Access versus ownership : how real an alternative is it ?

The assumption that access is to be preferred to ownership as a matter of policy needs to be questioned. Browsing and serendipity are lost in the access model. Access is better for periodicals than for monographs on the criteria of speed of supply, reliability and ease of use, but for both it is generally inferior to on-the-spot access. If costs were the only criterion, the current relative costs of access and ownership, which favour access, may change substantially as and when access becomes electronic. Alternative forms of control and publication of research material have advantages and disadvantages. Ownership has limits : it can never approach comprehensiveness. Ownership of and exposure to a wide range of current material should be combined with access to older material. A strong case could be made for larger acquisition funds in view of the coming emphasis on self- directed learning.