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University of Oxford
Director of University Library Services and Bodley's Librarian

Integrate, co-operate, innovate: Keynote address to the eLib Phase 3 Hybrid Libraries, Clumps and Digital Preservation Conference, London, 15-16 December 1998.

From: The New Review of Information and Library Research, Vol.4, 1998, pp. 17-26.

Although the Electronic Libraries Programme (eLib) is now in its final phase, with funding running through into the year 2000, it is still a very important part of the activities of the Committee on Electronic Information (CEI). The Higher Education Funding Councils' Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) most definitely looks upon eLib as one of its most successful initiatives. In fact, in many ways the eLib programme is thought of by JISC as the flagship of the fleet; and this perception has recently been reinforced by the higher education community's overwhelmingly positive response to JISC's consultation exercise on its mid-term strategy review, in which the work of the CEI and the contribution of the eLib programme have been uniformly singled out for appreciation and even praise.

Of course, much of the credit for this widely perceived value of the work of CEI - and perhaps especially of eLib - is due to the earlier groundwork laid by the JISC's former Information Services Sub-Committee (ISSC) and the Follett Implementation Group for Information Technology (FIGIT), with the Follett Review [1] acting as the all-important lever for so much of the new funding. It is thanks to the early vision and energy of people like Derek Law, and the drive and persuasiveness of Lynne Brindley, that we have an eLib programme at all; and it is down to the expertise and insights of the Programme Director, Chris Rusbridge, in particular, that eLib itself has been so productive and so well managed. But beyond all that, it is because of the enthusiasm of so many practitioners, from within the Higher Education Library and Information Services (LIS) community and because of their willingness to share the goals of eLib and to embrace the opportunities to push the agenda onwards, that the whole programme is proving so worthwhile, to the point where it has become, in many respects, the envy of the rest of the world.

My task today, though, is not to smother the conference with complacency. There is still much to do, there are many lessons still to be learned, and there are still many challenges to meet, and difficulties to unravel. But I do want to congratulate the organisers of this conference on their choice of key words for the title of today's gathering. Because if you were looking for three terms to encapsulate as neatly as possible the aims and the, at least partial, achievements of the eLib programme as a whole, I do not believe that you could do better than to select those three headline words: 'Integrate, Co-operate and Innovate'.

But there is just one minor change I would make, and that is to the order of those three key concepts. Because, I believe, if you put them in the sequence 'Innovate, Co-operate and Integrate', then you have a near perfect match to the overall flavour of each of the three phases of eLib in turn, and you have a clearer sense of the dynamics of the programme as it has developed and moved on. The concepts overlap the phases, of course; but in general terms, Phase 1 was all about innovation, with a multiplicity of projects pushing creatively at a range of issues within a set of pre-defined programme areas. Phase 2 was characterised by filling in perceived gaps in the project array, but its emphasis was also on scalability, and there was a deliberate push to encourage more co-operative solutions as the projects began seriously to consider their viability for the longer term. And with Phase 3, eLib's attention is now centred principally on integration, with the aim being to bring together as many separate developments as possible, and to put flesh on the bones of the new integrating terminology of the 'hybrid library' and of 'clumps'.

But perhaps the most interesting feature of this 'keyword characterisation' of the dynamic development of the eLib programme overall - and it is the thing I want to concentrate on and highlight in the rest of these opening remarks - is the extent to which these three key terms are such a perfect fit with the developmental aims of the JISC itself. And the reasons why I think this is worth highlighting today are two-fold. First, because I believe that looking at the aims of both JISC and eLib in this way may be helpful to you, the practitioners, given that so many of you work at the coal-face so to speak - helpful, that is, in understanding the wider context of your labours, and in being to some extent reassured that your work is an integral part of a greater and more coherent whole. In other words, there is a properly managed coal-mining business up there, on the surface, even if all you can see sometimes is the coal-dust you're creating! But additionally, it helps me and my colleagues on CEI to be able to demonstrate, quite explicitly (to ourselves and, ultimately, to the Funding Councils who provide the funds for JISC and all its activities), that eLib is hitting the target, and that both it and CEI are in line with the objectives of JISC, and that all these activities are well worth funding, notwithstanding the siren voices of those who occasionally speak out against top-sliced funding of any kind.

