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Govt departments doubling up for online encyclopaedia fees

Both the Department of Education and the Department of the Environment are currently paying for access to Encyclopaedia Britannica Online.

Image: old yellow vintage books via Shutterstock

TWO GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENTS are continuing to pay for near-identical online access to Encyclopaedia Britannica due to a clause which prevents schoolchildren from accessing it through the country’s public libraries, TheJournal.ie can reveal.

The Department of Education has paid more than €500,000 since 2010 in order for schoolchildren and teachers to access the online resources, while The Department of the Environment has also been paying to enable access through public libraries.

Ireland’s public libraries currently have the option to make available three versions of Encyclopaedia Britannica Online – but this excludes schoolchildren.

Libraries in Dublin, Meath, Cork, Tipperary and Clare, for example, provide online access to Britannica Junior (for ages 5-11), Britannica Student (for ages 12-18) and Encyclopaedia Britannica (for ages 18+) for their members.

Once a user attempts to access the online resource, however, they are presented with the following message:

Please note that access to Britannica Online within Schools, Universities, Corporate/Government Organizations, by users who may be members of the Public Library, is NOT COVERED under the Library license agreement.

Since 2010, the Department of Education and Skills has paid over €500,000 (excluding VAT) in making the School Edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica available “within all schools and from home for students and teachers” via the website scoilnet.ie.

The costs (all excluding VAT), which vary depending on usage and traffic, were €187,000 in 2010, and between €160,000 and €220,000 in both 2011 and 2012.

The spokesperson for the department said that this ensured that both schoolchildren and teachers would have access, “regardless of where they live or their library membership status” and that making access “via a public library website” would breach its terms and conditions.

The spokesperson said while some libraries had “licensed the facility”, others, such as libraries in Mayo and Leitrim, had not. “This inconsistency means that there is limited access for students and teachers via the public library system,” they said.

When queried as to whether the department had made attempts to alter the library clause, the spokesperson said that the two services were “not comparable.”

The priority for the Department [of Education and Skills] in reaching this agreement and making the facility available through Scoilnet.ie was to meet the particular needs of teachers, students and their parents on a national basis.

Economic constraints

When TheJournal.ie contacted the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government to query why all libraries had not made the online resource available, a spokesperson said that “while many libraries provide access to Britannica, others are rolling back on the service due to economic constraints and relative cost / benefit evaluations of services.”

When queried as to why the libraries which had licensed the facility had a clause in place which prevented access from schools, the spokesperson said:

Under the terms of the library authority individual contracts currently, remote access to the library service by library members is not permitted within specific locations such as schools, universities and Corporate/Government Organizations, however this is clearly an element which will require examination in the context of the current review.

A spokesperson from the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) also confirmed that they were “currently investigating the issue of combined purchasing and shared services for public libraries.”

The current cost of making Encyclopaedia Britannica available within libraries is calculated on a per branch basis within an individual library authority and is based on the population of the area.

The cost of making access to the three online versions available within in a single library in a town which has a population of approximately 2,500, currently costs in the region of  €1,270 annually.

Read: Free access to Encyclopaedia Britannica for school-going children >

About the author:

Paul Hyland

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