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SPRI Review 1995: SPRI Review 1995

SPRI Review 1995

Director's Introduction

Dr John Heap, Director

When I took up the Directorial reins it was clear that my tenure would be dominated by two issues: provision of space for expansion of the Library and archives, and arriving at arrangements whereby University officers on the Institute's staff could participate more fully in the teaching mission of the University. There were important and welcome developments on both these fronts during the year.

Shortly after World War II it became apparent that a sea change was likely to come over polar activity. The days of polar exploration, in the sense of discovering new land, were moving towards a close, and were being replaced by an era of polar scientific research in the sense of explaining polar phenomena and relating the polar regions to the rest of the planet. Perhaps that change is best epitomized by the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58, which began life as a proposal for a Third International Polar Year, following those of 1882 and 1932. It also became apparent that this change would be accompanied by a vast increase in polar information, as many more nations become involved in polar research.

Dr Brian Roberts, then a Research Fellow in the Institute with a part time appointment in the UK Foreign Office, foresaw this increase in polar information and saw also the need for its collection, as far as possible, in one place, and for its organisation in accordance with a bibliographic system that other polar libraries would be encouraged to adopt. Thus did the Institute become accredited to the Federation Internationale de Documentation and developed the Universal Decimal Classification for use in Polar Libraries. By the early 1960s, the explosion in polar information had become a reality, and the library storage capacity of the Memorial Building promised soon to be overwhelmed. In the early years of Dr Gordon Robin's directorship, the Ford Foundation responded magnificently to the Institute's need, and in 1968 Dr Laurence Gould, a member of the Ford Foundation and an Antarctic geologist, opened the Ford Wing of the Institute. It was expected that the space thus made available would meet the Library's needs to the end of the century, but by the mid 1980s space was again becoming a problem, which was partially relieved in 1988 by an addition during the directorship of Dr Peter Wadhams.

By the beginning of the decade it was clear that to maintain the Institute's position as the world's premier polar library required that there should again be a forward leap of the same magnitude as that which had been made possible by the Ford Foundation. It was, therefore, with deep gratitude that we learned that the University had responded to our need by promising £350,000, on the understanding that the Institute would raise a similar sum from outside sources, and thus make possible the forward leap the Institute so sorely needs. Over the same period it also became apparent that the Institute's archive capacity was being stretched close to its limits and that there was a need for photograph and film storage under closely regulated environmental conditions that differ from those that are appropriate for the storage of paper archives.

When the Ford Wing was built, it had been designed to accept a further floor on top of the main part of the building. An architectural feasibility study showed that such an addition would not provide sufficient space, and that too much money would need to be spent on strengthening the existing building to accept a further floor with loading capacities sufficient to accept library usage. The architectural study therefore suggested a three-part solution: firstly, an extension to the basement area designed to house the map collection, thus providing additional research space following relocation of the maps from the top floor of the Ford Wing; secondly, an increase in the space currently used by the general office and library storage above it; and, thirdly, the building of a three-floored library building in what is currently the car parking space between the Institute and our boundary with the church to the east. An elevation of this aspect of the planned development is shown on the front cover of SPRI Review - 95. The approved 'tower' solution to linking the rectilinear Ford Wing with the softer contours of the Memorial Building has been much appreciated in both aesthetic and architectural terms.

Lord Edward Shackleton, son of Sir Ernest, a lifelong friend of the Institute, leader of the Oxford University expedition to Ellesmere Island of 1934-35, and a great Parliamentarian, died on 22 September 1994. The opportunity to commemorate both Sir Ernest and Lord 'Eddie' by naming the new building the Shackleton Memorial Library was immediately grasped and has been universally welcomed. Although strictly lying outside the scope of this review, it is very good to be able to report that we are already more than one-third of our way towards realising the necessary funds from outside sources.

Departments in the University are reviewed on a roughly ten-year cycle, and at other times in the event of an occurrence such as, in the case of the Institute, the retirement of a director, which makes a review opportune. Following reviews in 1979, 1983, and 1987, the next General Board review was due in 1997, but following the departure of Dr Julian Dowdeswell and Dr Robin Williams, reported last year, it was agreed within the University that preparatory work for that review should be brought forward.

In 1979 the Council of the School of Physical Sciences reported to the University:

  • There is a national need for the continuation of polar studies in the United Kingdom, and the need is seen as likely to increase rather than decrease in the future.
  • An unparalleled concentration of institutions and individuals with interests in the polar regions exists in Cambridge.
  • In spite of the small number of its permanent staff, the Scott Polar Research Institute has played a significant part in polar studies on a worldwide basis and can be expected to continue to do so.
  • The work of the Institute is a worthy and proper use of the University's hard-pressed resources and its position in the University enables it to fulfil roles which it could not otherwise meet.

The reviews of 1983 and 1987, following the retirements of Dr Robin and Dr Drewry, respectively, from the directorship, warmly endorsed these views. But all these reviews had another thread in common, relating to the need for there to be a mechanism for associating University officers in the Institute with relevant undergraduate teaching departments 'for the mutual benefit of both.' Changes in the government's funding model for universities, from one predominantly historically based to one based on encouragement of undergraduate teaching, has led to institutes, such as SPRI, whose raison d'etre is oriented more to research than teaching, and of which there are a multitude throughout the UK university world, being in a financially exposed position. This development, added to the well-attested academic arguments in favour of symbiosis between teaching and research, has led to urgent consideration of how best to achieve a steady continuation - and allow for expansion - of polar studies in Cambridge, together with integration with undergraduate teachings. It should be recorded in this context, and particularly as it relates to the first of the 1979 views quoted above, that the Higher Education Funding Council for England notified the University during the year of a grant of £90,000, as a non-formula funding for polar studies in the 1995-96 funding allocation.

While these developments relating to infrastructure and people may seem to be more pregnant for the future than conclusive, they are both strongly positive. While the proof of the pudding is in the eating, the aroma is good and we look forward to the feast.

Meanwhile, the following pages will show that the Institute's research activities, its library, and its other functions are ensuring that it continues to play 'a significant part in polar studies on a world-wide basis.'