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

Towards the hybrid library: the national perspective in the UK

Presentation to the MALIBU Conference, King's College London, 26 March 2001

Slide 1

One of the pleasures of being a member of JISC and Chairman of JCEI is that you get to spend millions of pounds worth of taxpayers' money on all sorts of things! It's quite a lot of fun really, and especially since so many of them are worthwhile things that you really believe in, like JANET, and eLib, and the DNER.

One of the other interesting features of chairing JCEI is that you get invited to attend lots of project launches and to give heaps of conference keynotes (though not always, I have to say, on subjects that you actually know all that much about; and that's sometimes a challenge in itself!)

Of course, I do have a day job, and I can't always say yes to every invitation that comes along. But when Marilyn Deegan asked me, a few months ago, to kick off this closing MALIBU conference, I just had to say yes, even though I knew that this date was going to fall right in the middle of a particularly hectic time for me. Just talk about "something high level about the hybrid library in the UK" was what Marilyn asked. And I agreed, not just because Marilyn is an old friend, nor even because she is one of those "who must be obeyed", but also for several other more compelling reasons.

The first is that Oxford is a MALIBU partner; and there have therefore been particular local spin-offs for my own institution from the hybrid strand of eLib (and I'll say a few words about some of that towards the end of my presentation).

The second is that, for me, sitting as I do at the head of one of the largest holdings libraries in the UK, and with an ambitious e-strategy in the process of being rolled out, the development of the hybrid library model is a matter of real professional importance. In fact, I'd go further than that, and say that the hybrid library concept is one of the most potentially valuable things to emerge from the LIS world in the 1990s; and it's certainly one of our greatest challenges for the opening decade of this new millennium. How on earth are we going to manage all our massive and growing collections of traditional and digital materials in a coherent way, for the benefit of our users, by harnessing and exploiting the new technologies in appropriate ways?

Slide 2

So, when did we first begin to use the term 'hybrid library'? When did it start to trip off our tongues? Well, I can remember hearing and thinking about it certainly by the mid-90s, though I guess it must have been around 'in the ether' for some time already by then. I became a member of the CEI in 1996, and I took over from Lynne Brindley as Chairman in 1997; and I can definitely remember us starting to use the expression quite a lot around that time.

In fact, although I know it's bad form to quote yourself, this slide represents my own attempt at a definition of the hybrid library, and it comes from something I actually wrote in 1997 - which just goes to show what a forward-thinking kind of guy I am!

But, of course, I didn't invent the term, and the genesis of the hybrid library concept in the UK goes back a bit further even than this…

Slide 3

I always thought that it was quite remarkable that, back in 1992, when the old Universities Funding Council (UFC) was territorially devolved into the four present Higher Education Funding Councils for the UK, that virtually the first two things that the new HEFCs agreed to do together (rather than separately) was to fund the Joint Information Systems Committee, to look after the UK's higher education electronic network, and to set up a major joint review of higher education libraries (the Follett Review).

These crucial decisions certainly seemed remarkable then; and time has proved how important they were in enabling so much that has followed. With hindsight, though, it now appears fairly obvious why the electronic networks and libraries should have been together in the sights of our university system planners.

After all, it was 1992. Student numbers were set to grow massively, and it was clear that both computing and library facilities in universities would experience considerable additional pressures. The polytechnics, too, were all being turned into universities, and the issues of support infrastructures and the comparability of resources for degree-level programmes were bound to need to be confronted. And, of course, the World Wide Web had recently arrived, and was beginning to take off; and with it came a host of new possibilities which the huge growth of electronic information was holding out for developing new paradigms for transforming research and teaching, and for the more cost-effective management of the information infrastructures.

So all of these factors were somewhere in the mix when the Follett Review issued its report in December 1993, with findings which were an amalgam of responses to both the traditional and the digital library challenges. I'll come back to this right at the end of this presentation; but it seems to me that in 1993 the Follett Review was feeling its way towards - but didn't yet have a frame of reference, or a conceptual model, for - addressing these twin aspects of the academic library. Follett in other words, hadn't quite arrived at the hybrid library; but the report itself helped us considerably to move along the road towards understanding that a hybrid library approach would be both necessary and valuable.

In the meantime, JISC was charged by the Funding Councils with implementing the digital library elements of Follett; and so the national electronic library development programmes of the last few years were spawned, with the Follett Implementation Group (FIGIT) initiating the eLib programme, and with the Distributed National Electronic Resource (DNER) eventually emerging out of eLib's final phase.

