In June 2013 I recommenced the compilation of the Devon bibliography, which had lapsed in 2004. This was prompted by the alarming decline in the coverage of the catalogue of the Devon Heritage Centre and was intended to fill the gap caused by the lack of activity in what used to be the Westcountry Studies Library since its transfer to the Centre. It is appreciated that in a time of draconian cutbacks by central government many activities have to be curtailed, but the havoc wrought on what has long been considered a core function of the public library, the documentation of the region's printed heritage, is greatly to be regretted. In the absence of any designated staff to maintain the library collections or any significant bookfund, gaps in coverage are emerging which will be very difficult to fill. Coming to grips with the increasing amount of local documentation on the internet will also be impossible. It is to be hoped that this problem can be addressed in the near future, once the South West Heritage Trust is set up to care for museums, record offices and local studies libraries in Somerset and Devon.
The present situation regarding the local studies library in Exeter is threatening to end a tradition of collecting and documenting the region’s printed heritage which extends back to the foundation of Exeter Public Library in 1870. From the start the scope of the collection was Devon and the adjoining counties, making it a major collection of regional significance. The bulk of the collection survived the Blitz but, although collecting continued after 1945, little was done to reconstitute the public catalogues which had been destroyed in 1942. The situation changed after local government reorganisation in 1975 and the establishment of the Westcountry Studies Library which began to tackle the immense backlog of cataloguing. In 1977 the University of Exeter published The Devon union list : a collection of written material relating to the county of Devon, compiled by Allan Brockett. Of the 8,300 titles listed the majority were from the Westcountry Studies Library. In the hope of continuing this record the Devon History Society initiated the annual Devon bibliography. This was compiled by Geoffrey Paley, largely from information supplied by the Westcountry Studies Library, until his death in 1984. From 1985 it was taken over by Devon Library Services but was discontinued in 2004 on the retirement of the County Local Studies Librarian. From the 1980s the local studies collections of Devon were mounted on a digital database and the Devon bibliography began to appear in digital format on the County website from 1998. The last printed version covered the year 2000. For many years the bibliography was cumulated from the monthly local studies booklist which was used as an ordering tool for reference and lending libraries throughout the county. The following tables chart the changing coverage of the Devon bibliography and local studies database across the centuries.
The first table gives figures of books, pamphlets and ephemera recorded in the local studies database for centuries and decades. The general picture is of steady growth, interrupted only by the two World Wars.
|Period||Titles on database||Period||Titles on database|
The second table gives year by year breakdowns to show the effect of the two World Wars, periods when book production actually declined.
|World War 1||World War 2|
|Year||Titles on database||Year||Titles on database|
The third table gives the total number of items for each year since the establishment of the Devon bibliography in 1980. The third column gives the total number of records in the Devon Bibliography for the same year.
|Year||Titles on database||Devon Bibliography||Year||Titles on database||Devon Bibliography|
The progressive decline, especially since 2010, is alarming, the decrease over 2001-2005 is about 80%. By contrast the decrease during war years is only some 50%. So, the effect of the present changes is much more drastic even than during wartime. In fact the level of purchase in 2012 was equivalent to that in the 1870s when book production was much lower than today.Ian Maxted
This page last updated: 28 July 2014.