The Bournemouth University Library & Information Services Conference, 1997, was organised and hosted by David Ball at the Talbot Campus between 27th and 29th August. The title of "New Tricks 2" reflected the interesting in new developments in library automation and digital resources.
The theme of comparing eLib and Telematics funded projects was a very interesting and useful one with a surprising amount of synergy. The three days were organised in the familiar format of a half day for registration, introduction and conference dinner; a second day for the bulk of presentations structured in a two-tier manner with general themes for the individual sessions; and a final half day for summing up and debate.
David Ball introduced Professor Paul Light, Pro Vice-Chancellor of BU, who welcomed delegates and set the scene for the following days by suggesting that there is a move away from the traditional "library-centred" model of bringing learners into the library, towards a more distributed learning environment. He made the point that this raised many technical, legal and commercial issues as well as the more difficult questions of the psychological impact of such changes.
Two very eloquent and informative presentations were made by Ian Pigott of DGXIII and Kelly Russell from eLib.
Ian outlined the history of the Telematics Programme from the Third Framework programme, Initiation of Change (and collaboration) 1990-94 with 51 projects and the Fourth Framework programme, Consolidation and Integration 1994-98 with 32 projects. Another 70 initiatives have also been launched within this period. The Fifth Framework programme covers the years 1998-2002 and concentrates on access to knowledge and culture for the average citizen, bringing libraries together with museums, galleries and other similar organisations.
Selection of successful bids is done by outside experts (typically three per proposal), but there should be at least one library and two countries involved in the bid. New areas for consideration include children's library services, smart cards, models of distributed services, and public library issues. Ian pointed out the size of the problem, even in a European framework, with some 96,000 libraries and 400,000 new books arriving on the scene in 1996. More information on the Libraries part of the Telematics programme can be found at http://www.echo.lu/libraries/en/libraries.html
Kelly explained the need for the eLib programme as identified by the Follett report of November 1993, commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council. This Libraries Review, chaired by Sir Brian Follett, identified a number of areas for attention and several initiatives were launched as a result - eLib being one of them.
The eLib programme is based on cross-community partnerships and has funded 60 projects of one to three year duration from its £15M allocation. After three years the outcomes are influencing current work and important lessons have been learned. Areas of particular interest have included publishing, with copyright and licence models being significant, academic staff training, public libraries, archives and museums, and work with international bodies. Future emphasis will be on integration of existing and new services. For further information visit http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/services/elib/
Comments and questions from the audience at this stage concentrated on the difficulties of working on short-term contract-based projects and management of both internal staff as well as partners in other institutions and countries. The need for having professional project managers was emphasised and the problems of loosing good management and technical people before and after projects were completed due to better conditions being offered in commercial environments. It is often impossible to find appropriately qualified personnel that are willing to work on a 6 month or 1 year contract.
The sherry reception and conference dinner were well received with a very good menu and friendly catering staff. After dinner most of the delegates retired to the bar where they continued to get to know one another. On-site accommodation in the student village was more than adequate, based in modern buildingsand only five minutes walk from the lecture theatres. On the second evening, the group was bussed to Poole Harbour for a boat trip around the massive harbour area. The trip included jazz band, supper and drinks and everyone seemed to enjoy the event, all be it a rather cold one! With all meals included in the price, breakfast was the next opportunity for inter-delegate communications.
The main day was split into four sections, including projects from both funding bodies, as follows:
As conference proceedings will be published in due course and abstracts are available, I will not try to describe each of these projects or presentations. However, there were a number of common themes and points raised.
It was gratifying to see how closely related all these project were, both eLib and Telematics. Each project seemed to have at least looked at outcomes or suggestions of those that had gone before or that were working in parallel and incorporated the latest technologies. It was accepted that the most successful projects were those that were able to adapt to changes and although funding bodies required detailed plans for technical development and deliverables, they accepted changes where they were for the better.
There was a significant emphasis on using standards within the development and operation of open systems and services. Tony Gill identified four categories for considering these under, technical, structure, content and organisation. You can consider some of the following in these areas - TCP/IP, Z39.50, Whois++, AACR, MARC, CIDOC, AAT, Dewey Decimal, Spectrum, etc.
Copyright was another obvious topic of conversation. This was of particular interest in the DIAD project where they were dealing with very old issues of design journals. Not only the permission of the publisher is required but each article has to be cleared by contacting the authors and photographers, some of whom have since become quite famous and may not be exactly happy about having their old work made available electronically. If you are scanning material or re-photographing or sending out to bureaux then you need to consider rights at all these stages.
Most projects had accepted the need to move to the Internet and the World Wide Web for the user interface, with all the benefits and problems that that brings. It was interesting to see how many projects had independently selected the services of a small database company based in Covent Garden in London. System Simulation Ltd have a long history of software development and had already worked with some significant customers such as the London Transport Museum, HMV Music in the Oxford Circus Store, Stanford Research Institute and others. Their Index+ database system and supporting tools were selected for use in the ELISE I project in 1993 and now seem to be providing the functionality in many UK and European projects, including DIAD, MIDRIB, MAID, Aquarelle, CIMI, ELISE and ADAM/VADS.
Some interesting comments and ideas for user interface designers were presented, with Internet Archaeology providing timeline and geographic search tools and analysing system log files showing that even presenting a simple user/password entry system was enough to stop 70% of potential users from progressing past that point. It was not clear whether this was solely due to this loose barrier or just the fact that by that time the user had already decided that this was not a site of interest to them.
It was pointed out that e-journals are not the same as ordinary journals presented electronically and different problems and opportunities present themselves to these two areas of digital publishing. David Pullinger suggested two dilemmas that work against the production of electronic material:
Authors want to access and use multimedia data but not produce it.
Authors want to access interesting Web sites with multimedia objects but do not want to produce them.
LAMDA seem to be well on target to provide a commercially sound service based on providing sections of published material by electronic means. This is done by first scanning the material, transmitting to the customer, then once receipt is acknowledged, deleting from store. This service is operating at a price of £3.60 per transaction, which is lower than the alternative methods. It appears to be providing about 40% of the requirements in participating establishments.
The ELISE system design will cater for a fully commercial system by the end of its development. This does not mean that users and other developers will not have free or low cost access to outcomes of this Telematics project, simply that the framework will allow for a self-sustaining service.
SEREN appear to have taken the language barriers seriously and, unlike many European projects, implemented a bilingual interface - Welsh and English.
The final day session was chaired by Professor Robin Alston of University College London who introduced the four chairpersons from the previous day, in order to summarise their sessions.
Once this was done, Robin made an excellent presentation of his own, drawing on his many years working in libraries to raise controversial issues about large amounts of money having been wasted in fruitless pursuit of automation. The vast problem of archives too big to contemplate digitisation, the 20 million publications per day that are currently thrown away, the commercialisation of previously accepted public services, the inadequacies of technology to cope with the need for the highest quality scans for archival purposes and the low quality of delivery systems, these were all issues that Robin tried to bate the audience with while playing "devil's advocate".
By the end of the debate most people, including Robin, admitted that they were optimistic about the future and the way technology might help to bring wider access to otherwise hidden treasures.
Some 50 delegates from as far afield as Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Croatia and Italy, attended the conference and I heard only good reports of their experiences.
Thanks should go to Sally Grant and other members of the Bournemouth team for their efforts in organising the proceedings and making the visitors welcome.