Slide 4 And this is how we have generally come to think of the characteristics of eLib's development curve over the five or six years of its three-phase existence:

Phase 1 reflected the multiplicity of the Follett/FIGIT recommendations. It took the 'let a hundred flowers bloom' approach, and was all about innovation, pushing creatively at a range of issues within a set of pre-defined programme areas. It was basically aimed at answering the question, "How can we use IT across our traditional library service areas in new ways that will help us square some of the circles that will otherwise continue to constrain us?"

Phase 2 of eLib was characterised by filling in some of the perceived gaps in the project array. But some of its emphasis was also on scalability, and there was a deliberate effort to encourage more co-operative solutions as the projects were being required seriously to consider their viability for the longer term. So I suppose you could say that phase 2 was seeking answers to the question, "How can we ensure that there are community-level benefits and outcomes from all these projects?"

And the thrust of Phase 3 was principally aimed towards integration, with the aim being to pull together as many of the separate developments as possible, to close the loops, to translate projects into viable services where this could be achieved, and to bring some coherence into the management of the digital library.

And it was in the context of this third phase that the concept of the hybrid library was to prove such a useful tool in asking and answering the question, as part of eLib phase 3 in 1997, "How can we apply all we've learned so far in working library contexts which will use technology to integrate all of our collections and services in a user-centred way?" This was a big question, and it needed a big answer!

Slide 5

And JISC Circular 3/97 (the call for eLib Phase 3 proposals) set out to find the answer, with a hybrid libraries strand which was central to that phase.

I don't think I need to dwell very long on this slide. It simply highlights what for me is the key sentence of JISC Circular 3/97: "The challenge now is to bring together technologies … plus the electronic products and services already in libraries, and the historical functions of our local, physical libraries, into well-organised, accessible hybrid libraries".

And this last phase ("well-organised, accessible hybrid libraries") is the nub of what was being looked for since, as the circular itself pointed out, there were "few if any exemplars of good practice for the hybrid library. Conspicuously we … lack a useful model of what we should expect."

So, what were we hoping for from the hybrid libraries strand of eLib Phase 3? What did JISC expect to get for its money? These are useful questions for us to pose right now, as the hybrid library projects come to a conclusion, and as we, today, try to begin to evaluate the learning curve along which MALIBU and the other projects have brought the community as a whole.

Slide 6

So here's breakdown of what JISC and JCEI were asking for in 1997 in issuing the hybrid libraries call for proposals.

What we wanted above all were some good examples of working hybrid library models; and in the hope of achieving that aim, we agreed to fund five projects, each with a slightly different approach or emphasis.

And we were looking to all these projects to address the seamless integration of the many disparate elements that make up a typical university library service.

We expected all the projects to recognise the existing, large-scale investment which had been made in traditional library collections and services, and to seek to integrate that investment as much as possible within their hybrid library models.

We were looking to the projects to integrate new technologies into the library service array, to enable the hybrid library to extend its services beyond the existing range, and in particular to facilitate resource discovery beyond the physical limitations of the physical library, both locally and much more widely.

And that wasn't all we were looking for either!

Slide 7

Given all the investment already made by JISC in the eLib Programme, and given the emphasis in eLib Phase 3 generally on the importance of integrating as much as possible from the earlier phases, there was an expectation that the hybrid library projects would incorporate results and work from the whole range of recent and current electronic library developments, including eLib, the European Telematics Programme, and any other relevant national or international initiatives.

We were looking, too, for the hybrid library projects to put particular emphasis on the specific needs of library users; and we were naturally pleased when Headline, HyLife and MALIBU came forward with project proposals which had a user-centred focus.

We also wanted the projects to share a continuous and active programme of dissemination of experience with the wider community, as well as to address the associated human resource implications and issues, such as staff training and development for the enhancement of key skills.

And finally - as if all this wasn't enough already - we indicated that we would be looking for signs of institutional take-up of the models as they were developed, as evidence of their long-term value.

But, of course, all of these requirements taken together would have been quite a tall order for any single project to deliver; and so it was clearly appropriate to find a range of projects, each with their own mix of elements, but with each contributing as much as possible to the overall picture, for subsequent iteration and application elsewhere in the community.

Slide 8

And these, as I imagine most of you will know, are the five hybrid library projects that were funded under eLib Phase 3. And, as I say, these particular proposals were funded because they promised to take slightly different approaches to the hybrid library model, and because, taken as a whole, they would provide an interesting and helpful mix of approaches in a range of specific working library contexts.

