Following the apparent funding cut climb down by Chancellor George Osborne over the proposed axing of the Imperial War Museum’s education service, campaigners hope that the IWM’s Library Service has now also been saved. The announcement of the reprieve came in a Press Release from the Imperial War Museum followed by comments on the web site of the Trades Union, Prospect, which represents Museum staff affected by the cuts programme, which the Museum refers to as a “change programme”. However, while full details of the apparent rescue plan are not yet available, it is known there will still be both job losses and the introduction of “modest” charges to use the research facilities. A Press Release from the Imperial War Museum states that these charges, which will be based on a two session day, are yet to be agreed. However an apparently well informed Internet source suggests that the charge for a day will be £12. The same source suggested that the Imperial War Museums group was reducing it’s holding of books and ephemera, an allegation upheld at least in part by the news that almost a quarter of a million items have been downgraded from the core collection and some items from the IWM Books and Manuscripts collection are being sold off.
In the IWM’s Press Release the Director General of the IWM Group of Museums, Diane Lees welcomed the new plan stating
“The continuation of the Library service, Research Room and Explore History, in light of financial constraints, will necessitate practical changes to the way the public will access these services, but the most crucial thing is that these services will continue.”
However, while applauding the tenacity of the Library campaigners and of the more than 20,000 people who signed the petition against the cuts, as well as perhaps applying the iceberg principle by reminding observers to look at how much is going on beneath the surface before they celebrate the apparent reprieve too loudly, Prospect negotiator and campaign coordinator Andy Bye said on the Prospect website
“The museum, like others across the UK, has already taken a huge hit from government austerity measures, with funding reduced by 34% in the last five years and more cuts to come,
The huge publicity as the election looms has contributed to this climb-down. However, the long-term future of the library’s collections is still not guaranteed – the status of 240,000 library items has been changed so they are no longer part of the core collection.
“The devil may be in the detail and our members will continue to be vigilant about protecting this national resource.”
Mr Bye also pointed out that although the Chancellor had apparently offered £8 million from the funds the Government generated from the LIBOR scandal, the details of that grant had not yet been confirmed either.
Mr Bye’s concerns about the change of status of a significant proportion of the IWM core library collection is re-enforced by an examination of the website of specialist auctioneers W and H Peacock in Bedford.
“W&H Peacock have been commissioned by Imperial War Museums to sell by auction a set of officially un-accessioned and duplicate de-accessioned books and ephemera. These items have been exited following a long-term review of IWM collections.
The sale includes individual titles and selections, together with a wide range of ephemera. The collection features much material relating to the 20th Century together with that covering earlier periods – particularly Regimental histories.
- Royal Artillery War Commemoration Book. 1920
- Ellis : History of the First West India Regiment, 1885.
- 3The Fifth Gloucester Gazette, Issues 1 – 25. 1914 – 1919.
- History The 21st. Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, 1934.
- Godfrey : The “Cast-Iron Sixth” – History of the Sixth Battalion of the London Regiment (City London Rifles) 1938.
- History and Memoir of the 33rd. Battalion Machine Gun Corps and of 19th., 98th., 100th. and 248th. M.G. Companies; 1919. Limited Ed. of 1600 for Private Circulation….
The sale is due to take place on 6 March 2014.
This action on the part of the museum may cause concern because, while the disposal of genuine duplicate items might be legitimate, the use of the terms “de-accessioned” and “officially un-accessioned”, begs the question what criteria were used for the selection of items to be de-accessioned and disposed of and whether some of the un-accessioned items are not actually duplicates, but might actually be unique items which for whatever reason are deemed surplus to requirements.
In addition to the debate about whether researchers who wish to use the IWM library should in effect have to pay twice to use a collection which already funded from the public purse, such uncertainly will also raise fears that the value of the collection as a comprehensive, freely accessible research resource might be being compromised for short term financial gain.
A further cause for fear for the future is that even the IWM Senior Management acknowledge that this may not be the end of the threat to the IWM Group museums and their services. The same press release which announced the conclusion to the current change programme carried this pointed comment from the Director General.
“…we know that with a general election approaching, and the next Comprehensive Spending Review imminent, IWM may well be subject to further cuts in government funding. We are also committed to providing excellent services and programmes for our many users. This means that the need to continually review what we do and continue to evaluate where we make the greatest impact will be essential. It also means that we may need to make further structural changes in the months and years to come to ensure that we maintain and build our financial sustainability.”
An attitude which might concern those who believe the UK’s national museums collections, such as the IWM, should be about an investment in preserving knowledge for the future, not creating a financially viable business in the present.