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

Navigating the rapids: strategic issues for the academic library in a time of white water change"

Presentation to the Oxford University library staff, 15 October 1996

Slide 1

I want to begin this talk by taking the opportunity to say publicly how very honoured I feel to be coming to work with you all in Oxford from January onwards. You can be sure that it took a lot to entice me away from the University of Leeds, where we're in the middle of our second major library extension in three years, where we've received the third largest amount of HEFCE 'non-formula funding' for our specialised Humanities research collections, where we're involved in four key projects under the e-Lib Programme, and where, for the past year, as Dean of Information Strategy, I've been developing a university-wide approach to the provision and use of information in teaching, learning, research and administration, as well as moving all the central academic services down the path of evolutionary convergence

So why would I want to leave all that and come to Oxford? Well, for two reasons principally. The first is because I have never been able to resist a challenge! (And if there's one word that has been dinned into my ears over the past few months by all the people who have wished me well in coming to Oxford, then it's the word 'challenging' - as though that ought to have put me off the job, rather than attracting me to it! 'Bed of nails' is another phrase that's cropped up once or twice in conversation, too! But at least nobody has yet called my new job a 'poisoned chalice' - not to my face at least!)

But the second reason why I'm delighted to be coming to Oxford is because, in terms of library resources, Oxford is quite simply the best. And when I use the term 'resources', I'm not just talking about Oxford's outstanding collections (which are, of course, second to none in the academic library world); nor am I just referring to the multi-millions that Oxford spends annually on its libraries. But I'm talking also about what it's fashionable today to call 'the human resources' that mark Oxford out as special - the many expert and dedicated staff on whose dedication and skill the reputation and effectiveness of Oxford's library services so crucially depend. It is not vile flattery when I say that I'm very happy indeed at the prospect of working with so many gifted people. I'm certain that, even against the backcloth of a really challenging information landscape, we ought to be able to achieve many important things together. I believe that there are momentous changes ahead for Oxford's libraries, and I'm excited and delighted to have been invited to preside over what comes next.

But if there's one single thing that I want you to take away from this talk today, it's a sense of my personal commitment to library staff. If it's true, as Napoleon once said, that 'an army marches on its stomach', then I'm convinced that a library system, however well endowed, only marches well because of the quality of its staff. So I tell you now that I intend to try, above all, to maintain and enhance that quality.

And, in that connection, I will be aiming to make staff development and communication two of the hallmarks of my Library Directorship in Oxford. It may amuse you to know that, at Leeds, I was able some years ago to persuade the University Senate to let me close all seven of the main libraries for an hour every Friday morning in order to make it possible for all 200 of the library staff to get together routinely for training and communication purposes. And while it may not be possible for this particular technique to be translated across directly into the Oxford situation, I just mention it to illustrate my commitment to ensuring that library staff can be given appropriate opportunities to consider and develop their work in a positive and constructive kind of way - and as part of their working week…

So what have I got to say to you today? Well, I gather from Liz Chapman that many of you tried to get the University to invite all the aspiring candidates for the Directorship to give a public presentation about their ideas for the future of the Oxford library system. In the event, the University decided against that approach. So, in many respects, I'm regarding this talk as the presentation I might have made earlier if I had been required to make it.

But I'm not so presumptuous as to think that I have all the answers to the many questions that arise about the future of library services in the Oxford context. Instead, what I want to do today is to identify what I see as the key issues that will face us here over the coming years, and to say a few words, based on my experience elsewhere, about how I see these issues being worked out. What I have to say will not be rocket science; but I hope you'll feel that the man with his hand on the tiller knows enough about the many challenges faced by academic libraries to be able to steer the Oxford ship with a certain degree of confidence…

But let me first, just for a few moments, present you with at least some of my credentials for taking on this new and important role of Director of University Services and Bodley's Librarian. Although Virgil warned against Greeks who came bearing gifts, the gift I bring to Oxford is the opportunity to share the benefit of my wide-ranging experience in three of the UK's other great academic research libraries - Manchester, Cambridge, and Leeds. That broad experience positions me well, I believe, to help the greatest academic library in the world, at a key moment in its long and distinguished history, to address positively the main strategic issues which face it in this late 20th-century.