So the slide here attempts to summarise the various specifications of the five funded projects. (This is an over-simplified summary, of course, since the five projects have all done a lot more than this, and they also share many features in common. But it will do as a means of highlighting the particular contribution of each of the projects in turn.)

Agora is especially focussed on the all-important issue of hybrid library technical infrastructure; and it's been developing a hybrid library management system which provides integrated access to the whole range of discovery and delivery services.

BUILDER has been looking at hybrid library service integration from an institutional perspective, and its work has been organised on the basis of six inter-related modules which should be capable of being imported to other sites, for wider application and use.

>Headline, with its predominant user focus, is doing some really interesting work with its Personalised Information Environment (or PIE) in economics and business studies, and has a particular emphasis on tailored facilities for the Web environment.

HyLife's special contribution is to look at ways in which the hybrid library approach might support distance learners more effectively.

And MALIBU: well, we'll be hearing a lot more about that, no doubt, during the rest of the day; so I'd best leave that to the resident experts to explain…

So: all of these projects have now been beavering away for the last three years, and they've been bringing their experience and their findings about hybrid library integration to the wider community.

Slide 9

But, you know, something very interesting has been happening at the same time, at the macro-level of JISC and the JCEI; because eLib itself has now moved on, and out of its own maturity it has given rise to the Distributed National Electronic Resource. And the DNER itself is now beginning to exhibit many of the features of a hybrid library in its own right. So much so, in fact, that I think we can reasonably infer that the DNER has already been influenced by, and learned from, the hybrid library projects themselves.

For example, we speak of the DNER (sometimes ad nauseam!) as "a managed learning environment"; and this is exactly what the hybrid library projects have been developing and working towards. Like the DNER at the national level, the hybrid library project modules are built around an online space within which collections are accessed and managed to allow a coherent user experience, and which interworks with other resources.

And the DNER aims, like all of the hybrid library projects, to provide "secure and easy access to quality resources", and to do it in a seamless and integrated way. It's about content, and its about the environment within which that content can be accessed.

And finally, the DNER, like the hybrid library projects, is all about the enhancement of digital information services, both in an innovative framework and also in a controlled, managed, strategically coherent and sustainable way.

In other words, what I'm suggesting is that the hybrid library projects, as part of the last phase of eLib, have already contributed to the national learning curve, by helping to move eLib into the early stages of the DNER and by influencing some, at least, of the DNER design thinking, as it has moved from theory into practice.

Slide 10

Of course, the five projects are not all quite finished yet, and their outcomes have still to be formally evaluated. But if you consider (even if only briefly) the rationale of the DNER (why it exists at all) you can see immediately that it exists as a response to the very questions which lie at the heart of the hybrid library concept.

How can you give sustainable strategic direction to so many separate activities, services and collections? How can you ensure that you know what your user communities really want unless you have an effective framework for consultation and feedback? How can you help the user's experience of the brand you have to offer to be a coherent one amidst all the bewildering variety of offerings available? How can you ensure that the services you are offering actually cohere with those being offered to your users by systems other than your own? (None of us is an island, and we owe it to our users to make their experience of other information provision blend easily with their use of our resources.) And finally, how can we ensure that our information services are more directly relevant to the pedagogy which forms one of the principal activities of our institutions?

All of these questions are integral to the rationale of the DNER as it is being rolled out. But they have also been central to the hybrid library projects; and there is therefore, not surprisingly, a high degree of synergy between the projects and the DNER itself.

Slide 11

Not only that: but in the area of the integration of content within the DNER there is also almost a one-to-one correspondence between the content components of the DNER and the principal elements of a hybrid library content model. Both of them are, in essence, "a portfolio of disparate resources".

The DNER seeks to provide access on a national level to a wide range of key electronic resources which offer added value as a result of being purchased and delivered centrally; but it also wants these national content services to be visible and accessible alongside whatever other resources individual institutions may have purchased, licensed or created for local use.

Increasingly, too, the DNER, like the hybrid library, wants to permit and enable individual users to personalise all this information within their own electronic learning spaces. And like those of the hybrid library, too, the DNER's collections need to be acquired within the framework of a coherent selection policy, which itself will need to be supplemented and expanded by targeted electronic content creation.

