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University of Oxford


Vision for 2009: a five-year strategic plan for the central libraries of the University of Oxford

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Mission of the Oxford University Library Services (OULS)

To provide the most effective university library service possible, in response to current and future users' needs; and to maintain and develop access to Oxford's collections as a national and international research resource. Summary of the Vision for 2009

By 2009, the OULS will be delivering a much more user-focussed and technologically sophisticated library service, designed to meet the contemporary information needs of a world-class teaching and research institution and of the wider world of scholarship generally. This will be achieved, as resources permit, by reorganising and reconfiguring the basic infrastructures (managerial, operational, physical and technical) of the centrally-funded libraries in the University, building on the integrated approach initiated in 1997, formalised in 2000, and subsequently extended.

The background: library integration

The Oxford University Library Services (OULS) was formally established, with the approval of the University, in February 2000. Governed by the Curators of the University Libraries (a committee of the University Council), and managed by the Director of University Library Services and Bodley's Librarian, the OULS is now an integrated organisation consisting of 36 centrally-funded libraries (as well as a number of library service units - see Table).The governance of the OULS is assisted by a network of widely representative functional and subject committees reporting to the Curators (and, in certain cases, jointly to relevant academic bodies), and its staff are organised in a range of functional teams and subject groups reporting to the Director and the OULS Strategy Team. [Full details are published at: http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/oxonly/lib/]

The OULS is set within a wider divisional grouping of University services - the Academic Services and University Collections (ASUC) - in the context of the organisation of the University into five academic divisions under the Planning and Resource Allocation Committee and the University Council. The strategy and resourcing of the University's central libraries are fully integrated with the planning mechanisms of the institution, and a range of formal and informal consultative mechanisms are in place to help align OULS strategy and service delivery with the plans of the academic divisions and with the needs of library users.

Forward plans are currently being made for the addition of further libraries to the OULS. Council's Review of the integrated library system (2003) recommended the acceleration of this process, and attention is being given to the review's recommendation that by 2007 all the centrally-funded University libraries should be administered within the OULS. With this in view, discussions are ongoing with those departments (mostly in the Sciences) whose libraries are not currently within the integrated system. Attention is also being given, in the context of the 2004 Institutional Audit, and in collaboration with the Committee of College Libraries (whose current Chairman is a University Libraries Curator), to the co-ordination of OULS provision with the services offered by the college libraries sector.

As a result of all these developments, the University of Oxford possesses at its centre a library service which, because of its integrated structure, is now much better placed to take a system-wide overview of the key infrastructural challenges affecting the provision of a central library service in Oxford, and to undertake the task of responding coherently and effectively to users' needs.

Table: Libraries and Services in OULS
Bodleian Japanese;
Bodleian Law;
Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and
African Studies at Rhodes House;
Cairns (Medical);
Central Bodleian;
Continuing Education;
Eastern Art;
Educational Studies;
English Faculty;
History Faculty;
Hooke Lending;
Indian Institute;
Institute for Chinese Studies;
Institute of Health Sciences;
International Development Centre (QEH);
Modern Languages Faculty;
Music Faculty;
Oriental Institute;
Plant Sciences;
Politics, International Relations and Sociology;
Preservation Services;
Radcliffe Science;
Refugee Studies
Sainsbury (Said Business School);
Service Assessment & Planning;
Social Policy and Social Work;
Staff Development and Training Service;
Systems & Electronic Resources Service;
Taylor Institution;
Theology Faculty;
Vere Harmsworth;

The collections

The collections of primary research materials within the OULS libraries are as important and as extensive as any held by higher education institutions anywhere in the world. It is an integral part of the OULS mission to develop and exploit these collections for the benefit of scholarship generally, and to retain and preserve the vast majority of them for posterity.

