UK research access to foreign language newspapers at risk

Added by Sally Curry on 14 April 2009 15:12

Foreign language newspapers are an essential tool for researchers in many subject areas. Access to these important resources however, is increasingly under threat from more than one direction.

There are many language areas, including those such as countries in the far east, designated to be of strategic importance to the UK, where contact with suppliers  of newspapers and maintenance of arrangements for such supply is difficult. Suppliers can disappear without warning and without trace. Hard pushed librarians struggle to find the time to re-establish links and make new arrangements for supply and for payments to businesses in these countries. 

There are also concerns around the funding for resources of this nature which often may be used by few or even sole researchers in any single institution  - whatever the importance that may be placed on their work. The present financial climate makes continued funding for these low use but high importance newspapers is even more vulnerable.

Physical storage space for aging and increasingly fragile newspapers is also an issue in many libraries now wishing to redevelop their available space. These newspapers are seen as requiring an extravagant amount of space and care and therefore are more vulnerable to disposal. The concern here is that, unlike the huge majority of journals held in academic libraries, many of these newspapers are not available in electronic form and, even for those that  are, there is no guarantee of persistent access.

In an early attempt to improve access for researchers to these materials, the Mapping Asia website was established under the Research Support Libraries Programme (2000 ? 2002).  Its aim is to ?provide support for research on Asia, the Middle East and North Africa by disclosing information about the existence and availability of resources housed in university, public or specialised libraries in the UK?.

Whilst the website?s database of academic collections is broadly complete, the accompanying database of collections of newspapers from the specified regions is still indicative rather than a full representation of holdings in the UK. However it does give researchers a chance to identify at least some information on which newspapers are held and where.

The Mapping Asia website* is currently not available as it is being updated but its existence too is precarious as it is based on a very small amount of funding and a great deal of good will.

With the holdings of foreign language newspapers under threat, a resource such as this is increasingly valuable but, in itself, the website does not protect the ongoing existence of and access to the foreign language newspapers UK researchers need to continue their work at the highest levels of excellence.


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