University of the West of England
The ResIDe Electronic Library: An Evolving Library Service
The ResIDe Electronic Library (http://www.uwe.ac.uk/library/itdev/reside) was first developed as the ResIDe Electronic Reserve at the University of the West of England, Bristol (UWE) in 1996. Originally funded under the eLib Programme (http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/services/elib), the Electronic Reserve was created as a research tool to explore such issues surrounding the implementation of an electronic reserve as copyright and collection management control mechanisms. Uniquely, in the electronic reserve strand, lead partners were the library and a faculty (the Faculty of the Built Environment) of the same academic institution and ResIDe sought, specifically, to examine issues relating to the mounting of multi-media documents supporting Built Environment studies.
Following the conclusion of this initial research phase, the University's Library Services took the decision to maintain, develop and expand the service. It now includes three databases; the original electronic reserve, a current awareness service and a past examination paper database accessible from a common interface. It has expanded to include modules from most of the University's twelve faculties and is used by staff and students on all of its eight campuses. Its larger, more important and more diverse role is reflected in the new title of ResIDe Electronic Library.
The metamorphous of the embryonic ResIDe Electronic Reserve into today's ResIDe Electronic Library, however, has encompassed more than growth. It has been the result of an evolution - sometimes deliberate, sometimes unconscious, sometimes rapid, sometimes slow - from a research tool into a user-led library service.
Any service, developed primarily as a means of researching issues relating to the implementation and maintenance of that type of service, will not necessarily be identical or even similar to one that would have developed naturally within a particular institution. It must, of course, meet the needs of the members of the institution in which it is piloted to a large degree. Otherwise, the project's findings will be irrelevant. Evaluation of an imposed or unwanted service cannot be helpful. It is possible, however, to introduce and evaluate a service to address research issues that also meets the needs of current users, although these needs will not always be the prime consideration in shaping developments. Had UWE's academics not believed that an electronic reserve would be a useful teaching/learning tool, they would not have been willing to support it by offering their time and effort identifying relevant readings. Nor would they have recommended the service to their students. Had students not believed that it saved them time and effort by providing them with easier and faster access to readings, they would not have used it. The service that was created to meet research imperatives, therefore, did address the needs of UWE Library users to a significant degree.
When the ResIDe Electronic Reserve was first designed, there was considerable consultation with all users through user surveys and interviews. It would, however, be inaccurate to claim that the original ResIDe system was a user-led service.
The Project was funded to research issues surrounding the introduction of an electronic reserve. Consequently, users were asked how they would like an electronic reserve to develop. They were asked which features and types of documentation they would like it to include. They were not asked whether they actually wanted an electronic reserve or not. They were not asked if they would also like or even prefer other services delivered through an electronic library of which an electronic reserve might be a component. The decision to create an electronic reserve and only an electronic reserve had already been taken.
Many did imply that an electronic reserve would be a welcome addition to the library service. They did not, however, explicitly state that they wished the library to introduce an electronic reserve. Few, of course, knew that such a service was a possibility when they asked that the library find solutions to the problems that electronic reserves actually address. Some, for example, asked for greater access to recommended texts and extended opening hours from a larger short loan collection. Offering multi-user, multi-location and twenty four-hour simultaneous access to multi-media documents, an electronic reserve addresses most of these issues.
The implementation of an electronic reserve should, therefore, have met with user approval and might have been expected to follow a user-led path of system expansion and future development. This did not, immediately, prove to be the case. