The University of Oxford’s commitment to an international outlook and engagement seems to end where it comes to funding the Language Centre. In its £2.237 billion budget (2017-18), the University can’t find money for an urgently needed refurbishment of the building on Woodstock Road (let alone an extension!), or for new classroom equipment. On the contrary: the grant the centre receives towards its running costs has been cut by more than 10% for 2018-19. Savings of £52k per annum have to be made, and of course, the rationale behind it all is that the Language Centre should fund itself by creating more income.
To save money, and to free up space and resources for income-generating activities (such as lucrative Academic English summer courses), the Language Centre’s library (which is a learning resource available for free to all University members) has been identified as non income generating liability, and is threatened with closure.
This means that library staff have been notified on 18 February that they are at risk of redundancy. Plans have been drawn up to disperse library’s unique collection of language learning materials among other libraries in Oxford, and to the Bodleian book storage facilities’ ‘closed stacks’ in Swindon.
According to the initial ‘business case for restructuring the library’, a learning resource which has been built by specialist librarians over 40 years and provides materials for 203 languages, was scheduled to quietly disappear at the end of Trinity Term 2019.
Read more about what is at stake: Language Learning at the Marketised University, or: Libraries do not generate income, that’s why they have to go
The consultation about the library plans, according to the University, has started on 18 February, but for the first weeks, the information that the Language Centre library is threatened with closure was not available much beyond a narrow circle of Language Centre and Academic Administration Division staff.
The issue was only made public when Lucile Desligneres, the Language Centre librarian, started an online petition to Save the Language Centre Library on 27 February.
Oxford UCU discussed a motion at its General Meeting on 4 March, voting 20 in favour with 1 abstention
- to condemn the plan to dismantle the Language Centre’s physical and online collections and to abolish the posts of a qualified, specialist Language Centre librarian and the library assistants.
- to insist that full consultation takes place with all stakeholders, including Language Centre and wider Oxford University students and staff, before any decision about the future of the Language Centre Library is taken.
- to demand that the whole collection should remain intact within an appropriate physical space in the Language Centre or, if this is considered unfeasible, then that it should be moved to a single, fully-resourced and equipped, central location at the University of Oxford.
But it took until 5 March until news about the library plans appeared publicly on the Language Centre website, and Language Centre course students where invited via email to comment on the proposals. Two days later, the Committee of College Librarians received a ‘briefing note’ about the library plans. However, background information about the scope, timescale and likely impact of the proposals remained unavailable to most stakeholders, who for any comments, would have to rely an vague statements provided via a news item on the Language Centre website, or via one-page ‘briefing notes’. (…And starting this kind of ‘consultation’ during the last week of term, just before 8 weeks of Easter vacations… Genius!)
Then, whilst the online petition was gaining momentum and within 3 weeks reached 1.500 signatures, nothing much from the University side. (Oh yes, sure, Easter vacations.)
On 26 March 2019, Oxford UCU learned in relation to the staff redundancy case that the General Purposes Committee of Council will discuss the future of the Language Centre library at its meeting on 1 July, and make a recommendation to Council by 15 July.
And – lo and behold! On 10 April, only seven weeks into – or halfway through – their ‘consultation period’ the Language Centre management finally published a paper Consultation on language centre library proposals, which is supposed to be the basis of a discussion at an ‘Open Forum’ event, to take place on Tuesday 7 May 2019, from 12 noon – 1.30pm, at St Luke’s Chapel on the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter on the Woodstock Road. (An open forum discussion, neat. Let’s not discuss this in a formal consultation meeting, for which there would have to be official minutes, and where the implementation of decisions and recommendations could be followed up.)
There now also is an Language Centre Library Consultation Survey, open until 12 noon on Friday 31 May, i.e. for seven weeks.
What Oxford UCU does, and where we need your help:
- Sign the online petition, and share widely the link https://www.change.org/p/save-the-language-centre-library
- We are preparing a Oxford UCU reply to the consultation. Help by sending your comments on the Language Centre library: Have you used it, and what impact did it have on your studies, research, career, life? Any thoughts on the role of language learning in Higher Education, and how Universities should fund this? We would like to include as many comments and opinions as possible, and you can reach us via email@example.com.
- Join the Language Centre Library campaign. We are a group of Oxford UCU members and friends, working on making information about the Language Centre library closure plans available, and campaigning for the library’s collection and facilities to remain intact. If you can help with writing articles and blog posts, gathering information, getting in touch with the media… join us by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Come to the the ‘Open Forum’ on Tuesday 7 May 2019 (you will need to register here for the event), and voice your support for the Language Centre library. We are planning to have a pre-meeting to discuss which questions we could ask; for details join our Language Centre Library Campaign mailing list, again by contacting email@example.com.
- If you are an Oxford University student, contact your Student Union to find out how you can get involved in formulating their consultation response.