Three-D Issue 20: Which way to the information commons? Research & information resources for retired academics

Sylvia Harvey, University of Leeds

Some MeCCSA members will be aware that, following retirement, many academics lose their professional email address and their access to the University library, including electronic books and journals. There is, arguably, a wider problem here as there may be other members of the public who contributed to the growth of university libraries through their payment of taxes and who now find it increasingly difficult to access and make use of the resources within these institutions.

8 Sylvia H - q1Public Libraries, vital as they are, are not able to provide the kind of specialist service that academic specialists and auto-didacts require and it seems unreasonable to expect them to do so when their existing resources – intended to serve many different publics – are increasingly under pressure.

As far as academics go, there is some evidence that a significant number wish to remain research active after retirement. Such activity might strengthen the research profile of a department or (even without any financial benefits in terms of REF income) it might strengthen the subject field itself. However, continuing research activity can be prevented or become practically difficult as universities introduce ‘locked door’ or swipe card access systems at the entrance to libraries and enter into contracts with publishers or their agents limiting access to electronic books and journals to current staff and students of the institution.

8 Sylvia H - q2In addition, once an academic becomes a pensioner, the cost of attending academic conferences can become prohibitive. The event fee itself can be quite high and neither fees not travel costs will be met by an employer. Some institutions find it more difficult than others to run events at a loss, but it might be helpful if those who are active now as event organisers began to ‘run the numbers’ on the introduction of lower fees for retired people. If a widespread concession cannot be afforded then the introduction of a fixed number of lower price fees for retired people could perhaps be considered.

Here are a few questions designed to clarify the situation at present:

  • Are you aware of any established procedures whereby retiring academics can apply for continuing use of university email and/or of the university library with continuing full rights?
  • Are retired academics still eligible for a SCONUL pass (access to a second research library)?
  • Do you know of any institutions that offer ‘life membership’ and access to the university library on retirement? Is this membership free or is there a fee?
  • Is eligibility for continued library access limited to higher former pay grades e.g. to retiring Readers and Professors?
  • Is continuing library access limited to Emeritus Professors?
  • Does the university library permit access to e-journals and e-books to day visitors?
  • What access schemes does the university library operate to charge retired academics and/or members of the public for limited forms of library membership? Examples of specific conditions and costs would be helpful, for example – an indication of the numbers of books that may be borrowed etc.
  • Are you aware of any schemes that allow honorary Visiting Fellows or Visiting Professors access to the university library for the period of their appointment?
  • How do you envisage the access issue changing with the roll-out of a national policy on ‘free’ publications? Might this solve some of the problems?
  • Could your institution afford to offer concessionary conference fees to retired academics?
  • Should the national funding bodies be asked to consider the options for a more positive involvement on funded research projects of researchers who are retired?

Please let us know what you would like to see in the future in respect of access to specialist library and information resources, along with any available evidence of what you consider to be good or bad practice by 30 May, 2013 Please send details (with anonymised institutions if necessary) to Ros Brunt at:

The members of the MeCCSA Working Group on this issue are: Ros Brunt (, Janey Gordon ( and Sylvia Harvey ( At the MeCCSA AGM in January 2013 we were tasked with reporting back with findings and possible recommendations to the MeCCSA Executive Committee.

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