Slide 2

So who is this 50-year old Northerner who is brave (some would say foolhardy!) enough to take on the Gargantuan task of steering the Oxford library ship for the next crucial decade?

The vastly experienced Secretary of your Libraries Board, Laurence Reynolds, who already knows me reasonably well, has rather ominously christened me (or at least my job) as Dulcibella, on the basis of this approximate acronym. And as those of you who have read Erskine Childers' spy novel The Riddle of the Sands will know, the good ship Dulcibella was a little English yacht which almost ran aground through enemy duplicity on the shifting sands of the North Frisian coast!

I'll leave you to identify for yourselves where the shifting sands and the treacherous waters may be in Oxford, and who the duplicitous enemies may prove to be! But if there is a serious analogy to be drawn between the adventures of the Dulcibella and my new post in Oxford, then I take comfort from the fact that the Dulcibella's captain was an expert sailor whose charmed life enabled him to triumph over all adversity, and whose tiny boat not only never sank, but finally came back safely to port with its difficult mission fully accomplished!

And I think I can push the analogy even further by observing that, like the Dulcibella's captain, I too have had long and valuable experience of sailing in difficult conditions. I believe I can justly claim that in the 22 years I have spent in the university libraries of Manchester, Cambridge, and Leeds, I have not simply survived many troubled waters, but have actually achieved a number of worthwhile and lasting successes. The introduction of new library services; the procurement and implementation of new automated systems; the acquisition of major collections; the planning and construction of new library buildings; the fulfilment of long-term strategic plans; and the successful achievement of fundraising targets: I've been fortunate enough to undertake and deliver all of these in the libraries where I've worked in the past, notwithstanding the ever-tightening squeeze on resources which has existed more or less throughout the whole of my library career. In terms of my experience of successful co-ordination, too - which is clearly going to be one of my major tasks in Oxford - I think I can reasonably point to my long service as Honorary Secretary of the Consortium of University Research Libraries (CURL), where I have had a good track record in persuading more than a dozen chief librarians to sing (mostly harmoniously!) from the same hymn book across the whole range of research library issues and co-operative activities…

Slide 3

But I come back, after that long preamble, to the subject of my presentation today. And, taking advantage of this pre-honeymoon period (where we're standing at the altar, but not yet actually living together!), I've changed the metaphor in the title of my talk from the previously advertised 'Riding the Tiger' to the only marginally less life-threatening 'Navigating the Rapids'. I've done this because, on reflection, I really do have the sense of being afloat on a quickening current, with many new noises coming into earshot from downstream…

Slide 4

When I was in the States recently, I heard this expression 'white water change' a number of times; and it's apparently a term coined by some American management guru to describe the general situation in the business world, where there is almost permanent and often disruptive change. And I thought it was perhaps a useful extension of my 'Navigating the Rapids' metaphor, because it's my sense that, as we move through the information revolution, so the pace of change is quickening for us all.

And, as we survey the changing landscape that is hurrying past us as we travel downstream ever more rapidly, these, I suggest, are the areas of our professional library activity which are changing in a whole variety of different ways, and at variable but increasing speeds. The environment in which we are operating within Higher Education could hardly be more different than it was, say, only 5 or 6 years ago; the impact of technology is both challenging and breathtaking; library stock now means so much more than just physical volumes on shelves; accommodation has so many more ramifications for us in a cost-conscious and increasingly digital world; users are now (rightly) so much more central to everything that we do; our services are monitored for their quality and usefulness in ways we would never have dreamed of before; in line with our institutions, we're all into strategic planning exercises in a much more routine way; our sources of funding have diversified dramatically as government funding has dwindled; and employing and managing staff has become a far more complex and time-consuming business than it ever was…

Slide 5

Now it may be that I have personally been more directly exposed than most of you to the consequences of the recent rapid changes in the Higher Education sector, because of the various national fora into which I've been drawn over the last few years in particular. But I certainly do have the sense that 'white water change' is now virtually permanent at the national level; and I see no signs of it being likely to abate. Quite the opposite in fact…

As a direct result of all this change, the policy and procedural framework in which our institutions now operate is unrecognisable from the old leisurely days of the University Grants Committee. (Does anybody but me remember the old UGC?)

