Naked greed at the Bodleian: the August 2009 Bloodsucker award

I’m in Oxford, and have just been to Duke Humphrey’s library at the Bodleian to examine the 1648 volume of Combefis containing a fragment of Eusebius’ Quaestiones.  The reference I have is good, the book is a folio printed text, and I need copies of half a dozen pages.

But I’ve come away without any.  Why?  Because I cannot bring myself to be robbed by these greedy bastards.

The Bodleian will only do “digital scans” — i.e. photographs.  These, as we all know, are basically free.  You click a button and that is it.  Price for ‘bitonal’ – what you and I know as black-and-white — is 29p per photo, 600 dpi.  That is steep, but not impossible.  But of course when the paper is old, with black and white you get spots and wrinkles everywhere.  So that’s really no good.

The next option up is greyscale.  Of course that costs them not a penny more.  But they want, wait for it, 3.87 GBP ($6 or thereabouts) per photo.  That’s the price of changing one setting on their camera.  Greyscale would probably cover my need, but I’m not paying that.

Colour is even worse; 17.20 GBP – around $27.  Again, it costs them nothing more.

This is unconscionably greedy.  Were I of the mentality of Thomas Wise, I  think I might be minded to just tear the pages out.  I have no doubt that some readers will do just this.  Greedy libraries get damaged books, and I have seen books at the Bodleian so treated.

Apparently a certain Allan James is head of imaging, and so probably responsible.  If you know him, tell him what you think of him.

This naked greed — to the point of rendering work impossible — qualifies the Bodleian for the Bloodsucker Award, which is duly awarded to those whose lust for money is indulged to such an extent as to destroy the mission of the library.

8 Responses to “Naked greed at the Bodleian: the August 2009 Bloodsucker award”


  1. Robert Bedrosian

    They are greedy and stupid too. If they set a decent price, many more people would avail themselves of the service and the library would really make money.

    If anyone wonders about the mentality that caused the destruction of the Library at Alexandria, I say: “Look around.”

  2. Bill White

    I believe his name is James Allan, not Allan James.

    http://www.birrhistsoc.com/Conf.htm – “James Allan, Head of Imaging Services at the Bodleian Library, Oxford outlined the history and functions of the Imaging Services.” The article goes on to assert that Imaging Services “are customer driven and provide analogue and digital images of the library’s holdings”. I wonder what “customer driven” means?

  3. Andy

    That is indeed outrageous. Whatever happened to the ‘philo-’ in philology? It seems to have been replaced by “econo-”.

  4. Roger Pearse

    We’ll find out, because after I wrote the above, in the computer room in the Bod., I wrote him an email suggesting the points you both made. After all, he didn’t make any money off me, because the price was so high that I didn’t feel like paying it. That’s self-defeating.

  5. Mark Goodacre

    Thanks for the interesting post, Roger. I can imagine the frustration. As a student, I could rarely afford the Bodleian’s photocopies, which were far more expensive than anywhere else in Oxford, and I recall copying out many pages by hand. Mind you, taught me a bit about scribal practices.

  6. Roger Pearse

    I wish I could find a way to bring these people to justice. I never got even a reply to my (polite) letter to James Allan.

    I’ve probably told this story before, but back in 1998-ish, when I was first starting to get into Tertullian, I went to the Bod. and pulled down the Corpus Christianorum Latinorum edition of Tertullian from the open shelves in the reading room. It had a fold-out A3 table of manuscripts, and I asked for a photocopy. The staff clucked, and eventually refused. “Too fragile”, they professed. They demanded I pay them 15 GBP for a microfilm of the page! I protested, in vain — and I still remember the amused sneer of the staff, who knew that I had no recourse.

    Well I paid, and still have it somewhere, although I have bought the volume since at one of the patristics conferences where I could get it discounted. But there was a sequel. I went back and looked at the book idly some years later. The fold-out had disappeared. Someone, faced with the impossibility of getting a copy, had quietly detached it. It remains, vandalised, there still as far as I know.

    Nor was this the only case; my own copy of the book has *three* fold-outs. Unknown to me, two had already gone when I first saw that book.

    Libraries cannot be secure places by their very nature. Angry readers vandalise books. But the Bodleian seems to care nothing for this.

    If only we lived in a democracy, where public servants paid by our money were accountable to us!

  7. Paul Chandler

    A Bloodsucker Award should go sometime to the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, where JPEGs on CD cost 15 euros per image. A digital copy of the 400-folio manuscript I’m interested in would therefore cost me either €12,000 or €6,000 depending on whether two pages are fitted to an image. They also charge an “administrative” fee for organising it for you. Strangely, microfilm images (with their old-fashioned and probably outsourced additional production costs) only cost a mere 75 cents each. The purchase agreement, of course, excludes everything except personal use. Reproduction rights and the like are a separate issue.

    As a sometime librarian I understand that there are hidden costs in these operations which are not always evident to the user, but these are surely unconscionable prices for images produced by today’s technology.

  8. Roger Pearse

    Wow. Those are truly impressive examples of greed.

    Digital photos are basically free. It seems that libraries have had a rush of greed to the head. I ought to nominate the Ambrosian, I agree.



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