Strategic and financial planning

The integrated organisational context provides the necessary basis for a strategic approach to planning in the library sector and for the development of a coherent and forward-looking plan for library and information services in Oxford, based on the enhanced management and exploitation of its extraordinarily rich and diverse library collections. The OULS is actively pursuing its plans for the transformation and restructuring of library services, through the systematic redevelopment of the managerial, operational, physical and technical infrastructure of the central library system over the 5-year planning period. At the same time, and given the University's ongoing financial constraints, the OULS intends to take advantage of its integrated structure to make better use of limited resources - wherever possible without reductions in service - the principal mechanisms for such a strategy being a Staff Establishment Review (funded by the University's Restructuring and Investment Fund - RIF), the implementation of a Collection Management Framework (devised in 2002), the further refinement of an Activity Costing Review, and a multi-year Recovery Plan, designed to bring the OULS' core running costs into line with the available funds.


The managerial (staff) infrastructure

Starting from the premise that the library staff are a key resource, and building on the integrated approach, the reform of the OULS managerial infrastructure continues to be addressed, as an enabling strategy to improve the library system's performance, cost-effectiveness, and accountability. Financial transparency is being enhanced, through the introduction of new budgetary, accounting and financial planning mechanisms (the 2002 Activity Costing Review and the University-wide introduction of the OSIRIS system will form key elements in this approach); a Human Resources strategy is being developed which, within the context of the Staff Establishment Review, will include a review of senior posts, and an exploration of the scope for the removal of anomalies in gradings and conditions of service across the OULS, as well as for the potential for rationalisation and cost savings (through OMIS and other means), for the enhancement of career development, and for addressing the issues of recruitment, retention and reward of key staff (as an integral part of the University's Human Resources Strategy); staff training and development continues to be improved, with the aim of equipping staff with the necessary range of new skills; an integrated approach is being taken to the management of library collections, with the aim of reducing unplanned duplication throughout the system, and with the ultimate goal of having "the right information in the right place at the right time, and in the most appropriate format"; the staff management structures will continue to be reorganised, with a much greater emphasis on the provision of integrated subject-based services, tailored to the particular needs of user constituencies both within and beyond the University. Preservation activity is being radically reorganised; IT systems development and support is being strengthened; other administrative support functions are being streamlined, with common services developed wherever possible; and fundraising and income-generation activities are being enhanced.

The principal challenge for the library service over the planning period will be to reduce recurrent costs whilst still making progress with the overall aim to deliver a more effective and responsive service, which was the original primary aim of integration. All of these developments have as their ultimate aim the improvement of the library staff's ability to deliver a more responsive and effective service, for the direct benefit of library users.

The operational (service) infrastructure

In service terms, the integrated approach is enabling the library system's operational infrastructure to be progressively enhanced, and this process will continue. The integration of so many libraries has opened up the possibility of reorganising the delivery of many of the key public services. A more coherent and planned approach is being taken to service issues such as: opening hours; admissions procedures (in concert with the development of ISIDORE); the provision of information and library skills to support learning, teaching and research; the further extension of the subject consultants scheme; the completion and upgrade of the online catalogue of printed holdings (OLIS) and its further development in technological sophistication, with a new delivery platform; the creation of an integrated inter-library loans and electronic document delivery service; improvements to book delivery (where the successful introduction of an automated stack request system is already beginning to pay great dividends); the enhancement of access to manuscript and archival holdings by the extended provision of machine-readable records; the cost-effective development of imaging services (including digital copying on demand); the enhancement of microform reading facilities; the introduction of printing from library computers; significantly widening access to electronic information resources; and the further development of explicit service standards. By 2009, integrated operational developments in all these areas should noticeably enhance the service levels experienced by library users generally. In addition, in order to ensure that this vision of an improved library service is successfully communicated to the users of the OULS, a more effective communications strategy is being developed that will clearly articulate these new service developments to the user communities, and present a more coherent view of the OULS and its work.

The physical infrastructure

The delivery of many of these managerial and operational enhancements will depend crucially on a number of urgently needed changes in the library system's physical infrastructure. Accommodation-related issues and, especially, the ad hoc nature of library growth in Oxford, have represented the most significant single infrastructural constraint on library services in the past. They constitute the biggest single obstacle to the realisation of the service enhancement vision. For this reason, the OULS has given a great deal of attention to the formulation and implementation of a long-term accommodation strategy, which is the key enabling element underpinning the vision of a new paradigm of library service. In particular, the desperate need for the continuation, and acceleration, of the libraries' storage repository programme (focussed hitherto at Nuneham Courtenay, but now also incorporating the urgent necessity of storage provision at Osney Mead) will be pressed to a satisfactory resolution. Consideration is also being given to the inclusion of a storage area in a future phase of the Social Science Library at St.Cross.