Those bygone days of quinquennial planning, of the routine handing out of large 'block-grants' to universities, and of the so-called 'binary divide' which clearly separated universities and polytechnics - all these features of the Higher Education scene are now only a distant memory. And they've been replaced by ambitious, but largely unfunded, expansion plans, by single year budgeting, by new and complicated funding methodologies for teaching and research, and by competitive bidding for project or initiative funding. All of which has been accompanied by a massive dilution of the old university ethos, as a direct consequence of turning so many former colleges and polytechnics into universities in their own right.

This continuous and rapid process of change is inevitably impacting on us as major service providers within the Higher Education sector; and it leaves us no choice other than to chart all these changes, and to trim our sails according to the prevailing winds and the often contrary currents.

Our local institutions, of course, may be more or less affected by all this external change. Oxford, perhaps, with its weight of ancient tradition, and the great critical mass of its self-governing colleges, may be more insulated against these environmental pressures than most other universities. But as John Donne might have said: "No institution is an island, entire of itself". And even here in Oxford the external changes are bound to have their local repercussions. In fact, my own appointment could be seen as one particular response to the 'white water' that is threatening to engulf us; and I believe that Oxford's clear desire for a greater degree of co-ordination within its sprawling library system is a recognition of the need for the University to stay in touch with the fast-moving information landscape.

And the information landscape is certainly an area where nothing seems to stay the same for very long. Disraeli wasn't joking when he said that "in a progressive country, change is constant". And that is doubly true of the information technology domain, where the commercial rewards are so great, and where the competition is so fierce, that even the latest piece of kit is out-of-date almost as soon as you first switch it on!

I'll have a bit more to say in a few moments about the particular ways in which modern technology is impacting on our work as librarians; but just to illustrate the changes in the information landscape, let me show you a slide that was used by an American university librarian, Sheila Creth, during a recent Follett Lecture in London.

Slide 6

Your first reaction, in looking at this slide, might be to dismiss it as just a lot of jargon! And there is, undoubtedly, a lot of hype in some of these trendy phrases. But just ask yourself how many, or how few, of these terms and concepts you'd ever heard of only a year or two ago. And on the radio only this morning I heard another, when someone was talking about "Information fatigue syndrome"!

These new terms, it seems, are endless. And who knows what next year's favourite buzz-words will be? But can we ignore them entirely? Can we risk simply hoping they'll all quietly go away? I don't believe we can…

But, equally, I don't think we should necessarily see these things simply as threats. They may be challenging to us; but behind all the jargon, there are many opportunities lurking. And you can be sure of one thing at least: if we fail to spot those opportunities, then someone else will most likely come and exploit them, and we may just find that our role as librarians will be diminished, to become not much more than the fossilised guardians of the past.

And I, for one, am convinced that as librarians - as information providers - we ought to claim a much more central role in the support of the changing processes of research and scholarship. We really mustn't let our academics think of us just as the curators of the printed book (important though that single function is, and will, in my personal view, remain).

Slide 7

And this, of course, is what is driving so much of the change in our late 20th-century world: technology.

Even just in our library world, I think it's fair to say that the impact of technology has been (and will continue to be) nothing short of dramatic. And as this slide suggests, no part of our work - even the most traditional and specialised - remains exempt from this pervasive and continuing impact.

