British photographic history

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The Library of Birmingham and its photography collections severely threatened

Two weeks ago BPH reported on the cuts being proposed by Birmingham City Council and their likely impact on the photography collections in the Library of Birmingham. It now seems that the impact on the photography collections which are of national and international importance and include historical collections and more recent photographers' archives are far greater than originally envisaged. In the words of Francis Hodgson '‘They’ are threatening to close down the whole of the photographic service at the Library of Birmingham, in the name of ‘cuts’.

Unfortunately this is not simply hyperbole - there is a very real threat to the photography collections and their availability to the public, students and scholars - as there is to the wider public services at the Library of Birmingham.

A briefing paper seen by BPH outlines the threat and is reproduced below. What the paper does not highlight is the threat to the staff in the photography collection led by Pete James. Any archive or collection relies on staff to make material available both physically and intellectually and there is uncertainty as whether any of the current staff will survive the cuts. Furthermore, the photography collection has been successful in recent years in securing for the nation the archives of a number of important photographers and organisations. The availability of these for study and exhibition will, inevitably, be affected. As Paul Hill has noted in a separate comment for some their acquisition has been made through public funds which have conditions attached around accessibility and been have they be taken on under false pretences? 

BPH would urge readers to sign the petition below and feedback to the council on the importance of the Library and the photography collections. There are will be other moves to highlight the impact on the photography collections which will be reported here.   

What future for the Photography Collections at the Library of Birmingham?

In 2015-16 the overall library budget will be cut by £1.5 million.  By 2018 it is predicted that the budget will have been reduced by 4 million in total. 

This will be a cut of 40%.

In 2015-16 the council is proposing to achieve £1.5 million savings by:

  • Cutting the Library’s hours from 70 to 40 a week.
  • Reducing Library staff by over 50%.
  • Offering only a basic level of service

There will be worse to come with bigger cuts in following years.

What does this mean for you?

  • What will this do to the Library’s reputation as a centre of excellence for contemporary and historical photography?
  • What will be the impact on photography students, curators and researchers who maybe be prevented from accessing the photo collections and related resources?
  • Many of the important photo collections are on loan to the Library.  Will depositors seek to withdraw them?
  • Will the designated status of the Birmingham’s Special Collections be affected?
  • Will be current collections be safe without staff to look after them?
  • Will the Archives still be able to add new collections?
  • Will you able to get access to collections that are already here without cataloguing and conservation work?

What can I do?

  • Sign the online petition

  • Contact the council by completing the online survey:

  • Email or write to Budget Views, Room 221, Council House, Victoria Square, Birmingham B1 1BB
  • Contact your local MP and local councillor.
  • Please share this information with as many people as possible an encourage them to write in support of the collections.

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