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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Bothering to borrow

The original royal charter of the Institute of Actuaries contained an objective stating that a library for the profession must be formed. Likewise the Rules of the Faculty of Actuaries include the following words: ‘The Faculty shall maintain a Library of professional works for consultation and reference…’Despite this strong support for a library in our constitution, there exist actuaries who would argue that their subscriptions would be better spent on other things. Is this acceptable? Or does it merely reflect our progression from paper to PC?

What’s on offer?The actuarial profession houses three libraries in the UK – Maclaurin House, Edinburgh, Napier House, Oxford, and Staple Inn, London. All are open to fellows and students as well as academics, university students, and members of other professions. It would be fair to say that, together, the libraries form the largest collection of actuarial publications in the world and are seen as an essential first port of call for anybody researching an aspect of the actuarial profession.Each library holds a reference set of actuarial course notes, past papers, questions-and-answer banks plus the recommended additional reading for each subject. There is also study space for those who require a quiet study session away from housemates or other distractions. The library catalogue, including 30,000 references to actuarially related books and papers, can be searched online. Many documents can be downloaded at no charge or photocopied and posted on request. Books are also posted out free to mainland UK, which means that students can order and study additional reading at no cost to them or their employer, apart from the cost of returning the material.

What’s in it for students?Despite the wealth of services highlighted above, it may be difficult to see why current students should use the on-site libraries. Exam study notes are delivered to students at work or home, usually already paid for. In addition, any spare time available after completing a study session for the exams is more likely to be spent in the pub or gym than in one of the profession’s libraries.I therefore propose that students change how they study, to use the libraries’ services. It is common knowledge that the profession’s pass rates are embarrassingly low, and measures are being taken by the profession to address this. However, are measures being taken by the students? The Library Committee recently recommended that students use the libraries in the following ways: u consulting papers to broaden understanding of material in course notes;u consulting volumes of past exam papers for exam preparation; andu consulting reference copies of course notes and core reading as an aid to planning a route through the exams.I would add to this list the provision of study space. That is, study space away from the TV, laundry, housemates, grocery shopping, or any other activity that is ‘quicker to do’ on a midweek study day than at the weekend. It seems illogical that a profession with such strict academic entry requirements may consider the possibility of reducing such facilities for its students and teachers. After all, it becomes very difficult to make the horse drink if you limit its chief water supply.

Why bother now?Because of pressure on office space at Staple Inn, the accommodation available to the library has been progressively reduced to such a point that there are occasions when the demand for study space outstrips supply. The profession has set up the Accommodation Strategy Working Party to look into long-term accommodation needs for the profession as a whole. This is a golden opportunity for the library’s future requirements to be taken into account.The Library Committee has agreed that: ‘It must be made clear to the Working Party that wherever it decides the headquarters must be, the premises must include suitable accommodation for a library.’This will be made clear if the committee can demonstrate consistently high enquiry and borrower figures for all three sites. Almost half of the loans made during 2002 were to actuarial students. This is encouraging news. However, this statistic together with the argument above indicates that students would be among the biggest losers should the on-site library facilities be reduced or cease to exist. Whether the profession continues to support the libraries or not, the fact remains that we are a learned society, with fellows and students of academic backgrounds. It is right that our facilities should reflect this ethos, and as such provide adequate opportunity for members to continue to learn and advance actuarial techniques as in the past.Every enquiry, either online, by phone or in person will help secure the future of our libraries. In addition, you may also find that extra bit of knowledge that enables you to answer the exam question that has ‘nothing’ to do with the core reading.

Margaret de Valois (pictured left) is a member of the Library Committee. She made use of the library services while drafting her contribution to The History of Mathematical Tables – From Sumer to Spreadsheet published by Oxford University Press in 2003.

Good intentionsI remember when I finished my first round of actuarial exams I thought I was going to explode with happiness. The weeks of no social life were at an end and I could enjoy life once again. Of course, I didn’t exactly explode with joy – but finishing a set of exams, knowing that you’ve done your best, is an immensely satisfying feeling. And win or lose – at least they’re over! And so we greet the start of another study cycle – and this time we’ll be better. We’ll do the assignments way before the deadline. Who knows, we may even get round to having learnt the notes beforehand and actually do them under exam conditions. With this new, revived approach to study in mind, this month’s article is a timely reminder of the services offered by the profession’s libraries and how these could be incorporated into studying.Just one last little note before I go – the next Student Consultative Committee meeting is fast approaching, so get your thinking caps on about what went wrong with the exams/tutoring/marking (or even what went right), and what could be improved. Send your comments to your local SCC rep or to me. Hannah