Our library housekeeping systems are continually developing. At Leeds, it's only 5 or 6 years since we bought what was then a state-of-the-art Geac system. And yet even as I speak, my systems people are assessing five bids for a replacement system which will cost us not less than half a million pounds, and which will have functional capabilities that will make our present system look positively steam-driven! Our whole sector is moving away from housekeeping systems - which simply provide a menu of in-house controls for things like bibliographic and circulation packages - towards integrated information systems capable of harnessing the wider world of digital resources, for delivery direct to the scholar's desktop.

And these newer systems are already transforming the time-honoured technical processes on which our libraries have so long been based. They are already penetrating right into the heart of everything that we do, with machine-readable cataloguing now reaching into even the most arcane of our operations. And this is happening not just in our printed books departments, but also in our manuscript and archive departments too…

You hardly need me to tell you that all this has massive implications for the development of existing library services and for the introduction of new ones. On-line finding aids, electronic document delivery, sophisticated search and retrieval mechanisms, full-text databases, and a whole range of navigational and discovery tools are coming into the picture; and serious research libraries are being increasingly expected to provide these things. So we either get on board with all this, or we risk withering on the vine!

And as the information technology develops, so we as librarians are being driven more and more towards this brave new technological world, and towards the technologists who are driving it. At Leeds, we are responding to this impact of technology by a kind of managed evolutionary convergence, between the Library and the Computing and Media Services. At Birmingham University, as you probably know, the decision has been taken to merge these academic services into a single management unit - although it has to be said that the jury is still out on the ultimate success of the 'total meltdown' approach, and the rest of us in CURL are holding our breath to see whether the full convergence of all the information-related support services can be made to work well in such a large institution. In Oxford, the way forward seems likely to be very different. But a way forward will have to be found; and we must not fail to address the opportunities which present themselves for us to enhance the services we provide across the whole institution.

Access to the developing digital library, and to the increasingly pervasive World Wide Web, is now a sine qua non for all our information systems, whatever proprietary label may be on the box, or whoever actually manages and pays for them. Technology is transforming the very nature of scholarly communication itself, as more and more of our academics embed the use of computers in their teaching and research techniques. And if we are to remain centrally relevant to their activities, we simply must develop our services to match their emerging scholarly needs.

The great unsolved problem, of course, is copyright. And in this area, the massive growth of information in digital form is only serving to muddy the already murky waters, since there is, as yet, no adequate legislation to safeguard scholarly 'fair dealing' in the electronic environment. Ad hoc licensing arrangements seem to be the preferred method of the electronic rightsholders at the moment. But as the custodians of so much copyright material in traditional formats, we in Oxford will need to be closely involved in the continuing discussions to find more appropriate ways forward. And it will be essential for us to ensure that our users can reap the benefits of electronic access, and at a price our institutions can afford.

Slide 8

Meanwhile, the adequate provision of library stock - construed in its narrowest and most traditional sense - will continue to be a major challenge for us.

And in this crucial area, we are being almost deafened by the raging debate about 'holdings' and 'access'. My own sense of that particular debate is that it's not just a question of where each individual library is going to position itself along the imaginary continuum between comprehensive local provision (at one extreme) and remote access to everything (at the other extreme). Instead, I believe that the issue is much more complex than this. For me, it's not a matter of extremes. It's not 'either holdings, or access': it's a question of 'holdings and access', and of the particular balance between them that each library will want to strike and maintain in its own local environment.

And in any case, the challenge of finding the appropriate balance between holdings and access is not particularly new, even for places like Oxford. Even with the legal deposit privilege, Oxford has never been entirely self-sufficient; and I know of no library which has ever claimed to be able to provide from locally-held stock everything that every individual reader could ever possibly want. There is a growing world of electronic information held and supplied by organisations and businesses external to our libraries; and it seems obvious to me that the only sensible way forward is for us to accept that remote access is certain to grow in importance for us all. So finding the right place along the information provision continuum is going to be our most important tasks.

And it's in that context that co-operation and resource sharing look certain to me to form an integral part of our approach. We will need to exploit the new opportunities presented by the emerging networks. We will need to seek new ways of using those networks to supplement our local holdings, and to share our own holdings with others. And that's why I'm certain that library consortia like CURL and RLG (the Research Libraries Group of North America) will become more and more important in our research support activities. That's why, for example, a number of CURL libraries are now actively involved in the JISC-funded LAMDA project, which is experimenting successfully with electronic document delivery between research libraries. That's also why a number of CURL libraries (including my own, at Leeds) are becoming involved in the RLG's SHARES international inter-lending programme. These are all part of what I believe is a growing trend, as the world's major academic research libraries seek not only to supplement their own collections but also to exploit their holdings for the wider benefit of research and scholarship.

Over and above all of this, too, is what the JISC is now calling 'The Distributed National Electronic Resource' - the DNER. As many of you will know, the Higher Education Funding Councils, through JISC, are pouring millions into populating the Joint Academic Network with electronic content. BIDS, CHEST, the Arts and Humanities Data Service, the Knowledge Gallery, the Digitisation Centre at the University of Hertfordshire, the National Data Centres at Bath, Manchester and Edinburgh, and a whole host of FIGIT-funded electronic libraries projects, are all part of this managed central provision of electronic materials and services for use by our academic communities. And we need to get into the way of thinking of this national provision as an essential part of our own local services to readers. But to do that, we will need to find ways of integrating remote access to these external information resources into our own local search and retrieval facilities. And, if we fail to do this, there is no doubt in my mind that we will become increasingly irrelevant to more and more of our users. And I haven't even mentioned the emerging challenge of the Internet!

Meanwhile, we have to continue to manage our own local resources as effectively as we possibly can. And this may well be where we will face our greatest challenges in the coming decade. For me at least, when I look across the widely distributed library holdings in Oxford, the need for a more systematic approach to collection development stands out as a major desideratum. Oxford spends a great deal on library materials; and that's undoubtedly a very good thing. But the resources, even here, are not infinite; and they are coming under very great pressure. Eliminating unplanned duplication across the library system therefore seems to me to be a really worthwhile objective as we seek to maximise the use of our increasingly hard-pressed purchasing funds.

So in order to make much more effective use of our available funds, we will need to manage and develop our collections in a much more co-ordinated way than is possible at present, by refining our acquisitions policies in a more 'corporate' way. And we will need to look much more carefully at our retention and disposal policies too. What should we keep, and why, and where? Libraries everywhere are facing these questions, of course; but they are especially relevant in a library system which has a quasi-national role, and where the issue of long-term retention is a recognised aspect of the local function. An integrated collection development framework would go a long way towards clarifying the way forward in Oxford; but such a framework might well take years to agree and implement here. And in the meantime, these issues are being addressed at consortial level, with CURL beginning to take an active interest in co-operative collection management, and with the Anderson Group now considering the recommendations of the Follett Review regarding a national approach to library support for research.

But even when we have systematically decided what to purchase and retain locally for the long-term, there remains the huge question of how we will preserve it all in perpetuity! And it seems inevitable that, for a library system like Oxford's, the issue of preservation will continue to be a major challenge. As part of the nation's distributed archive of heritage materials, in particular, Oxford faces financial, technical and logistical demands which are largely unknown to the majority of university libraries. 'Keeping the stock in good repair' is one thing; and it's what most libraries aim to do. But 'keeping it for ever' is a special challenge here, and we shall have to find ways of dealing with the ever-rising cost of preserving all this important 'stuff' for perpetuity. (And, for today at least, I don't have time to say make more than a passing reference to the looming preservation issue in respect of the long-term archiving of electronic materials. While it's not an issue that keeps me awake at night, I know that it's something that's going to pose many new managerial problems for major research libraries, and that it's not going to come cheap, on top of everything else we will need to do. I am, however, convinced that no single library will ever solve the electronic archiving issue on its own, and I seriously expect the copyright libraries and the library consortia to play a key role in addressing it co-operatively in the coming years.)

Slide 9

But of course, at the same time, our physical library accommodation is bound to come under increasing pressure also, and especially in a place like Oxford, where legal deposit material inevitably looms so large. You know as well as I do that the discredited 'Atkinson principle' of the self-renewing library still lingers in parts of the Higher Education sector; and from time to time we're all having to argue against the pervasive myth of the paperless, or virtual, library. We know very well, in the large research libraries, that we will continue, for very many years, to face the problem of finding adequate accommodation for an ever-expanding physical stock. I think it was the late Dr Brian Enright who said that "the paperless library is as likely to happen as the paperless toilet"! I certainly detect no real signs that the growth of even the average research library's physical collections is diminishing to 'steady state' or less. It is definitely not happening in Leeds; and it's my distinct impression that the accommodation issue is as acute here in Oxford as it is anywhere in the university library world.

And yet we are being subjected to far more searching questions than ever before about the economics of our use of space. Our institutions are being obliged by the Funding Councils to develop estate strategies which require them to become more cost-conscious about the economics of every kind of university space, including library accommodation. And in most universities now, internal charging mechanisms for space are being considered and implemented. This is no bad thing in itself, of course; but the question is: "What will it mean for us, as managers of very large amounts of institutional accommodation"? And how will we find arguments to justify the long-term occupation of so many expensive square metres of space as the genuine electronic alternatives emerge? The jury is still out on the real economics of the eventual electronic alternatives; but we will definitely need to have our arguments well marshalled as these new debates about library 'space' develop. I'm as certain as it's possible to be that nobody in the future will unquestioningly provide us with vast sums of cash to provide the ever-expanding acres of floor-space that we'll still need.

Slide 10

Which brings me on neatly to another of the really big issues of the late 20th century for all librarians: users! Because, in case you hadn't noticed, most academic libraries have at least one thing in common, and that's a growing, and diversifying, and increasingly demanding body of users. Quite contrary to the incorrect assumption that the advent of computerised information is leading to a reduction in library use, our services, in academic libraries at least, have never been in such demand. In fact, in a talk I gave over four years ago about trends in academic libraries, I speculated that the number of registered library users in the University of Leeds might grow by the year 2000 by as much as 36%, from 22,000 to 30,000. And yet today, only half-way through that planning period, we have already reached almost 33,000! Where we manage to put them all, I have no idea. I only know that at certain times of the year, we have students sitting reading in the staircases of the Edward Boyle Library!

And it isn't simply more of the same, either. These library users are no longer just the traditional 18-year olds, spending three years after A-level prior to embarking on the world of work for the first time. Mature students; lifelong learners; part-timers; distance learners; work-based learners; and affiliated students from local colleges - all these are now part of the diversifying cohort of users that we are called upon to serve.

And the expectations that all these users bring are now very different from what they used to be. Almost all of our users are computer-literate; they are insistent on their 'rights'; they increasingly pay their own way through university, and they expect a 'quality return' for their investment; they are often self-motivated learners, and they think of us increasingly as 'service units', and of themselves as 'customers'. They will (and do) complain articulately if they do not get what they want. And, in common with all other service providers, we are (quite rightly) having to put them routinely at the forefront of our service planning. Library users are, after all, the raison d'être of our professional existence, and we do well to remember that without them we would have no viable economic basis for many of our activities…

And the teaching and learning methods which so many of our users are themselves now familiar with are significantly different from those with which we ourselves were brought up and educated. Our undergraduates are now 'the GCSE generation': their education has been project-based, and largely self-directed; they need to work much more often in groups; and their courses are increasingly modular, with different rhythms of resource and support needs. So we can no longer expect to provide for them in the same old ways; and we need to learn new skills to deal with all this new diversity…

As managers, too, we are having to juggle with a whole new set of conflicting priorities. As our resources diminish and come under new pressures, there are many more difficult decisions for us to make about where our efforts should be directed as we strive to be 'all things to all users' in a whole raft of other ways.

Slide 11

And as if these new pressures were not enough to cope with on their own, we are also being subjected to objective, and often intrusive, external scrutiny. The academic departments we serve are themselves being routinely assessed and evaluated on the basis of their teaching and research performance. And, whatever we may think about the validity of the rationale behind these external review processes, this 'assessment culture' is reaching more and more into our world also. Our relevance and our performance are beginning to be directly monitored and critically scrutinised; and there is every reason to expect that such scrutiny will eventually be linked more directly to our funding levels.

And a key part of the assessments which are being made of our services is the effectiveness with which we respond (or not!) to our users' needs, with searching questions being raised about our 'fitness' for the purposes for which we are deemed to exist. "What are our key performance indicators?"; "What do they have to say about our effectiveness?" Insistent and searching questions such as this mean that we are having to formulate the appropriate measures by which others can judge the quality of our service.

And here the growing importance of our public relations comes into play. What messages, if any, are we giving out to our local community of users about what they may reasonably expect of us, and about what we are trying to do for them, in response to their needs, both expressed and unexpressed? I have no doubt at all that our PR and publicity mechanisms will need to be very well thought out and systematically deployed in order to ensure that we carry our users along with us.

Slide 12 And, of course, all this complex web of issues that now face the academic research library will test our ability to plan and prioritise our ongoing work and directions strategically - which, for me at least, means no more than being systematic and professional about the way we set about doing what we need to do in the light of the environmental factors around us.

No matter how large or small our library system may be, it is more than ever before necessary for us to have as clear a view as possible of our mission and purpose. Given all the increasing pressure on our resources, and the diversifying demands and expectations of our users, we simply have to state, much more explicitly than ever before, the purpose of our existence, and the specific goals of our work and service. If we are primarily supporting teaching and learning, then we need to make that clear, to ourselves and to our users. Or, if we are providing support principally for research, then we need to formulate our aims and objectives accordingly, in order to help us to focus and target our resources as effectively as possible.

And when we've made our aims explicit, we need to develop policies which match those aims. And we need to translate these policies systematically into appropriate resource allocation methodologies, with built-in mechanisms by which our performance against our stated objectives can be objectively assessed, on an ongoing basis. And that routine cycle of assessment should be there to help us to identify the priorities which we need to address, and to match those priorities against our declared objectives, making whatever budgetary and other decisions are strategically necessary to enable us to fulfil our particular purpose.

And, within whatever planning cycle we choose to adopt, we need to keep up to speed with the particular strategic expectations of our parent bodies, to liaise continuously with other key parts of our institutions, and to make connections to other relevant external organisations, and especially those which may be able to help us supplement our local provision for the benefit of our primary constituency of users. And our strategic planning - however we undertake it - must be geared to making all those activities clear and explicit to those who fund us.

Slide 13 But if we are going to be able to function properly as effective gateways to information, to meet the needs of our own users, and to take maximum advantage of all the opportunities which the changing information landscape is providing, then we are going to have to harness and exploit all the funding resources at our disposal, by making every penny count.

And in order to do this, we will need to operate in a much more business-like way than ever before. (And I say 'business-like', not because I believe that libraries are businesses in the everyday sense, but because it's obvious that our local funders, and our national funding bodies, and even our donors (where we have them), are becoming more and more demanding about our use of the funds they give us, and about our routine accountability for the financial support that we receive. The cases that we make for funds are going to have to become sharper and more convincing; we will have to compete more fiercely for the monies that used to come to us on a plate; and we will need to look increasingly to new sources of funding as our activities grow and diversify. And all this will demand more creativity, more hard work, more accountability and, above all, more imagination.