In general terms, of course, JISC aims above all perhaps to be an integrating force; and in many senses it could be said to be helping the HE community as a whole to 'hold the line' against the tendency towards disintegration which might otherwise accompany the devolution of the Funding Councils, and the developing post-Dearing regionalisation agenda.[2] The baseline of JISC's continuing existence in such a climate is, of course, the all-pervasive Joint Academic Network (JANET), which powerfully underpins and enables so much of what we all do. In that sense, the network itself is perhaps the most powerful integrating force in our community, and we do well never to take it for granted. If JANET had never existed, or if our institutions had had to pay for it entirely on a usage basis, 'building the digital library' would still, I believe, have remained largely a pipe-dream, or, at the very least, it would have been tackled in a much more ad hoc and patchy way, with the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' becoming even more clearly differentiated than they are now, in technology terms.

But JISC is much more than simply the organisation that provides and supports the JANET infrastructure, and this is starkly illustrated by the fact that the network now represents only about two-fifths of JISC's annual expenditure (£20M out of a total expenditure of £53M). This is very different from the position with JISC's predecessor, the Computer Board, where the funding of the computing infrastructure in universities - mostly for high-performance research computing purposes - represented virtually the whole of the Board's budget. And to demonstrate the much more complex and wide-ranging aims and activities of JISC, let me now share with you a greatly boiled-down version of a document recently produced as a think-piece by the Secretary of JISC about the kinds of functions that JISC might perform over the next few years.

JISC: Functions beyond the Millennium

  • Infrastructure/services to HE, FE & research communities
  • 'Acting as a bridge': between IT developments in HE and between HE and other UK agencies
  • International collaboration
  • Advice/expertise to management
  • Negotiating for UK academia
[Fig 1]

Each one of the bullet points in this diagram could be a conference paper in its own right, and in this brief introduction to the conference I can barely touch the surface of them. But the general point I want to make is that each one of these functions is based on one or other of today's three imperatives: 'Integrate, Co-operate, Innovate'.

The 'infrastructure/services', namely the provision of JANET and the development of SuperJANET, meet all three of our imperatives, and, of course, eLib itself is an integral part of that particular bullet point, with new services being spawned from it as part of JISC's integrated infrastructural support for the diversifying communities which it serves.

In 'acting as a bridge', in a variety of ways, too, the JISC has as its aim the facilitation of co-operation within an integrated framework for development and innovation. And in this respect, eLib Phase 3 and the LIS community generally have a key role to play in supporting JISC's remit. The development of information systems and tools to facilitate integrated research and learning and teaching within institutions, across institutions, and across traditional sectoral boundaries, is going to be one of our major challenges over the next few years, and JISC sees this as of the essence in its own contribution to its communities. The development of the 'hybrid library' concept, and of the notion of 'clumps', both virtual and actual, are very much part of this larger picture. Librarians are not the only people in HE to see the political, strategic, and operational possibilities arising from the lifelong learning agenda, the National Grid for Learning,[3] the People's Network,[4] and the Library and Information Commission…

JISC's aim in promoting collaboration with international bodies is to ensure that IT in the UK HE sector is world class and, where possible, at the leading edge. Both co-operation and innovation are the name of the game here - and it's precisely those two imperatives which lie behind the joint programme of funding which has just been launched between JISC and the US's own Digital Libraries programme run by the National Science Foundation (NSF). International collaboration has, of course, long been the order of the day for many of us in the instinctively co-operative library and information community; and it's good to see the Funding Councils and JISC developing a growing agenda in this arena onto which we can map some of our existing expertise and so many of our longstanding contacts.

