with bound volumes on shelves. In the past when I have suggested cancelling print subscriptions I have had some responses saying “I no longer ever use the print journals in the Library, but I think we should still have them on the shelves“. This attitude is changing, I think, and it is looking less and less defensible for libraries to grant space to volumes that no-one wants to use. We have to be brave sometimes in taking the plunge. I know of one medical library that has recently moved most of its printed journals to a locked store. They anticipated problems, but have had very few requests from users for the key.
The problem comes when you ask what will happen to the volumes that you remove. Putting them in an onsite store is one option, but not if your store is already full! Throwing them away altogether is the easy option, but there is a danger that something unique or very rare will be lost. UKRR is one answer to this quandary. Led by Imperial College, UKRR sees
low-use research journals stored and maintained by the British Library, freeing up university library space to be used more creatively
One copy of each title is kept, thereby reducing the overall amount of space required. In the pilot there were eight university libraries and the scheme is now being opened to other UK university libraries. The library gains extra space by relinquishing little-used journals, but can relax safe in the knowledge that nothing is being lost from the scholarly record.
One day, when everything under the sun has been digitised and checked ten times to make sure that no supplement or ancillary material has been missed, perhaps we can finally discard the last print volumes altogether. Until then, UKRR is the last chance saloon for printed journals.