There's a real threat that, if we simply sit on our hands and expect to continue to receive the same old meal ticket, the funds we need to do our work will go elsewhere. We've surely lived long enough already with government funding cutbacks to know that 'the death of a thousand cuts' - otherwise known euphemistically as 'productivity gains' - will be our lot if we take no compensatory steps to increase our income by different and newer means. Our productivity is, in my view, already quite remarkable in present circumstances; but if we're going to achieve even more, then we'll need to raise funds and generate income from more external sources, wherever we can possibly find them. Always remembering, of course, that those who supply us with such resources are certain to insist that we account in ever-increasing detail for our use of them. (In fact, I sometimes think that our library schools should begin to include a financial management module in today's library training curriculum!)

Slide 14 And that brings me back, more or less, to where I began this presentation: to every library's most important resource - its staff.

What I've tried to do today is to identify those areas of our professional landscape that seem to me to be in the greatest state of flux, and therefore to be posing the greatest challenges to us going forward. But it's also very clear to me that if our libraries are to navigate successfully through all of this 'white water' change, then their ability to do so will depend crucially on the extent to which the library staff themselves are 'on board' with all that will be required of them going forward.

And in particular, I believe, the key factor will be the degree to which our staff can demonstrate openness to change, and flexibility in their approach to their work. Our staffing structures will need to become flatter and less hierarchical, with a more explicit 'teamwork' flavour colouring the way we tackle major tasks, and an acceptance that the new 'project-based' culture looks likely to stay with us, for the foreseeable future at least.

Meaningful staff appraisal, too, will need to be used much more effectively as a prelude to appropriate training (or re-training); and much more attention and effort will need to be put into staff development, so that strengths and weaknesses can be identified, and so that staff skills can be deployed in areas where they are most needed, and matched, wherever possible, to our forward work-plans and, especially, to our users' needs.

I don't specially like the phrase 'human resource management' - and I'm not even sure that I like 'personnel management' any better! But there is a sense in which we all have much to gain, personally, from being able to develop new skills which broaden our experience and which give us greater job-satisfaction, and from being given new opportunities to show what we can do. We can't all be 'upwardly mobile', of course; but an organisation with staff who are flexible and willing enough to look for personal and professional improvement will obviously be better placed to succeed in a fast-changing world than one whose staff are firmly wedded to earlier ways of doing things. And if the personal and professional needs of the staff in such an organisation can be effectively and sensitively handled - no mean feat in any large organisation which already has a long and successful history - then not only will the organisation's own prospects of continuing success be more rosy, but the morale of the staff should ultimately become a kind of barometer of the effectiveness of the organisation itself.

And so, as we navigate the rapids together; as we face all the challenges of our changing world; and as we seek, not just to remain relevant to our diverse communities of users, but also to enhance the services we are able to provide for them, I want to leave you with two very different, but both very apposite quotations about the forces of change that are at work in our world, since change has been one of the major themes of this presentation today.

And what's particularly interesting about these two passages is their source, which I think you may find surprising. Both quotations remind us, also, that change is not always very comfortable for any of us…

Slide 15 So here's the first quotation; and it's about the force of technological change in our modern world:

"…the social implications of the development of the Information Superhighway need to be addressed with great care. Better access to information undoubtedly will change working practices…It can be expected to reinforce the trend towards home-working…The development of the Information Superhighway has been likened, in the degree of upheaval it will cause, to the Industrial Revolution; it must be borne in mind that [its] development will proceed a great deal more rapidly than was the case with the Industrial Revolution."

And the source of the quotation? These are the words of Dr Peter North, Oxford's own Vice-Chancellor, when providing evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology earlier this year.

Slide 16

And here's the second quotation. Again, it's about the issue of change, but seen this time at a much more general level:

"Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better…"

And the source of this quotation? It's even more surprising, perhaps, than the first one. It comes from the ecclesiastical writings of the 16th-century 'Divine', Richard Hooker! And it just makes me wonder which particular 'rapids' Dr Hooker had been trying to navigate! Perhaps there really is nothing new under the sun, after all. But it only makes me all the more committed to working all these things out with you in Oxford in the months and years to come, as we navigate our own white water rapids together…

Reg Carr
15 October 1996