All these content-related features of the DNER are mirrored, in other words, in the hybrid library models which are now emerging from the eLib Phase 3 funding initiative

Slide 12

And, like those models, the DNER is itself in many respects a hybrid information environment, which operates in the broad areas illustrated on this slide.

The DNER team, and the large range of JISC services which support and underpin and deliver the DNER, have a joint responsibility for creating and maintaining a core set of national collections, facilities and services.

But the DNER framework also has added value as a venue within which other resources - owned, created and managed by institutions within the HE/FE community - can be placed alongside the national resource, and where these community resources can be more widely and effectively exploited as a consequence of being accessible through the DNER.

And the DNER's function as a hybrid information environment is evidenced also by the fact that, through services which are integral to it, like the Resource Discovery Network, it operates as a resource discovery system in its own right, enabling access to quality controlled resources in the more public areas outside its immediate space, such as the wider Internet.

As Lorcan Dempsey has said, "An information environment might be described as a set of network services which support secure and convenient access to distributed collections." It is worthwhile to recognise, I believe, that this definition applies as much to the DNER as it does to the hybrid library itself.

Slide 13

At the technical infrastructure level of the DNER, too, there are many points of correspondence with the approach being taken within the hybrid library projects.

At the moment, the DNER architecture is being described and planned in terms of the four broad areas shown in the slide (a simple web-based presentation layer; a content and service layer; a set of fusion services; and integrated links to middleware (things like security and authentication services).

And this basic design is very reminiscent of the architectures being developed within the hybrid library projects, which have investigated all of these technical issues, and which have some important lessons for the DNER to learn as it goes forward as an operational entity.

Slide 14

Interestingly, too, the learning hasn't only been in one direction. There are also a number of ways in which the DNER can be seen as supporting the hybrid library developments and feeding back into the value of the projects as they become embedded in real-life library contexts.

For example, a number of the hybrid library projects have used cross-searching protocols like z39.50 or http; but they have not always found it easy to get data providers to follow standard implementations; and it would seem to be an appropriate role for the DNER to take responsibility for this kind of work at national level, in order to encourage data providers to co-operate more effectively in the enabling of cross-searching facilities.

Testing commercial products which appear to offer hybrid-type functionality may also prove to be a useful role for the DNER -- and especially in a marketplace which is burgeoning with digital library management systems which all promise the moon but which all, inevitably, have their strengths and weaknesses.

The DNER is being set up also to be able to act as a service enabler to local institutions, by presenting national services (such as the Resource Discovery Network, or ATHENS) in such a way as to make it possible for institutions to deliver national services through their own local interface. Local and international provision can then be made within a much more unified information environment.

So is the DNER itself a national hybrid library? Well, I suppose the answer to that depends to a certain extent on your own particular definition of the term 'hybrid'. But I think we can certainly say that, by any definition, the DNER has many of the features of the hybrid library as we're coming to know and understand it.

Slide 15

And here's a list of things on the current DNER agenda which (for me at least) exhibit further characteristics of the hybrid library projects in eLib 3: content and subject mapping; service delivery analysis; technical architecture review; presentation requirements; and all within a strategic planning framework. These are all exercises which will be more or less familiar to those involved in hybrid library development work.)

The DNER Team hopes to have all, or most, of this work completed and in place this year. And I hardly need say, I think, in view of all that I've said about the hybrid library projects, that we expect to be able to integrate even more of the outcomes from the projects before the final word is said about the evolving shape of the DNER.

But I hope that at least one thing is clear from all that I've just said: the work done by the hybrid library projects has already been extremely beneficial at the national level!

Slide 16: When considered from an information service viewpoint, hybrid libraries are going to be the survivors of eLib's opportunistic strategy, of the North American institutional approach to digital libraries, and of the equilibrium strategy being pursued by the commercial providers in the broad information economy.

And here's another welcome word of encouragement, from an old friend of mine, the RLG President Jim Michalko. Like many of our international colleagues, Jim has been a keen JISC and eLib watcher for many years, and this is what he predicted when he spoke at a JISC conference on 'Information Ecologies' a couple of years ago

For myself, not only do I believe that hybrid libraries "are going to be the survivors" in the battle of the information species, but I'm also convinced that the hybrid library will prove a very persistent and durable model for many years to come. The hybrid library, I believe, is a concept with long legs…

Slide 17

Now I said, early on in this presentation, that one of the reasons why I was happy to say yes to Marilyn Deegan's invitation to speak at this conference was the fact that, as a MALIBU partner, my own institution has already felt some of the value of the hybrid library as a management model.

