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British Library chief defends book purge

British Library chief defends book purge
By Catherine Milner, Arts Correspondent


THE director general of the British Library has defended the decision to dispose
of 80,000 books by claiming that none are British, and most of them are
reference books which have been updated. Last week it emerged that in 1989 the
library took a decision, which was never announced, to get rid of "low-use"
books, and has now cleared more than a mile of shelves. The revelation has
angered academics and publishers, who claim that the library has betrayed the
principle upon which it was established 338 years ago - namely to collect every
volume published in Britain - and no longer see why they should be legally bound
to provide copies of their books if there is a danger that they will be thrown

But David Bradbury, the director general of the British Library, said that no
books published in Britain have, or will be, disposed of. The collection is not
purely made up of books which have a British copyright but includes extensive
extraneous material collected from publishers in the United States and from all
around the world - and it is only those foreign items which have gone, he said.

Mr Bradbury said: "There was a trend in the 1950s and 1960s of buying up huge
quantities of American official government publications and scientific journals.
We had a department in the library that invited any organisation in the world to
send their official publication to the British Library, so we had things like
the Russian government department of transport's vehicle engine emissions survey
from 1960, or railway signal changes.

"There are thousands and thousands of documents like this in French, German,
Russian and Japanese. The bulk was absolutely enormous and we got to the point
when we said we cannot manage to collect like this." Mr Bradbury added: "More
books are being published on paper than ever before. Over 100,000 books were
published in Britain alone last year against 70,000 or 80,000 10 years ago."

American newspapers dating to the mid-19th century have been thrown out, and the
world's richest collection of pre-revolutionary Russian newspapers is also
threatened. Both collections have been offered to libraries abroad but nobody
wants them. Mr Bradbury said: "We're only getting rid of some originals of
newspapers when we've got microfilm of them. Newspapers tend to perish very
easily, and we've always thought it's better to have good films of papers. It's
better to dispose of originals rather than continuing investing in their
preservation which can be extremely expensive."

He insisted that no books with a British copyright would ever be thrown away. He
said: "The books and periodicals deposited with us by British publishers will
all be kept. There is no question of getting rid of those."

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