28 February 2007
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London NW1 2DB
Dear Ms. Brindley,
I am writing on behalf of the nearly 30,000 members of the Modern Language Association of America to comment on the importance of the British Library to the research needs of scholars. The MLA serves scholars in all fields of language and literature, many of whom have used the library in the course of their research.
The British Library holds a copy of every book published in the United Kingdom, and on that basis alone the library would offer unparalleled opportunities for scholars in all fields. For MLA members who work in British literature, the library’s collection of British literature is essential. The book and manuscript collections are unsurpassed, for modern writing as well as for earlier periods. The library is also a vital resource for researchers in other literary fields: its French collection, for example, is second only to the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, its Italian collection is the best outside Italy, and the newspaper library at Colindale is an immensely important resource for post-eighteenth-century historical and literary research. From its days in the British Museum, the library has been essential for scholars in American literature and history, particularly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The British Library serves scholars from all over the world, who travel to England to use its resources. Scholars from the United States and Canada have organized countless research trips to work in the British Library. Indeed, entire scholarly projects have been organized around the availability of materials in the British Library. It would be hard to overstate the value to our members of the access to this collection that has been generously provided to scholars and to the public. Many scholars travel to the library on a very restricted budget, usually paying out of their own pockets, and while they are doubtless providing support to other sectors of the British economy, the access to these scholarly treasures is the reason for their travel.
We are deeply concerned that the budget to support the British Library may experience cuts, cuts as high as seven percent according to some published reports. Britain has created a library of great distinction that serves communities of scholars not just in the United Kingdom but around the world. We understand that these are pressured times for those who look at national priorities and government spending, but it would be hard to overstate the importance of supporting and nourishing such a rich national resource.
J. Michael Holquist
President, Modern Language Association of America
Professor Emeritus, Comparative and Slavic Literature, Yale University