The long-term accommodation strategy sets out in detail the planning principles governing this vital reconfiguration and expansion of the OULS library estate, as well as a number of practical proposals aimed at overcoming many of the major historic physical constraints on the library system. These proposals involve a major programme of redevelopment and of new building spanning at least 5 years, at the end of which the integrated library system should be much better positioned to deliver on the radical service enhancements envisaged. [Note: The bulk of the funding required to implement this strategy will be provided by the Libraries Capital Campaign, which was formally approved by the University in November 2001. Designed to raise 40M, and with an additional contribution of 10M from the University, the Campaign was successfully launched during 2002 (the quatercentenary year of the opening of the Bodleian Library in 1602). [Further details of the approved portfolio for the Libraries Capital Campaign can be found online at www.ouls.ox.ac.uk/campaign/]

The technical infrastructure

While the implementation of the long-term accommodation strategy will form the necessary basis for the major enhancement of the physical infrastructure of the library system (which itself is essential to maximise the service benefits arising from the integrated managerial and operational changes already underway), the systematic enhancement of the libraries' technical infrastructure forms the final element in the plans for a radically transformed library service.

While Oxford's central libraries have already accomplished a great deal in the application of digital technology to library processes and services, the OULS has recognised the need to take a strategic planning approach in this key area of library development. To this end, an e-strategy has been formulated as a vital component of the vision for the future. The strategy envisages the innovative exploitation of new and existing technologies to provide easy, seamlessly organised and user-friendly access to the expanding range of electronic information which is increasingly being made available both within and beyond the Oxford library domain. With electronic information of every conceivable kind already forming a major component of the OULS collections and services, the e-strategy has become an integral part of the core activities of the OULS, and its implementation will enable an ever-increasing range of digital material to become fully integrated, in both managerial and service terms, with the library service's more traditional world-class collections of printed and manuscript materials.

The forward plan for the OULS is therefore based on the working concept of the 'hybrid library', which is understood as "a managed combination of physical and virtual collections and information services", and which is seen as the most appropriate model for a major academic library system in which very large-scale holdings of physical materials will continue to grow and be exploited by the use of IT-based systems alongside a rapidly increasing dependence on the use of electronic information.

In specific developmental terms, the e-strategy includes the following components, many of which are already in place, underway, or planned:

* the replacement, within the planning period, of the library service's principal IT platform (the Geac system), incorporating a new library portal and, ultimately, a digital library management system;

* the development of an integrated computing environment for the OULS, and the implementation of an OULS management information strategy (consistent with other University-wide systems, including OSIRIS and ISIDORE);

* the expanded provision of electronic datasets and e-journals and of support for their use;

* technical support for developments in the online union catalogue (OLIS), in electronic document delivery, and in the use of machine-readable records for access to manuscript and archival holdings;

* the further development of the Oxford Digital Library (comprising locally-created digital content);

* the building of a standards-based hybrid library user interface (replacing OxLip), capable of enabling easier search-and-retrieval access to all the electronic information and resources available within the library system and beyond;

* the development of robust digital archiving facilities, principally through collaboration with the OUCS and the use of the University's Hierarchical File Store. (The development of enhanced archiving for the digital materials of the OULS has become a more urgent necessity as a result of the extension of Legal Deposit legislation to include non-print materials).

Taken together, all of these components will transform the depth, range and quality of the library system's service array, and will provide the University, and the wider world of scholarship, with a hybrid library and information infrastructure on a par with those of Oxford's international peers.

The vision is both innovative and ambitious. But with the necessary energy, commitment and investment, both of staff effort and of resources, it is achievable. Above all, it represents a future which the library service has to reach if it is to meet the rising expectations and information needs of the University's scholars and students. In that sense, this vision has also to be seen as a key component of the University's own ambition to maintain and enhance its world-class status in teaching and research.

March 2004