The 'advice and expertise' bullet point is all about such things as the dissemination of good practice, awareness-raising, and the development of strategic approaches, in all of which JISC sees itself as having a valuable role to play. The Information Strategies initiative, for example, belongs under this heading; and that initiative is all about the need for integration within an institution. Rightly conceived and developed, institutional information strategies should fit perfectly with all the outcomes of Phase 3 of eLib - the hybrid library approach, the clumps, and the ways forward on digital preservation currently being pursued by the CEDARS project.

And finally, 'negotiating on behalf of UK academia' (for services and for digital content, and in such areas of community-wide significance as standards, copyright, and the licensing of IPR in the digital environment) - these are JISC functions primarily devolved to the CEI, and with many innovative and co-operative developments being brought to the table by the JISC Secretariat, by CEI's Content Working Group, and by the CEI Collections Manager.

But some of these issues are being tackled by eLib and within particular projects, with both top-down and bottom-up approaches being blended creatively, and with all of this activity being set firmly within the JISC agenda. So, again, I just remind you that the point of looking at this summary of JISC's ongoing functions is to note how very much in line with this agenda the eLib programme really is, in all its parts. Like JISC, eLib is much more than simply a vehicle for funding projects and services, or for managing bidding programmes or funded initiatives. Like JISC, eLib has become a keystone in our community's use of IT, and a vehicle for exploiting and enabling the collaborative ethos of HE in the UK; and this is achieved by facilitating co-operation, by encouraging innovation, and by pointing up the need for integration. To the extent that your agenda - our agenda - addresses these three key imperatives, to that degree we will find ourselves right on target with the national agenda of the agency which, ultimately, validates and funds our work.

What then of CEI and its current and forward agenda? Where does it fit within the overall framework, between JISC on the one hand and the various initiatives like the eLib programme on the other, which it oversees? What are CEI's own development objectives for what lies beyond eLib, and how do these fit in with CEI's other initiatives and programmes? Well, of course, not all the answers to these questions are yet known, but the general outlines are at least emerging from the mist, and it may be helpful for some of CEI's more joined-up thinking to be more generally shared at this stage.

There is no time to dwell on CEI's current task list today; but it should be of interest in situating the eLib programme within the whole array of CEI's developmental and funding responsibilities on behalf of JISC.

Committee on Electronic Information: Task List '98-9

  • Essex Data Archive
  • AHDS
  • Subject Gateway Services
  • Image Delivery Service
  • eLib: Hybrid Libraries, Large Scale Resource Discovery, Digital Preservation, Projects to Services
[Fig 2]

BIDS, MIDAS and EDINA are the three datacentres through which the community is given networked access to so many datasets and other sources of electronic information. The Data Archive at Essex provides access to research data such as the National Census and other social surveys. The Arts and Humanities Data Service is carving out an important niche for itself, especially in areas where commercial information services are not as prevalent or as well developed as in other subject areas. The British Universities Film and Video Council provides advice on film and video, and is currently involved in exciting development work which will ultimately lead to a networked digital video service for UK higher education. The UK Office for Library & Information Networking (UKOLN) provides advice on library and information networking, and is jointly-funded with the British Library. HENSA consists of the software mirror sites at Kent and Lancaster, and will be replaced during 1999 by a single Higher Education Mirror Service. The Subject Gateway Services (which are too numerous to list here) will be developed in 1999 with the introduction of a new central executive and a new distributed set of gateways, along the model of the AHDS. The contract for an Image Delivery Service will be placed in Spring 1999. The oversight of the eLib programme is an integral part of one of CEI's major responsibilities: 'the promotion and development of the electronic library'. Just scanning the list is perhaps in itself sufficient to make it obvious that CEI's remit is based on both innovation and co-operation, since so many of those services rely on the collaborative ethos of the UK HE sector and are the direct products of it, through enlightened investment and continuing applications-oriented innovation. A digital video streaming service may be a few years away yet; but an Image Delivery Service will be with us quite soon; and both are part of the cycle of applied research and service development which JISC and CEI exist to promote.

