SOAS University of London

Statement on SOAS Library proposals

14 December 2018

SOAS like all institutions needs to ensure that it is delivering its services efficiently and effectively in a period where costs are rising and funding is constrained, and where we face a highly competitive HE environment. There are change proposals on which we are consulting for how we improve and develop all professional services at SOAS, including the Library. 

Any suggestion that we are taking away our commitment to SOAS Library is untrue. Our proposals will still see the Library resourced more comprehensively than any comparable Library. When we include the costs of running and maintaining the Library space itself, we commit over £10m a year to the Library which is more than 10% of the cost of the total running of SOAS as a whole.

The vision, plans and structures for the Library show how we will deliver strong and effective Library services to SOAS students and academics.  The proposals look at helping us deliver service improvements, such as:

  • earlier opening and longer opening hours, responding to feedback from students about how they wish to see services develop. 
  • a one-stop shop service at Library reception to help resolve issues directly with students and other Library users
  • additional cataloguing staff (ie the metadata assistants) with language expertise to ensure more of our unique materials are available to students and researchers
  • direct face-to-face access to librarians during core hours for specialist help
  • enhanced programmes of tours/inductions and search skill sessions
  • the same level of service for part-time students using the Library evenings and weekends as for full-time students
  • a new scholarly communications team to support researchers and staff with REF and TEF activities

We have recruited an exceptional new University Librarian to lead the service. 

The Library is a vital and historic resource for SOAS and it is not our intention to take steps which would damage this. We do not believe that the plans for the Library threaten or undermine the vital role it plays in academic life at SOAS.

Our future investment would still place SOAS close to the top of any comparator institution as a percentage of our income. Compared to other National Research Libraries our total spend on pay and non-pay on the Library as a percentage of institutional spend is:

6.2% SOAS  3.3% Oxford 2.4% LSE 2.3% Manchester 1.8% Cambridge

In staffing terms, the number of academic staff FTE at the institution per 1 FTE library staff is:

9 FTE SOAS  11 FTE LSE 12 FTE Oxford 18 FTE Manchester Cambridge figure not available

There will be fewer posts in the library as a result of OPS – we currently have 41.78FTE staff and would have 36.1FTE.  But with reorganised and re-focussed ways of working, the plans have been designed that the new structure can still deliver on an improved service which is what academics, students and external users have asked for, and which better meets the expectations of a national research library. In a world where more and more access to materials is online we believe this is the right approach.

We do understand how challenging bringing about change is for colleagues – particularly in a service such as the Library which plays a central role in the academic life of SOAS, but where changes have not been made for some time and colleagues are familiar with the way things are done.

It is also important to be aware that support for learning and teaching at SOAS extends across a range of services at SOAS. We are developing new student and academic services that are clearly aligned to the Learning, Teaching and Student Experience Strategy. 

The proposed services within SAE include a Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching which will build on the work of Learning and Teaching Development to support technology-enhanced learning, academic and curriculum development and student retention and success.  


Q Aren't you cutting 25% of posts?

A  We currently have a staff of 41.78 FTE and the proposals are for 36.1 FTE posts in the new structure.

Q Aren't you getting rid of subject librarians?

A  Unlike other universities, SOAS has doubled up with both subject librarians and regional librarians – we do not believe this is sustainable.  We will have 6 regional librarians who will be experts within their regions across the social sciences and humanities we teach and research. We are retaining a Law subject librarian given the depth and range of that as a specialist subject

Q Aren’t you getting rid of the evening and weekend team?

A The support for evening and weekends is not being reduced. It is being provided from an enlarged customer service team. We are not retaining a separate small team, since by bringing this FTE resource into one team and adding to the overall capacity, we can offer earlier opening and longer hours.

Q Are you cutting bibliographic services?

A No – we are in fact increasing the number of staff dedicated to bibliographic work with additional language specialists

Q Aren't you reducing the number of customer service staff?

A No. We are increasing the number of staff to help meet the longer opening hours.

 Q Why are you cutting support for online services?

A We are not doing so – there will be increasing demand for online and we are bringing this work into the reader services team, rather than treating it as a separate add-on.

Q Aren't you reducing support for SOAS Archives?

A One key goal of our new Librarian will be to increase resources devoted to SOAS Archives through external funding and we believe that this is achievable.

Q Are part-time hours and working patterns in the Library being changed?

A Yes – we are proposing changes. A task and finish group on this has been set up in the Library and will report shortly. An Equality Impact Assessment will be undertaken and we will look at what mitigation needs to be put in place.  The intention is that we can better meet the needs of students and academic staff, eg with earlier opening and longer opening hours.