Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Editorial Introduction to Issue 46: Ten Years of Pathfinding

John MacColl, Lorcan Dempsey and John Kirriemuir reflect in turn on the rationale and history of the founding of Ariadne.

Ten Years of Pathfinding

The Follett Report [1] which started everything off, appeared in December 1993. When the subsequent JISC call for proposals for electronic library project activity appeared in the summer of 1994, I was only a few months into my new post as a Depute Librarian at Britain’s newest (and probably smallest) university, the University of Abertay Dundee. We were keen to let people know we existed, and anxious to be associated with e-library developments, and so we formulated a proposal for a parallel print and Web newsletter for the emerging Programme, soon to be called eLib.

My eldest son was six at the time, and one of his favourite books was The Orchard Book of Greek Myths. I remember, as I struggled to think of a name for our proposed newsletter, fetching the book from his bookshelf in order to refresh my memory of the Ariadne story - the unjust reward of abandonment for her cleverness in helping Theseus out of the labyrinth with her thread only assuaged in the final paragraph when Theseus meets his own unhappy fate. The notion of the Internet as a labyrinth was a common one at that time, and we librarians fretted about how difficult it could be to find exactly what you were looking for on the Internet, even as we were aware of the beginnings of the flight of content to networked digital form. Those were the early days of the Web, and although search engines existed (but not Google, at that point), today’s notion of everyone and everything having a Web presence was still far off. As a community dedicated to discovery, Ariadne seemed an appropriate symbol for us to adopt as we moved our users and our content onto the net. She was also an appropriate symbol for an electronic library programme which sought to guide the profession towards the future we partly inhabit now, where everyone can be a Web publisher, content is found around every bend (though sometimes behind a locked door), and the Minotaur may be a rampaging publisher, software house, or ad-supported search engine, depending on where we are trying to go.

Ten years and 46 issues later, I think it is fair to assume that Ariadne has been a success. Many people have been associated with that success. The original ‘Gang of Four’ consisted of John Kirriemuir and Lorcan Dempsey at UKOLN, and Alison Kilgour and me at Abertay. John departed after 10 issues to be followed by a succession of Web Editors at UKOLN - Isobel Stark, Philip Hunter, Bernadette Daly and (at least for one issue), Marieke Guy (née Napier). Brian Kelly also provided strong support. At Abertay, Alison and I were helped over the print production for the first three years by Terry Burns and Alison Ure. Lyndon Pugh became print editor for the third year of the parallel publication (which was granted us by an eLib funding extension), and he and I tried our best to keep the print version going beyond that year, but unfortunately we couldn’t find the means to fund it, and moving to a subscription basis for a publication which was already free on the Web was simply too risky a strategy. We had to abandon Ariadne’s printed expression, therefore, but she shrugged it off without any damage to her essential spirit, and carried on as before. UKOLN has done a great job in making the Web version a core part of its business, and I am grateful to Liz Lyon, its current Director, for maintaining the focus. Special thanks are due also to Philip Hunter, whose stint as editor lasted a record-breaking five and a half years, and the present incumbent, Richard Waller, who has now been doing the job excellently for two and a half. I would also like to thank Lorcan for contributing a huge range of interests and a network of many important thinkers, both of which helped Ariadne to be taken seriously by interested professionals across the world right from the outset.

Ariadne is ten years old, and she is still the best guide I know to what is going on in the digital library world. There appears to be no suggestion of abandonment upon her horizon at the present time, and I hope she continues to delight for many years to come.


  1. Joint Funding Council’s Libraries Review Group: Report (The Follett Report) http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/services/papers/follett/report/

Author Details

John MacColl
Head, Digital Library Division
Edinburgh University Library

Email: john.maccoll@ed.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.lib.ed.ac.uk/

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The Ariadne Decade

Ariadne first appeared in Web and print formats. A high-quality magazine-style publication appeared on people’s desks, and an extended version appeared on the Web. It met two needs: it provided both a general update on the progress of the eLib programme and related national information services, and a forum for reflection and discussion about changing times. It was an important community-building tool.

In the intervening years, Ariadne has been an important venue. The benefits of having an open, Web-based publication like this are enormous: articles can be shared with a URL and they are part of google-space. Ariadne has connected people across projects and institutions, and has extended the discussion internationally.

Ariadne has been kept going by the efforts of successive editors, often working on other projects as well. They are named above, and have made Ariadne consistently compelling with their enthusiasm and passion.

The changes we face at the end of the Ariadne decade are similar to those we anticipated at the beginning. Then, we were about to experience the convergence of the Web and broad-based connectivity which has so changed our information, research and learning landscape. We are now seeing the emergence of the programmable Web and the continuing reshaping of research and learning experiences in a shared network space.

As UKOLN and its funders plan for the next decade of Ariadne, it would be great to know that it will have a secure and expanded role to help us understand and discuss those changes. It is time to consider again what the role of a community-building tool like this is, and to consider what resource is needed to support it as a vital part of the shared resource of UK research, learning and information support.

