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UKOLN Conference: A Summary "Networking and the Future of Libraries"

19-21 April 1995 University of Bath

This is a summary report of some of the key issues which were discussed at the conference over the three days, divided into the three main threads, from which the conference took its structure.

1 Transforming the Organisation

The first section of the conference looked at how library services could be positioned to make the most advantage of the 'information age', and how the challenges associated with providing access to networked information could best be met. A number of issues were covered including managing change within organisations, transforming concepts of the provision of library services and assessing the impact of the move towards electronic libraries on staff.

The Tilberg Experience

Hans Geleijnse of the University of Tilburg gave an overview of the digital library project at Tilburg and the experiences and problems the organisation had encountered during the source of the project. After an evaluation of the services they were offering, it was found that use of the library services had increased on all levels. Direct use of the library had gone up dramatically, leading to over-crowding in the library at most times, and remote use of information through the desktop had also increased significantly.

He then went on to unveil a strategic plan for the service for the next three years. The key points he raised were that :

The Aston Experience

Sheila Corrall from Aston University concentrated on the management of change to both services and staffing that is likely to occur as electronic library services become more prevalent.

Sheila noted that Aston had been driven towards organisational change by a series of political, economic and technological factors. They are now in a situation where they have many new services running alongside the more traditional ones, and this has thrown up a number of issues: staff are facing an increasing need to support end users in their use of computer applications, and reference and enquiry desks in particular are feeling the burden of this increased demand for both user support and increased information on the availability of electronic sources of information.

Sheila also noted a number of changes which were taking place in the management culture at Aston. Traditional hierarchies of management are giving way to smaller team-based structures and an increase in self-managing projects; styles of management are also moving away from a controlling to a co-ordinating model.

Sheila advocated the need for skills development for library and information assistants to take some of the burden of technical processing tasks away from qualified staff. She also mentioned that Aston has set up a reception desk in response to the problems faced at enquiry desks. This acts as a first- point-of enquiry for library users and helps to screen out simple enquiries which can be dealt with by non-qualified staff from more complicated problems.

The IMPEL Project

Joan Day, from the Department of Information Studies at the University of Northumbria, has been involved in research into the impact of electronic libraries on library staff in UK academic institutions, and she gave a summary of the research findings.

The research (conducted over six UK academic institutions) has found that library staff are increasingly finding themselves needing to teach computing skills at the point of need. Many library staff have found that IT seems to bring more work for them but no reduction in existing tasks. The research also highlighted the need for more para-professional staff who can take the strain of some administrative and technical tasks away from qualified staff.

A number of staff training and developmental needs also emerged from the research:

2 Managing the Intellectual Record


It was announced by Clive Hemingway from Blackwells that FIGIT has just agreed to support a joint proposal for an electronic document delivery system known as INFOBIKE. This proposal has been put together by a consortium consisting of BIDS, Blackwells and the Universities of Keele, North Staffordshire, Kent and Manchester.

The system architecture was proposed as follows: INFOBIKE will consist of a bibliographic database which can be searched by a user. If an item is located and requested a holdings file can be checked to locate the document on any of a number of document servers held around the country. The document server will then retrieve a requested document and send it on-line to the user.

Document servers should be maintained by publishers, who will thus be able to maintain control over electronic copies of articles, and monitor their usage. There will also be the possibility of other sites being licensed to mount documents on their own servers.

Clive Hemingway proposed that access to the system shall be free at point of use; a charging mechanism will be set up by the development of national licensing models for institutions who want to gain access to the system, or hold copies of electronic documents on their own servers.

Adobe Acrobat will be used to store submissions, and this should allow for expansion to include multimedia components.

Electronic Journals

Chris Rusbridge, Director of the Electronic Libraries Programme, concentrated on the area of electronic journals. He stated that he felt it was unlikely that electronic journals would come to replace completely printed versions, and also questioned whether institutions would find that the availability of electronic journals would bring any cost savings for journal budgets.

Chris Rusbridge also covered the issue of charging for access to electronic journals and he described three possible charging models which included subscriptions for individual journals, licensing agreements, or free distribution of journals achieved by giving subsidies towards their creation. It seems likely that the third model would require substantial investment from universities to go into the actual creation of electronic journals, and this represents a shift of responsibility for publishing from the publishers to the universities. He emphasised the need for some form of model agreement between publishers and institutions in order to increase the development of electronic versions of existing printed journals.


(Social Science Information Gateway)

Nicky Ferguson spoke about the SOSIG project at University of Bristol. This is a subject-based guide to UK social science resources available through the worldwide web, which aims to provide a consistent approach to cataloguing and evaluating networked resources, and an information gateway for social science researchers and academics. He raised a number of issues surrounding the design of subject-based information gateways; in particular the potential for implementing a level of quality control over networked resources. Resources can be evaluated for their usefulness, consistency and relevance before being included in a gateway, and this 'seal of approval' can be included as an integral part of the document description. SOSIG currently records the URL, keywords, resource type, login info and description of all the resources it indexes into the gateway.

ROADS project

(Resource Organisation and Discovery across Subject-based services)

This is a further project to extend the work of SOSIG across other subject areas by encouraging various centres of excellence to produce their own approaches to subject-based information gateways. This will result in a distributed resource discovery service based on rich descriptions and a quality controlled approach organised around subject centres of excellence.

Nicky also mentioned that UKOLN, Loughborough University and SOSIG are working on a collaborative bid for EU funding on a project to improve search tools, and standards setting.

3 Preservation of the Intellectual Record

This area threw up a number of difficult questions and few real answers: Margaret Hedstrom, New York State Archives, suggested that we need to make it easier for document authors to keep their own records and archives, by setting standards for the level of documentation we wish to have retained and the indexing strategies to be used. She said that archiving should increasingly become a function carried out as a distributed task, and the place where it is carried out will become less important.

Margaret also raised the issue of current software and hardware becoming outmoded. She recommended the creation of repositories of outmoded hardware and software to ensure that we can still obtain access to material; and said that this approach should be rigorously backed up by a commitment to converting old material over to the new technology as it emerges.

Bendik Rugaas, National Library of Norway, suggested it should be the task of National Libraries to generate strategies for the legal deposit of electronic material.

Tracey Stanley
Networked Information Officer
University of Leeds

Tel: +44 113 233 5569

(Tracey Stanley's post is funded by a special grant from the University of Leeds' Academic Development Fund (IT) to support Network-based Access to National and International Databanks. The grant was awarded to a proposal which was a joint submission from the Computing Service, Media Services, and the Library. Editor)