But what about the all-important issue of integration? How, if at all, are these many disparate developments going to be made to relate to each other and to hang together in some coherent way? Well this, in fact, is where the concept of the Distributed National Electronic Resource (the DNER) is proving such a useful tool. Though the development of the DNER has been devolved principally to CEI's Content Working Group, the DNER is nevertheless badged in the JISC's own 5-year strategy as a key project for the community; and this, I believe, is because the DNER is so readily understood as a potentially powerful integrating force, which matches JISC's own agenda perfectly.

During the course of 1999, CEI will be circulating a DNER policy statement as a JISC Briefing Paper, both to explain and to raise awareness of the concept more widely. In the meantime, we are told that 'the DNER will enable an academic to search for and obtain learned information at his or her desktop from a wide variety of resources with a seamless uniform interface'. And immediately, from the ambitious picture painted by these words, we can see how important the outcomes of eLib's Phase 3 'Hybrid Library' projects will be. The description of the DNER continues: 'The DNER should not be seen as an alternative to existing facilities. It will be a hybrid solution where the user will also be pointed to existing printed material and artefacts to supplement on-line material'. For many of us - for most of us, I hope - such a prospect is much-to-be-desired, and is well worth all the hard work and investment which will be required to make it an everyday reality in our institutions.

But, as a final section to this conference introduction, I thought it might be useful to speculate about some of the steps which will need to be taken to get us to the full-scale development of a Distributed National Electronic Resource. For, if the DNER is going to make available - to everybody in HE, and (probably) in FE, and perhaps across sectoral divides between other UK learning and research communities - a 'comprehensive collection of on-line material, of wider scope than traditional libraries', then a number of steps will be required additional to the mere building up of a portfolio of information resources and services such as that represented above.

So let me draw my remarks to an end today by sharing with you a set of tasks for building the DNER (Figure 3).

Building the DNER: some necessary steps

  • Building the service infrastructure
  • Creating the content
  • Crossing the divides: working with the major players (NGfL, LIC, BL, MGC, HLF)
  • Addressing the issues: standards, interfaces, funding, rights
  • Collaborating internationally (JSTOR, NSF)
  • Developing exemplars of seamless access
[Fig 3]

In the spirit of innovation and of co-operation which permeates eLib, as it permeates both CEI and JISC, let me invite you all to contribute whatever you can to this shared goal - to build the DNER together, to integrate our often piecemeal efforts in order to make them more systematically part of a coherent whole. And if it means crossing sectors, then so be it; if it means sharing our resources, then why not? If it means accepting community standards that we have not wholly determined for ourselves, then let us swallow our pride for the greater good. And if it means yet more innovation, more co-operation, and more hard work, won't it be worth it?

  • [1] THE FOLLETT REPORT Joint Funding Councils' Libraries Review Group (Chairman, Sir Brian Follett): Report, Bristol: Higher Education Funding Council for England, 1993. [Back]
  • [2] THE DEARING REPORT The National Committee of Enquiry into Higher Education. Higher Education in the Learning Society: Report of the National Committee (Chairman, Sir Ron Dearing), London: HMSO, 1997. Ref. NCIHE/97/850. ISBN 1-85838-254-8. [Back]
  • [3] DEPARTMENT FOR EDUCATION AND EMPLOYMENT Connecting the Learning Society: National Grid for Learning: The Government's Consultation Paper, London: DfEE, 1997. ISBN 0-85522-645-5. [Back]
  • [4] LIBRARY AND INFORMATION COMMISSION New Library: The People's Network, London: Library & Information Commission, 1997. [Back]

Dr Reg Carr
University of Oxford