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Aims and policies

The Royal Astronomical Society Library

A Review of Aims and Policies


1 Background

1.1  When the Society petitioned for its Royal Charter, it was said to have “collected, and become possessed of, a valuable library”. Since then the library has become a major resource of considerable value not just to the Society but also to the wider community of astronomers, geophysicists, and historians, and has grown to occupy a significant part of the Society’s rooms at Burlington House.

1.2  The library receives some 300 current periodicals in astronomy and geophysics and has holdings of over 3,000 ceased titles. It contains more than 10,000 books from popular level to conference proceedings and in addition has the second-largest specialist collection of astronomical rare books in Britain (only the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh has more) with over 5,000 items published before 1851. In short, the Royal Astronomical Society has a world-class collection in astronomy and geophysics that is far more comprehensive than the libraries of most universities and research institutions.

1.3  Currently, the total annual expenditure on journals, books, binding, and other sundry expenses, including the recurring subscription for maintenance of the computer database, is some £50,000. Costs of our two library staff amount to about £70,000 annually, including NI and pensions. Adding the library’s share of administrative and operational costs for Burlington House brings the grand total to around £150,000. This sum represents about a quarter of the total running costs of the Society (excluding publishing activity).

1.4  The current membership of the Society includes not only professional astronomers and geophysicists who normally have the use of institutional research libraries, but also a substantial proportion of non-professional astronomers and geophysicists (e.g. academics in other disciplines, retired professionals, and amateurs) who may not have access to such depositories.

1.5  Researchers at universities or other institutions may be dependent on the Society’s library for access to certain journals and books that their own libraries do not hold. 

Recognizing the above facts, we state the following Aims of the Library:


2  Aims of the library  

2.1  With due regard to affordability and levels of usage, to maintain a world-class collection of appropriate journals and books relating to astronomy and geophysics;

2.2  To maintain and develop an internationally significant archive of rare books, documents, photographs, and other material of historic interest in astronomy and geophysics;

2.3  To provide access to this collection to Fellows of the Society and other interested persons and bodies in pursuit of the Society’s objective of encouraging and promoting astronomy and geophysics; or to redirect bibliographic inquiries as appropriate to other sources of information such as other libraries and organizations, or the Internet;

2.4  To promote the use of the library to the membership as widely as possible through the online catalogue, distance loans, the Society’s own website, and other means;

2.5  To display, exploit, and promote the Society’s archive and rare book collection;

2.6  To demonstrate the Society’s furtherance of the public interest by supporting the outreach activities of the Society’s education committees, as directed by Council; 2.7  To support the Society’s policy setting and community advocacy roles by providing information-searching and retrieval services to Council, and those appointed by Council, as well as Officers. 

The practical realization of the above Aims shall be guided by the following Policies:


3  Policies 

3.1  Acquisitions – journals 

3.1(a)  The library committee will review annually the journals acquired by the library. In doing so, the committee will have regard to sharing agreements with other UK libraries and societies, and also to exchange agreements between the Society’s journals and other journals;

3.1(b)  Bearing in mind that one of the roles of the RAS library is as a ‘library of last resort’, the library committee will give suitable consideration to obscure journals not readily available elsewhere;

3.1(c)  The library committee will continue to monitor the development of electronic publishing, assess its potential effect on the operation of the library, and respond as it considers appropriate. 

3.2  Acquisitions – books

Acquisitions of books will be decided by the librarian in consultation as necessary with the library committee, always taking particular note of specific requests from Fellows.

3.3  Disposals – journalThe library committee shall from time to time decide on the disposal of back issues of journals that have become freely available in electronic form via the Astrophysics Data System (ADS) or other similar reliable online services. Journals known to become available electronically in this way will not be bound unless the committee directs otherwise.

 3.4  Budget

3.4(a)  The library committee will prepare annual estimates of recurrent and discretionary spending to be passed through the Finance Committee for approval by Council;

3.4(b)  The library committee will maintain the overall expenditure on the library and archive within the levels agreed with Council; and any intended expenditure significantly above this level will not be undertaken until first discussed with and approved by the Finance Committee.

3.5  Specialist reference collections

3.5(a)  In consultation with the RAS Education Committees, the library will develop a reference collection of books and teaching materials for the use of teachers of astronomy and geophysics in secondary schools and at undergraduate level in universities;

3.5(b)  In consultation with the relevant historical societies and historians among the Society’s membership, the library will continue to develop its collection relating to the history of astronomy and geophysics;

3.5(c)  In the event of the consolidation of the British Astronomical Association’s collection with the RAS library, the Society’s library will maintain and develop a collection of books, particularly works of reference, appropriate to the BAA membership.

3.6  In connection with Aim 2.2 and Policy 3.5(b) above, the library will encourage Fellows and Associates to bequeath documents, images, and other archive material relating to their professional work which is considered to be of value to historians of science.

3.7  In connection with Aim 2.5 above, the library will undertake a long-term project of transferring archive material to electronic format, as far as time and funding permits.

3.8  Conservation

3.8(a)  The librarian and library committee will monitor the conditions of older and more delicate parts of the collection, and take appropriate steps to ensure that they do not suffer undue deterioration.

3.8(b)  The library will seek grants from appropriate agencies to assist with the costs of conserving and displaying rare books, documents, photographs, and artefacts.

3.9 Loans

3.9(a) The library committee will consider requests from recognized museums and other reputable organizations for loans of rare books, archives and other items on a case-by-case basis.

3.9(b) Loans of rare books and artefacts will normally be approved for a period of up to six months, subject to satisfactory arrangements for transport, conditions of display, security and insurance. All costs of such loans shall be met by the borrower. Such loans shall clearly be credited to the Royal Astronomical Society at the point of display and in any associated written material such as catalogues, website, etc. Where possible, RAS members shall be allowed a substantial discount on entry to the relevant exhibition. 

3.9(c) Loans of original manuscripts will be approved only in exceptional cases, to be decided by the Library Committee.

3.9(d) Material will be valued by a recognized authority. Loans in which the value of any individual item exceeds £10,000 shall be subject to final approval by Council.

3.9(e) The three historic clocks in the Society's possession will not be loaned out. In support of the above Aims and Policies, we endorse the following additional Actions:


4.  Actions

4.1  Revise the job descriptions of the library staff (noting in particular the archival and curatorial roles and the information retrieval functions).

4.2  Develop reliable methods of monitoring the usage of the library by visitors to Burlington House, telephone callers, and postal borrowers, including statistics of reference usage and book borrowing.

4.3  Introduce realistic and economic charges for requests for retrieving, photocopying, and posting items to users (distinguishing between Fellows and others).

4.4  Agree and monitor the basis on which BAA members use the library and contribute to its maintenance and development.

4.5  Subject to Council’s approval for the refurbishment of the apartments, maintain and exhibit the rare book collection in display cases appropriate for their preservation, accessibility, and security.

4.6  Subject to Council’s approval for the refurbishment of the apartments, expand, rearrange, and improve the storage, accessibility and retrieval of archives relevant to the activities of the Society and its Fellows including historical observations, papers, photographic plates, pictures, and artefacts.

4.7  Subject to Council’s approval for the refurbishment of the apartments, reorder the furniture, IT equipment, and layout of the library better to meet the working needs of the various categories of users, while preserving its distinctive character.


Ian Ridpath Chairman,

RAS Library Committee 2005 January 24 Updated 2006 October 4

The formal Library Regulations can be seen at http: //