Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Delivering the Electronic Library: The ARIADNE Reader

John MacColl on the new ARIADNE Reader.

The ARIADNE Project was born in September 1995, and the first meeting of the participants from the two partner sites of Abertay Dundee and UKOLN took place in a restaurant after a one-day meeting at the Library Association, in the couple of hours between the Dundee editors leaving the meeting and having to leave for the overnight train from King’s Cross. In our time-limited discussion, we drafted out a shape for the print and web versions of ARIADNE, defining regular feature titles and listing ideas and contacts to be pursued. The pressure was on immediately. We had three months to produce the first issue, which was launched in January 1996 at the University of North London, at a launch party attended by Professor Sir Brian Follett. Although the following three years saw the pressure relent to some extent, we never quite got away from the rushed meetings, often piggy-backed onto other events, which made a consortium based upon two distant sites develop quickly into one based primarily upon an active and successful virtual relationship.

Both forms of ARIADNE established themselves quickly. We called it a ‘parallel publication’, but it was from the beginning really a single publication which appeared in two complementary formats. The budget generously provided by JISC through the Electronic Libraries Programme could accommodate only 12 glossy printed pages for each bi-monthly issue, and therefore the web version became the ‘superset’, in which we published full-length articles which frequently had to be radically edited to fit the print version, together with articles for which the print version had no space, including a proportion of technical pieces which soon gained an enthusiastic readership among web site developers in libraries and information services in the UK and beyond – a readership which continues today. The web version of ARIADNE has earned itself a distinguished place in the world of library web publications, and one which we hope will be maintained despite the schedule shift from bi-monthly to quarterly publication. We are grateful to JISC for its continued funding of the web version of the publication.

The print version sought consciously to look different from other academic library and information journals, going for a glossy, multi-coloured approach, its distinctive appearance owing much to the wonderful illustrations of BiL Sedgwick. While its length suggested ‘newsletter’ (and allowed it very easily to be picked up in staff rooms and slid into briefcases for reading on the train), its style suggested ‘magazine’, and the early issues included magazine touches such as a regular column by poet John Burnside, a cartoon, a ‘Sideline’ column offering off-guard views of professional life in librarianship and information work, and a poem culled from an Internet poetry source. Over the life of the project, these elements lost the battle with the overwhelming mass of content competing for appearance in the pages of ARIADNE, only the regular cartoon by Malcolm Campbell surviving. This may have been regrettable, but we had to keep reminding ourselves that ARIADNE was a project as well as a publication, and therefore had to remain open to change and the lessons of formative evaluation.

Obtaining content was never a problem. The eLib Programme furnished it in plenty, and our problems lay more in what to exclude, particularly with a view to balancing eLib project coverage with other initiatives happening in the UK and elsewhere. We also wanted opinion pieces, seeking the views of eminent professionals upon the massive change being experienced by their organisations and sectors. We strove also to give some space to those with reservations about the wholesale flight of information to the net. ARIADNE was a vehicle for debate as well as description, and we took a disciplined approach to promotion, limiting self-description of projects to summary form, in the knowledge that eLib had other routes for publishing project reports.

ARIADNE was well-supported by eLib. We were quickly awarded additional funding to increase the number of printed copies per issue, and were granted a third, additional year of funding which allowed the publication to appear in both its forms until the end of 1998. It continues now in web-only form, but we felt that the publication of a final printed item, this reader, would be an appropriate way of reminding the HE library and information community of the quality which the full print and web ARIADNE attracted as it kept pace with the developing eLib programme. Much of the material published by the magazine deserves re-presentation. Although all of the items gathered in this reader exist, at least in similar form, on the web at www.ariadne.ac.uk, they appear here as an edited subset, packaged for a purpose, rather analogous to the emerging role of library and information professionals in an age of digital information. Our profession, now responsible for establishing a national resource discovery network, no longer simply provides, but now designs gateways, by sifting and resifting, presenting and re-presenting, like jewellers polishing stones from which our customers will make their choices. In the metaphorical confusion, clear in ARIADNE, created by the need to liken the Internet to something recognisable, it may be appropriate looking back over four years to describe it as a very rapid geological age which has deposited layers of rock-like information, mined by our crawlers and robots, from which we pick out the rough jewels and refine them for discerning eyes.

We would like to thank many people for their efforts in making the ARIADNE project successful. Lyndon Pugh took over the Managing Editor’s role from John MacColl for the third year, and is responsible for the careful selection of articles published in this reader. Gratitude is due to those who laboured directly on the publication – John Kirriemuir, Alison Kilgour, Terry Burns, Isobel Stark, Alison Ure and Brian Kelly, not to mention Philip Hunter and Bernadette Daly who continue as ARIADNE editors. The Project Board, chaired by Sheila Corrall and consisting of Dave Cook, Terry Hanson and Chris Pinder as well as Lyndon Pugh and the two of us, provided excellent advice and guidance throughout the lifetime of the project. We benefited from a very strong Editorial Board, and particular mention must be made of the efforts of Alison McNab, who organised the web site reviews section. Thanks are also due to the universities which hosted ARIADNE – Abertay and Bath, and to Edinburgh, which has been home to John MacColl over the final few months of the project’s life.

With the publication of this reader we therefore wrap up ARIADNE as a ‘parallel publication’. The project evaluation, conducted by the Department of Information and Library Studies at the University of Aberystwyth, considered that we had met our aims and objectives in general, and had produced a publication in which high editorial standards were maintained from the outset, which appeared on schedule, and which had built up an enthusiastic readership. Despite this, it has not been possible to sustain both forms of the publication, in a climate in which print journal publication is a very difficult financial undertaking, and the hybrid funding model which works in the US for a publication such as Educom Review does not at present appear to be achievable.

We have arranged our selection thematically, rather than chronologically, and have ignored any distinctions between the origins, whether in print or web form. For obvious reasons, we have tried to choose durable pieces. Four years is a long time in JISC history, let alone Internet history. Some of the references – such as Derek Law’s mention of ISSC – now seem to belong to the very distant past, although his article on MANs is still relevant as the People’s Network is created. Several authors mention the pilot site licensing initiative, providing an interesting tracking perspective upon an idea which blossomed and developed into a successful and significant landmark both in scholarly publication delivery and ‘joined up’ public and private service provision. Other articles still feel hot off the press, such as Walter Scales’ admirable piece on web site design. Others again suggest aspirations which may still be outstanding. Did Lynne Brindley’s wish of three years ago for better evaluation of national data services ever come to pass?

We believe this reader provides a fascinating record of a period of accelerated change in the field of library and information work in higher education largely, but not exclusively, inspired by eLib. We hope that all of the major initiatives of the last few years are mentioned – e-journals, national site licensing, e-reserves, e-archiving, MANs, convergence, new roles – and the standards and languages in development underneath them, together with the views of those who question their benefits. Some strong themes emerge across the selection. It is heartening to note that as a profession we consider that the human, learning and organisational issues are always more important than the technology – and we have strong reservations about the endless upgrade cycle which consumes our IT budgets just as much as journal publisher prices consume our materials budgets. Faustian bargains make us uncomfortable even as digital technology promises to set our library services free from their old servitude to manual and pedestrian navigation of warehouses of print.

Producing ARIADNE was enjoyable and fulfilling. In assembling this testimony to the skills and ingenuity of the designers of the electronic library age and the quality of thought of those who participate in and administer it, we hope that our expanding profession will continue to value quality publications, both in print and on the web, which provide awareness and analysis of the changing professional world they live in.

Author Details


John MacColl

Lorcan Dempsey
August 1999