Author Details

Lorcan Dempsey
VP Research & Chief Strategist

Email: dempseyl@oclc.org
Web site: http://orweblog.oclc.org

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Bright Young Things

Getting Started

Ariadne was a project within the eLib [1] Programme and quickly became a prime channel for publicising the progress and outcomes of other eLib projects. Consequently, Ariadne and eLib were inextricably linked throughout the lifetime of the programme.

I was appointed web editor of Ariadne, with Lorcan Dempsey (Director of UKOLN) [2] as my line manager. In 1995, Web or e-journals were thin on the ground, as were standards, guidelines, and many other frameworks now commonplace. We started with, literally, a blank sheet (and an empty Web site), and a remit to report on eLib projects.

The launch, in particular, was problematic. Many projects had nothing - yet - to report. Some could find no one to write for Ariadne, as the appallingly slow procedures for hiring people within universities resulted in initial staffing problems for many projects. Mechanisms for exchanging content between the print and Web versions had to be invented. 48 hours before the launch, only three pages of the Web version of issue 1 existed. At this point, builders in the room above drilled through water pipes. As it happened, water cascading down the wall just behind the PC and monitor was useful, as it focused the mind on completing the issue, having something to launch in front of an audience, and avoiding being electrocuted.

Ariadne relied heavily on content generated by other people, especially those working on eLib projects. Obtaining content rapidly became easier. With Chris Rusbridge [3] appointed Director of eLib, a strong emphasis was placed on projects publicising their successes, and also their problems, failures and lessons that could benefit the wider community. Projects were regularly reminded that raising their profile would help in securing their continuation or extension through the JISC or other funding streams. The result was that eLib aggressively publicised its progress, content, services and achievements like no UK digital library programme before or, arguably, since.

And so content arrived on the Ariadne editors’ desks. By the fourth issue, it was gushing in, and by just issue 5 of the Web version, the contents page listed 54 items (compared to 21 in issue 1). Mechanisms for managing the flow, content scheduling and timetabling had to be put in place. However, by this time various patterns and trends among the articles being submitted were becoming apparent; one such trend concerned the demographic of the authors.

The Emergence of ‘Bright Young Things’

We soon noticed a trend emerging in many of the staff contributing content to Ariadne. They tended to be young, often going straight from library school to work on an eLib project. They also tended to be bright, not just intellectually but in attitude and even attire.

Some of these people were keen to write for Ariadne. Others were pushed into it, as their project manager was often too busy, and their head librarian was shuttling between international conferences. These young enthusiasts were spread thinly across the wide range of projects and programme areas. However, through eLib’s many workshops and conferences, they were regularly brought together to share ideas, experiences and information. A sense of ‘community’ emerged; after several days of meeting, swapping anecdotes and socialising, you could go back to your institution, confidence bolstered by knowing that there were similar people, doing similar things, in other libraries. They, as individuals, were not alone.

The Bright Young Things (BYTs) had arrived.

BYTs and the Library Schools

BYTs tended to be recently out of library schools clutching MAs or MScs in Librarianship or Information Science. Certainly at Sheffield [4] in the early- to mid-1990s, the MA courses emphasised a more traditional range of library skills, while the MSc course increasingly focused on technology-driven information retrieval and manipulation.

In the early 1990s, I was a researcher in the library school in Sheffield, involved in developing and tutoring a number of courses to supplement my income. One such course was ‘Cataloguing in the Electronic Age’, an experimental notion taught by Nigel Ford and myself [5]. The students took to the course with almost frightening enthusiasm. Many had an aptitude and keenness for grappling with digital information technologies and the issues they threw up. It was clear that eLib, which began the next year, had arrived at the right time for students such as these; indeed, many of that year’s group from Sheffield eventually found themselves working on eLib projects. From the ‘Cataloguing in the Electronic Age’ course alone, six students would eventually write articles for Ariadne over the next few years.

The relationship between the library schools and eLib worked in both ways. The former supplied the latter with new staff, and several of the projects funded by eLib were based within the library schools. Though (perhaps oddly) we never did a feature explicitly on the library schools, the tightly bound relationship between their presence and electronic library services in UK Higher Education is obvious in the authorship and content of many articles across all ten years of Ariadne.

Cuckoos and Monkeys

Now qualified and employed by eLib projects, BYTs did not always have it easy. Many projects were based within academic libraries, a situation not always enthusiastically embraced by all other staff. One BYT and frequent contributor to Ariadne described feeling that his project was perceived as a ‘cuckoo in the nest’. However, the energy of youth, a belief in what they were doing, and the community fostered by the eLib programme office helped build the confidence of many BYTs. They became adept at justifying their project to the more cynical or change-resistant staff in their institution.

Producing parallel Web and print versions of Ariadne was a canny move that ‘covered all bases’. From the perspective of cultural change, the dual-delivery model made Ariadne difficult to ignore. Library staff with Luddite tendencies could ignore the Internet. However, it was impossible to escape all mention of eLib, as the sanctuary of the staff common room often contained the print version of Ariadne. On principle, BYTs in several university libraries ensured that these print copies remained prominently on display.

