Staff propose censure after University plans to cull hundreds of law books

The books are to be replaced with digital editions.

Some Law Library shelves have never been filled since the building was constructed. Now there are even larger gaps. Photography: Nick Bonyhady.

As the holidays roll around, the University of Sydney Library is once again planning to dispose of hundreds of books in favour of digital editions.

The target this round is the Law Library, with 671 Cambridge University Press books to be sent to landfill. The Library has purchased unlimited online access for the items in question.

“Digital books allow students to access the materials they need anywhere, anytime, and students can access the material simultaneously,” said Kim Williams, Assistant Manager of Site Services.

“This is regular collection maintenance and is ongoing,” she said.

Despite this, according to Professor Tim Stephens, one of whose books is among those to be discarded, the removal commenced without prior warning or consultation with staff.

“There has been no compelling reason given for this decision,” he said. “It is particularly concerning to see books written by University of Sydney staff thrown on the scrap heap.”

In January this year, Honi reported that the Library was shredding approximately 25,000 books. In response to backlash, the Library tweeted that it was making an effort to re-home the remaining books.

This time around, the Library has stated that they are “committed to making an effort to re-home these items.”

“These efforts have included giveaway tables, the Vice Chancellor’s bookfair, and community groups,” said Williams.

Yet Elizabeth Sheahan, Sydney University Law Society (SULS) Vice President (Education), said that she was disappointed by the wastefulness of the Library’s decision.

“SULS would happily take some of those books for our Equity Loan Scheme,” she said, but the University has not offered any books to SULS at the time of publication. The scheme provides free textbooks for students facing financial difficulties.

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Chair of the Law School’s Law Library Committee, Professor Anne Twomey told Honi that the committee had expressed concerns with the disposal and will be raising the issue at the Law School Board meeting on Friday June 16.

According to the updated agenda for the meeting, the Library Committee is recommending that the board “call on Library management to halt any further disposal of books from the Law Library until such a time as its retention and disposal policies have been revised in consultation with the Law Library Committee” and “censure those in Library management responsible for the decision”.

If it passes the Board meeting, the censure motion carries significant weight. It represents a formal condemnation of one part of the University by another.

The agenda also describes the action as taking place without “consultation, proper justification or apparent consideration of the needs of the Law School and its students.”

Sheahan, the SULS Vice President, said that the move “Raises an equity concern. Not everyone has access to a computer or the internet at home.”

“People have different learning styles, [some] prefer reading a hard copy rather than on-screen”, she added.

Students with unreliable internet, slow computers or devices that work poorly with academic e-book providers, like iPads, are likely to lose out.

Professor Stephens said he was appalled by the decision. “The University should as a matter of principle continue to retain hard copies of important collections from the world’s leading publishers,” he said.

“Our research and scholarship should be recognised and celebrated by the University, not discarded.”

Honi will provide updates on the result of the meeting tomorrow.