So here's a summary list of the ways in which we're benefiting locally in Oxford from the hybrid library projects:

  • · in a general way, the concept given cohesion to a lot of the experience we've gained from all our own projects and digital developments over the past decade; and in that sense, the hybrid library concept has been both a valuable learning tool and, more recently, a key strategic planning aid, especially for me and my senior management team;
  • it's at the heart of the forward-looking e-strategy for the recently-integrated library system in Oxford (the Oxford University Library Services);
  • it's formed the basic framework for the development and launch (last year) of our major digital initiative (the Oxford Digital Library);
  • it's informed our hands-on experience with the digitization of exam papers and of electronic course reserves;
  • and in general terms, it's helped to enhance our skills in a whole variety of different ways.
Above all, though, I would say that 'the hybrid library thing' has now become an integrated part of the way we think and the way we plan.

Slide 18

So, where to next for the hybrid library in the UK?

Well, in thinking about this question in national terms, I've tried, in my final slide, to map out what seems to me to be the high-level framework within which the whole range of academic library development issues have been worked on so effectively in the UK in the last seven or eight years.

As the slide illustrates, the Higher Education Funding Councils, which funded the Follett Review and which fund JISC, lie at the heart of it all, since the basic policy thrust and bulk of the top-sliced resources have ultimately come from them. But as I look at the diagram, and as I reflect on the range of library-related initiatives that have flowed from the Follett Report, it strikes me that we still have some way to go before we can say that we have arrived at an implementation of the hybrid library concept at the national level in the UK. But let me explain what I mean by that.

It is clear, in retrospect, that the Follett Report was seminal in enabling the academic library community in the UK to address a very large number of the key digital library development issues under the umbrella of JISC, through the far-sighted work of FIGIT (and its ultimate successor, the JCEI), and through the eLib programme and on into the DNER. It is equally clear that the concept of the hybrid library emerged from eLib, and that it offers a valuable model for libraries generally to consider and implement on the basis of the work done under the JISC umbrella.

At the same time, however, there were many other Follett recommendations which were not appropriate to devolve to JISC and which might be generally characterised as addressing the more traditional aspects of academic library provision in the UK, and which generally revolve around the management of access to the UK's major physical collections of research materials. In these areas, the Funding Councils themselves have continued to be active in policy and funding terms, commissioning the Anderson Report in the immediate post-Follett era, and funding both the Non-formula funding (Nff) initiative, to improve the accessibility to major research collections in the Humanities from 1994, and the Research Support Libraries Programme (RSLP), to encourage co-operative collection management approaches from 1998


From the inception of the RSLP initiative onwards, there has been a certain amount of spontaneous cross-working with the DNER between the HEFCs-managed, research-collections orientated, developments and the electronic library developments overseen by JISC; but for a national hybrid library to emerge, there needed to be some kind of formal convergence between the two distinct sets of efforts. And for any hybrid model to be truly national, the British Library and its other UK national library counterparts still needed to be added to the equation, since they are a key element in the national support infrastructure for academic research support. (This was an issue which the Follett Review tried, and failed, to address adequately.)

Aware of this need for convergence (though perhaps, as yet, only dimly perceiving that such convergence might lead to the implementation of a hybrid library approach for the UK as a whole), and in the spirit of a much-needed co-operative approach which transcended government department funding lines, the Chairman of HEFCE and the Chairman of the British Library agreed, in 2001, to set up a joint BL/HE Task Force, administered by JISC as one of the working groups of JCEI, and with RSLP at the table. And such was the synergy within this new group that, no sooner had it begun to show some results than the Funding Councils began, with JISC, the British Library and the other national libraries, to consider its more permanent formalisation as a truly UK-wide Research Libraries Strategy Group (RLSG), whose task it would be, through joint funding from all the major academic library funding agencies, to oversee the iteration of a national academic library infrastructure.

Though it is still early days for this welcome initiative - the first meeting of the new RLSG is scheduled for late May - its very existence, and the draft terms of reference for the group, give genuine grounds for optimism that a hybrid library model can ultimately be implemented for the UK, within which the DNER and all the institutions supporting the academic enterprise can ultimately play their appropriate part. Time will tell how effective such a model can be made to be, of course; but the signs are good, the pieces are all coming into place, and, on the basis of past experience, the effort will certainly not be lacking. So watch this space…

Reg Carr
King's College, London
26 March 2001