Web Magazine for Information Professionals

IMPEL2: What Is eLib Doing to Us All?

Catherine Edwards describes the IMPEL2 project, from the Supporting Studies area of the programme.

As its subtitle, 'Monitoring Organisational and Cultural Change' suggests, IMPEL2 is unlike most eLib projects as it is not developing a product or a service for the electronic library. As a Supporting Study of eLib it investigates the human implications of the electronic environment in UK Higher Education, the changing culture of organisations with the new demands of education and technology at the centre. The IMPEL2 team are based at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle.

The project is an extension of the earlier IMPEL Project (IMpact on People of Electronic Libraries), for convenience now referred to as IMPEL1. IMPEL1 was funded by HEFCE for two years from December 1993, the very date of publication of the Follett Report. Its aim was to identify key factors in the management of the networked campus through particular focus on qualified librarians. Through 6 case studies in the library and information services (LIS) of Aston, Cardiff, Central Lancashire, Cranfield, Stirling and Ulster universities, that project yielded rich qualitative data relating to issues at the institutional, strategic, management and personal levels. It was particularly successful in exploring convergence of LIS and computing services, the role of subject/information specialists and also management structures.

IMPEL2 develops the IMPEL1 approach through 4 distinct but related strands. The 4 mini-projects combine form one co-ordinated whole:

Project A continues and extends IMPEL1 in following up the impacts of the electronic library on LIS and related support staff. The original 6 sites will be re-visited plus a major research library and a Higher Education College library. The resulting longitudinal study of the extent and rate of change in the intervening two year period promises to be extremely interesting. Part of Project A will focus attention on non-library-qualified and paraprofessional staff, complementing the study of qualified staff.

Project B, where possible, will run concurrently with and in the same sites as Project A. Project B involves academic staff and student (undergraduate and postgraduate) users of electronic sources and services. The intention is to 'follow the interview trail' from LIS staff with particular subject responsibilities through to teachers of those subjects and ultimately to their students.

Project C investigates the implications for LIS of resource based learning policies, in 6 institutions which featured in an earlier study by the Oxford Centre for Staff Development. This project extends the scope of the whole study in concentrating on educational aspects.

Project D's role is to monitor the impacts of EduLib, an eLib project run jointly from the universities of Hull and Dundee, Abertay. EduLib has developed a programme of educational development for LIS staff, a response to their increased instructional role. Four contrasting sites within each of 3 consortia will be studied.

A common methodology - semi-structured interviews and focus groups, questionnaires, scrutiny of documentation, along with a common indexing structure for computerised textual analysis will enable cross-project analysis and comparability of findings.

The extensive nature of IMPEL2 is reflected in the number of staff involved: part-time input comes from the co-directors, Professor Joan Day (Head of Department of Information & Library Management) (DILM) and Graham Walton (Faculty Librarian, Health, Social Work & Education), and from supervisors Margaret Watson (Principal Lecturer, DILM) and Sandra Parker, Senior Lecturer (DILM). Full-time input comes from the co-ordinator, Catherine Edwards, the administrator, Linda Kiakides and from 3 project officers, Craig Bartle, Sally Curry and Maureen Jackson. The team has strength in the varied backgrounds of its members, ranging from teaching, to library to social science and research methodology.

Work began in November 1995. The first few months have been taken up with staff appointments, updating the literature review, producing a ProCite database of around 1,000 items, knowledge-building, development of Project and Evaluation plans and pilot work. The first case studies begin in earnest in July 1996, continuing for around 9 months and perhaps longer in the case of Project D which has a longer timescale.

As data will be gathered in around 28 sites, IMPEL2 has the opportunity to gain deep insight into the changing culture in our Higher Education institutions and their library and information services. Although the electronic library sits at the centre of the investigation, the different emphases of the 4 linked projects promise to give a full picture of the wider educational environment and within that, the role of libraries and library staff.

The stated outcomes of IMPEL2 are as follows:

Specifically, a checklist of issues which must be addressed will be built up, without, of course, any suggestion that there is 'one best way' to manage the electronic library.

The programme of seminars and workshops during late 1997 and early 1998 is likely to involve other eLib projects and promises to encourage greater awareness of the issues, and, doubtless, lively discussion.