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MoD makes a tactical retreat over library sale



MoD makes a tactical retreat over library sale
By Nigel Reynolds, Arts Correspondent

(Daily Telegraph London http://www.telegraph.co.uk/ )

PROTESTS from scholars have stopped plans by the Ministry of Defence to break up its library, one
of the greatest collections of military history books in the world. The collection of around
500,000 volumes and periodicals dating to the end of the 17th century, will instead be split into
three parts in different areas of the country. Although this has angered some military historians,
they say it is preferable to the proposals to sell the books to dealers.

The library, housed at Great Scotland Yard, is one of the great secrets of Whitehall. It is
accessible to researchers but Richard Searle, chief librarian, says it is used by no more than 100
scholars. Even its usefulness to ministry staff is limited.

The scholars say its existence is barely known and its facilities are run down and neglected. The
library, started in 1698, contains an unrivalled collection of biographies, books on battles and
strategy and military information from around the world.

Although some volumes are duplicated in the British Library or the Imperial War Museum, the library
also holds foreign military journals, particularly from Russia, France and Germany, which are not
held anywhere else in Britain. The library does not, however, hold the MoD's declassified files
which are now in the Public Record Office. But it is particularly strong on the Napoleonic Wars, the
American Civil War and War of Independence, the First World War and, more recently, the Korean and
Vietnam wars.

Keith Simpson, a former junior defence minister and lecturer at Sandhurst and now an Opposition
whip, has led the campaign to prevent the library being broken up. He said yesterday that although
much of the material might appear too out of date for use other than by academics, he recalled that
when the Gulf war began, MoD officials, uncertain of the territory they were dealing with,
discovered much vital background information in the library.

The MoD is responsible for around 100 libraries across the country but its central library in
Whitehall brought together the old War Office Library, and the principal Navy and Air Force
libraries in the Seventies, creating an inter-Services repository.

Under the new arrangements, the Navy library will be housed in Portsmouth, around 100,000 books
described as containing "secondary sources" are to be deposited at Chicksands Priory, Beds, the
defence intelligence and security centre, and the remainder of the collection will be rehoused in
the main MoD building in Whitehall after it has been refurbished in 2004.

Mr Searle said the ministry had "less and less use" for the library but hoped to improve access for
researchers at the new sites. Mr Simpson said breaking the library into three would inconvenience
academics but he would give the ministry "one cheer" for not disbanding it altogether.


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