Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Delivering Digital Services: A Handbook for Public Libraries and Learning Centres

Towards the end of the Pantomime season, Bruce Royan finds a golden egg among the goose droppings.

There is no shortage of guides to the delivery of e-services in learning centres, although often their emphasis is on academic rather than local authority institutions [1]. In the public library field, it could be argued that more than enough journal articles and monographs on the topic have already been churned out in the 8 years since the publication of New Library: the People's Network [2]. Is there really room on the shelves for one more?

Alan Poulter and David McMenemy have been particularly industrious over the past year, publishing (with Debra Hiom) a substantial companion to the Internet [3], as well as this current handbook. In this reviewer's opinion, their labour has not been in vain: this is a useful, workmanlike introduction to the topic, with enough substance to make it worth the practitioner's while to keep it by them for further reference.

The book opens with a clear overview of the policy and legal framework: the role of the public library in the 21st century, and issues of accessibility, copyright and data protection. It then discusses a range of front-line issues, including the importance of building on ICT skills, and the role of libraries in supporting e-government. Finally it provides some simple recipes for content creation, covering web and intranet design, XML, portal construction and digitisation for community libraries. Each chapter has been put together with the aid of a range of appropriate experts (Paul F Burton, Sandie King, Paul Anderson, Margaret Houston, Liz McGettigan and the delightfully named Sara O'Loan). That all the contributors are based in Scotland does not detract from the book's relevance to every public library service in the United Kingdom.

I was at times a little uncertain about the target audience for this book. For example, the chapter on 'The importance of building on ICT skills' contained, not the expected management-level argument on how important it was to take the ICT competencies of library staff beyond the level of the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL), but a set of 22 activities to improve the competencies of the front line practitioner, from advanced search strategy to backing up data.

The book contains over 50 such exercises, and these are supported by a range of materials on the accompanying Web site [4]. These activities actually constitute a useful resource in their own right, and it is a pity that they have not been given more prominence in the preliminary pages, for easier access by the learner. As it is, restarting the numbering of the activities at the start of each chapter does not assist easy identification, especially as Chapter 5 contains two Activity 13s (one on Java, and the other on the quite distinct Javascript).

Apart from this omission, the prelims and end-matter are helpfully constructed. The contents pages supply a compelling overview of the argument of the whole work, while each chapter concludes with helpful and appropriate references. The index is accurate and fairly comprehensive (though in a book with such an obviously Scottish provenance, it was surprising to encounter no entries for Am Baile, Resources for Learning in Scotland, or SCRAN).

£39.95 is a lot to pay for 184 pages, even if they are as handsomely bound and clearly presented as this book undoubtedly is. The subtitle of the work is 'a handbook for public libraries and learning centres', and I can imagine it taking its place on the staff reference shelves, but the emphasis on practical exercises makes it read more like a student text. I would see it as having a useful role in both undergraduate teaching and continuous professional development.


  1. Levy, Philippa and Roberts, Sue (eds) "Developing the New Learning Environment: the changing role of the academic librarian"
    Facet Publishing, October 2005; 256 pages hardback; ISBN 1-85604-530-7
  2. New Library: the People's Network
    http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/services/lic/newlibrary/ [accessed 20 January 2006]
  3. Poulter, Alan., Hiom, Debra and McMenemy David "The Library and Information Professional's Internet Companion" Facet Publishing, 183 pages hardback; ISBN 1-85604-509-9
  4. "Delivering Digital Services" Web page for activities
    http://www.facetpublishing.co.uk/deliveringdigitalservices/ [accessed 20 January 2006]

Author Details

Professor Bruce Royan
Principal Consultant
Concurrent Computing Ltd

Email: bruce.royan@concurrentcomputing.com
Web site: http://www.concurrentcomputing.com

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