Sarah Irving

I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic

Edinburgh University Press – binning back-issues, threatens students with arrest

Here is a sequence of minor but very depressing and frustrating events which I witnessed today.

1) about 2.30pm, arriving at my department at the University of Edinburgh on George Square, I noticed a young man carrying A4 size boxes across the street from one of the row of Georgian houses converted into offices. I thought nothing much of it.
2) Leaving the department at about quarter to five, I noticed a group of students – undergraduates, I think – ferretting around in the skip into which the young man had been dumping his boxes. It turned out that these boxes had been full of back-issues of EUP journals – everything from Deleuze to Holy Land Studies, Scottish history, translation, literature, science…
3) a few minutes after I stopped to see if there was anything useful to me in the skip, a woman came out of the EUP office, shouting. She declared that it was illegal to remove things from a skip, EUP had paid for it, and if people didn’t stop she was going to call the police. The students told her that one of her colleagues had earlier told them to “go for it”, but she was having none of it and continued with her threats.

So, what we have here is a university press which not only skips its excess journals, but when students of the same university to which it is attached take journals which have been consigned to the waste stream, they are threatened with the police. Could not EUP have put selections of surplus back-issues in the university library and advertised them as going free? The press has a sale next Wednesday in the same library, presumably of its back stock – could they not at least have sold them at token prices then?

Edinburgh University Press’ website states that: “We are committed to furthering knowledge and making innovative and rigorous scholarship available to the widest possible readership through our range of research publications”. Unless, of course, that scholarship has already been earmarked for a skip, and it’s damn well going to stay in that skip rather than let students have it for free…

13 comments on “Edinburgh University Press – binning back-issues, threatens students with arrest

  1. manchesterflickchick
    October 25, 2013

    That’s so sad. Silly cow! :0(

  2. mlynxqualey
    October 25, 2013


    • Sarah Irving
      October 25, 2013

      For some reason your punctuation makes me think of Bela Lugosi going ‘I never drink…. vine” :-)

  3. serendipitysuga
    October 25, 2013

    I didn’t know you blogged. I am signing up to read your musings. Wow, this is bad. Throwing out journals is bad. Totally agree – the students should have been given them for free via the university and not via a skip! :( Sadia.

    • Sarah Irving
      October 26, 2013

      Hi Sadia! Just fyi – judging by my stats page you’ve only signed up to get updates on comments, not the actual blog. xx

  4. Joanne Greenway
    October 26, 2013

    Sadly think this will become even more common in these ‘it’s all online now anyway’ days. Who has space for a load of old, dusty journals any more?

    • Edmund Schluessel
      October 26, 2013

      Except the journals are behind Elsevier’s or Blackwell’s or someone’s paywall and cost £29.95 to access a single article…

      • Sarah Irving
        October 27, 2013

        That’s exactly my point. Academic presses – probably all of them, see George Monbiot’s article on the subject – are much more interested in overcharging for books and articles rather than making knowledge and research available.

  5. medievalisterrant
    October 27, 2013

    It’s not just Edinburgh, either. Representatives of our university swore they weren’t binning books, never mind photographic evidence to the contrary. Disgraceful.

  6. Edinburgh University Press
    October 29, 2013

    Hi Sarah, we’re sorry for not responding before now. We agree the issue of possible arrest was unnecessary and we would like to apologise unreservedly for this. We would like to shed some light on what happened here and why one member of staff was so upset.

    EUP was not objecting to journal copies being taken by individuals. The point of contention at the time was that –
    1) boxes and single journal back issues were being removed from the skip and thrown on the road and pavement, thus littering the surrounding area;
    2) by disrupting the contents of the skip, there was the increasing risk that Edinburgh City Council would not remove the skip at the designated, booked time, thus incurring further fines for the university.

    Because of these concerns, we did ask people to return the contents as they were found.

    Back issues of journals are made freely available at our annual book sale at Edinburgh University Library – although there has been little take up recently, thus creating larger overstocks, and hence why some issues are pulped, recycled and binned.

    Students at the University are already able to access current EUP journal content online and we also give journal back issues away at conferences worldwide, throughout each year.

    • Sarah Irving
      October 30, 2013

      Many thanks to EUP for this apology, which does them a lot of credit. I would, however, question some of the claims in it:

      1) “EUP was not objecting to journal copies being taken by individuals.” – this doesn’t chime with the fact that the woman who came out of the building to threaten people with arrest explicitly claimed that “taking things out of skips is illegal”, ordered people to replace everything they had taken out into the skip, and when people said that her colleague had told them before that it was ok to take things, she just reiterated that they weren’t allowed to take anything. No suggestion was made by her that it was ok to take journals if the area was kept tidy;

      2) “The point of contention at the time was that… boxes and single journal back issues were being removed from the skip and thrown on the road and pavement, thus littering the surrounding area” – they weren’t being “thrown on the road and pavement” – there was a pretty organised process going on of people taking boxes/single issues out of the skip, searching through them and calling out to other people what subject journals were in that box, and then returning what wasn’t wanted to the skip. If the woman who came out had asked first, she would have found this out, but since her opening words were along the lines of “put those back, I’m calling the police” and she then refused to listen to any questions or statements regarding what was going on, she wasn’t really in a position to understand this. If she or any of her colleagues has actually spoken to people, rather than opening up with threats, they might well have also been able to satisfy themselves as to your second point, that of disrupting the contents of the skip in a way that might affect collection by the council, and ensured co-operation to make sure that this was dealt with properly.

      Is EUP also prepared to comment on whether or not its staff took photographs from its office windows of the students at the skip? Several students, after the threat of arrest, believe they saw this taking place. If so, have these photos been destroyed?

      • Naomi
        October 31, 2013

        Hi Sarah,

        My colleague took a photograph but this was of the skip itself, not of the people at this skip. This was to cover ourselves to show the council that the skip was in reasonable order at close of business, in case anyone subsequently disrupted the contents and the council refused pick up or issued us with a fine. We agree that the situation with the mess on the street shouldn’t have been handled in the way that it was and we apologise once more. We’ll brief staff on how to respond to things like this in the future to be sure it doesn’t happen again.

        Naomi at EUP.

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