As an Ariadne ‘roving reporter’, I attended a wide variety of public and academic library and information science events. The Internet was not welcomed with open arms, despite the likes of Brian Kelly evangelising about its usefulness. Even in 1995 and early 1996, speakers would query whether online services, or the Internet, should play a role in academic libraries, and even whether such things should be allowed inside the building.

However, BYTs were often unafraid to counter this argument vocally, pointing out that such services were now a necessity and not a luxury, and that there was an increasing expectation of their availability. Crucially, BYTs were not afraid to query long-established, or traditional, principles within the library sector: ‘Why do we still do it this way, especially as it’s easier to do it online?’. By the end of 1996 the argument was largely won; debate regarding the use of online digital services, resources and content shifted from ‘Should we?’ to ‘How should we?’.

Where Art Thou, Now?

What happened to the BYTs who contributed so much to eLib projects (and Ariadne), and helped to change the culture in the UK academic library sector? Many eLib project officers still work in university libraries, as directors, service managers and in other ranks of management. What I wrote at the end of 1998 still holds true, seven years later:

eLib projects have directly employed several hundred people, and indirectly several hundred more. Many of these people now work in useful positions in museums, universities, colleges, publishers and other organisations, with the skills, contacts and knowledge gained through their eLib days.’ [6]

Alumni boards, Google searches, and existing networks of contacts reveal that the BYTs have moved - successfully - into many other industries. Aeronautics, engineering, the medical sector, the military, video games, the arts, farming and fishing; ex-eLib BYTs are employed in these sectors in roles involving IT and digital information management.

Several ex-BYTs who have remained in libraries speak of the increasing need to justify the services of their library against a variety of online services, especially Google. In this regard, the skills they learnt, and thick skins they developed as ‘cuckoos,’ are becoming useful again.

For the future: library schools are still producing BYTs, who will gain employment on new and existing digital library services and projects. And it is here where the web version of Ariadne is still an essential component of the sector. New developments, projects, standards, content, services and resources need publicising, to raise awareness amongst BYTs and others. BYTs can ‘cut their teeth’ on writing about their service or project in Ariadne, helping to raise their personal profile and gain some authoring experience before tackling peer-reviewed papers as part of the next RAE.

Epilogue: ‘Cultural Change’ - Did It?

So did eLib (and, with it, Ariadne) cause the prevailing culture to change? The loftiest goal of eLib was ironically the hardest to measure, which led to much debate, research [7] and conjecture [6]. However, there was clear evidence that some things did change:

Would these changes have happened without eLib? Possibly, due to the awareness of the technology and the changes in other countries. But would they have happened to such an extent, and so rapidly? Unlikely.

As a concluding point, eLib cost roughly 20 million pounds; even allowing for inflation, this pales into insignificance compared with a number of national digitisation, information access and management initiatives over the last decade. Considering the number of skills generated by the programme, the quantity of content and services that are still available, and the influence on (and cultural change within) the academic, library and publishing sectors, eLib arguably exceeded all other similar initiatives in terms of value for money.


  1. eLib: The Electronic Libraries Programme
  2. Lorcan Dempsey: portrait. From Lorcan Dempsey’s Weblog, 21 October 2005.
  3. Chris Rusbridge becomes Director of the Digital Curation Centre. Edinburgh BITS, April 2005.
  4. Alumni of Library School students (and other people) from the Department of Information Studies at the University of Sheffield.
  5. Kirriemuir, J., Ford, N., “Cataloguing in the Electronic Age: future librarians’ cataloguing of Internet Resources”, Vine, 99 June 1995, p.55-60. Abstract at:
  6. Kirriemuir, J., “eLib: Was it good for you?“, Ariadne 18, December 1998
  7. Davies, C., Scammell, A., Hall, M., “eLib: Changing the Lightbulb - er, the Culture”, Ariadne 10, July 1997
  8. Resource Discovery Network

Author Details

John Kirriemuir
Outer Hebrides

Email: john at silversprite.com
Web site: http://www.silversprite.com/

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A Word of Thanks

You may have noticed a change or two in Ariadne and there will be more. I would like to take this opportunity to thank John MacColl and Lorcan Dempsey for the unstinting support they have given as chief editors of this special issue, a project which began many months ago. Their advice and the input they have devoted to this decennial issue has been invaluable. I would like to thank all the current authors for their enthusiasm and above all, time.

The editor advises:

In addition to the specially commissioned main articles we offer, as usual, our At the Event section, and reviews on a slightly broader spectrum of topics than is usual to reflect the broader approach the decennial issue is taking generally. We are also pleased to welcome a further addition by Patrick Lauke to our Get Tooled Up section. In addition of course we provide our customary selection of news and events.

I hope you will enjoy Decennial Issue 46.

Author Details

Richard Waller
Ariadne Editor

Email: ariadne@ukoln.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/

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