D-Lib Magazine, December 1995

Project Briefings and Updates

The UK Electronic Libraries Programme

Contributed by:
Chris Rusbridge

Programme Director, eLib
University of Warwick
Coventry CV4 7AL, UK

How to overcome the deepening crisis in academic libraries? This was the key question which faced the Libraries Review Committee two years ago. The result of their deliberations was the Follett Report, published in November 1993. One of the most influential reports in UK Higher Education in recent years, many if not most of its recommendations have been acted upon. The Library crisis had three main aspects -- exploding demand (fuelled by huge increases in student numbers), years of relatively stagnant funding, and hyper-inflation in the supply side, particular in academic journals.

The response to the report has taken many forms, from the buildings programme (providing much-needed additional space especially for students), through funding support for special collections.

IT was seen as potentially one of the best ways of achieving productive change, and FIGIT (the Follett Implementation Group for IT) was set up under the Funding Councilsí Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), to co-ordinate this. A call for expressions of interest was issued in October 1994, and so far more than 40 projects have been funded in the three year, £15 million Electronic Libraries Programme (eLib). Information about this programme is accessible from the web site at UKOLN , which also describes how to join the lis-elib mailing list for discussions about the programme.

So how should we use these funds to help overcome this crisis? In reality, nobody knows for sure. The US response, in the NSF/NASA/ARPA Digital Libraries Programme, has been to fund a small number (6 in all) of high cost, high risk, research oriented but comprehensive projects. FIGITís approach has been different. Recognising that the benefit lies as much in the process as in the results, FIGIT has funded a large number of more tightly focused projects. Almost all projects include several universities (and often other organisations, including Learned Societies and companies, especially publishers). The greatest benefits will flow not from the success of any individual project, but from the changes in organisational culture and the environment.

The programme from the start was divided into 7 programme areas, which are further described below:

For students (apart from the buildings programme providing much needed additional space in many universities), the most direct benefits will flow from the seven projects in On Demand Publishing. These are initially focused on improving the production of course packs or readers, containing key material. Most projects will start with print on paper, static collections selected by the lecturers, and sold to students through bookshops, etc. There is nothing revolutionary in that, but several of the projects aim to build up course banks of material, with mechanisms for previewing by students, and even print-on-demand. FIGIT hopes to extend this work through its call for further proposals (responses to JISC Circular 11/95 are due shortly) for electronic reserve collections.

More senior students and researchers will benefit from the Document Delivery programme area. FIGIT has funded 4 projects here, and hopes to collaborate in a fifth, international project. The emphasis generally is on building the systems base. EDDIS (based at UEA and involving a wide-ranging consortium of BIDS, Lancaster and Stirling, and including the BLDSC among its associated partners) and SEREN (an all-Welsh consortium) will create comprehensive inter-lending systems concentrating on paper-sourced systems, while InfoBike (led by BIDS) merges almost into the electronic journals area with delivery of documents from an electronic source.

The human system is being addressed in LAMDA, the London and Manchester document delivery project. The international project which we are exploring is JEDDS, with Griffith University in Queensland, Australia (on behalf of the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee and the National Libraries of Australia and New Zealand) and the Research Libraries Group in California, USA. JEDDS seeks to fund upgrades in ARIEL , the electronic document transfer sub-system produced by RLG and used by LAMDA and many others.

Academic staff, researchers and scholarship in general will benefit from the Electronic Journal programme area. FIGIT has funded 11 projects; several of these are for so-called parallel journals, while a few will create entirely new all electronic journals. The latter will face the problems of any new journal, of gaining academic credibility and creating their own market niche, so FIGIT has only been interested where the advantages to be gained from experimenting with new technological opportunities seem to outweigh the difficulties.

Foremost among the parallel publishing projects is SuperJournals. Led by Macmillans (Nature) with Manchester and Loughborough University of Technology as academic partners, this project involves a consortium of 21 publishers who are making a very large contribution to the project and receiving almost none of the funding. The main focus of the project is to examine the human factors of how academics prefer to use the material, which will have extensive coverage of clusters of journals in a small number of subject areas. The studies will be done in a small set of partner universities in the first instance, but we hope the project will extend to a wider audience later.

Perhaps the most paradoxically interesting of the new journals is Internet Archaeology. Led by the Council for British Archaeology with York University, this project will incorporate multimedia in the form of images of artefacts, virtual reality reconstructions of sites as they once were, but most interesting of all will be links to the actual excavation databases. Articles will present their own conclusions, but readers will be able to form their own analyses and argue their point of view in the electronic pages of the journal.

FIGIT is now looking for further proposals (see Circular 11/95, as above) in the areas of informal electronic publications such as pre-prints and grey literature, as well as quality assurance proposals -- new ideas to improve the traditional peer review process.

Although libraries know that there is much quality information out there in the Internet, finding what you want has always been a serious problem. The Access to Network Resources programme area (funded by JISCís Information Services Sub-Committee rather than FIGIT) tries to alleviate this problem by providing subject gateways to quality Internet resources. The subject areas covered so far include art/design/architecture/media (ADAM), engineering (EEVL), history (IHR-Info), conflict studies (CAIN), medicine (OMNI) and the social sciences (SOSIG), with urban design (RUDI) due to start shortly.

Effective change in any organisation (and libraries are no exception) requires change in the people. Librarians for the most part have a very strong service ethos -- over-stretched and under- staffed, many of them find it impossible to devote the time needed not just to learn about the electronic library but to use it in their own daily lives, and build it into their every-day experiences. Of course, there are also some quite uncomfortable with the new technologies, some who perhaps selected librarianship almost deliberately as a low technology, high human contact occupation. However, FIGIT is convinced that given suitable training, librarians will in the main embrace this change enthusiastically. The main Training & Awareness projects are Netskills, led by Newcastle, aiming to provide thousands of training places per year in direct Internet skills training, and EduLib, led by Hull which aims to provide librarians with the educational capabilities to help them pass on skills in the new technologies in turn to their clients. Other projects will aim to understand the mechanisms of cultural change in libraries and the skill requirements of staff working in converged services.

If over the next few years, the electronic library comes into existence as the primary model for access to information, what will happen to the legacy of existing print-on-paper material? Will it become increasingly irrelevant and inaccessible? The Digitisation programme area aims to find some answers to these and other questions. One of the two projects being funded so far will look at early scholarly journals - many character recognition problems but essentially no copyright problems; the second will digitise core post-war art and design journals, which apparently suffer badly from mis-treatment. In the current call for proposals, we are also seeking expressions of interest for a Digitisation Centre, with selections of material to come from expert groups to be established.

The final programme area is Supporting Studies . Although a few projects have been funded which do not fit well in other areas, the main focus is small, commissioned studies or consultancies to make progress in key areas. An example is a study of copyright management technologies which has recently begun.

The eLib programme is a major endeavour, which has only been touched on here. Explore the web site for more information, and contact projects directly from the information provided if you see particular things of interest. Please join in our discussions on lis-elib if interested. We are currently working on a proposal for further funding to develop a second phase of eLib, integrating it into library practice more, and including an element on preservation as a key component.

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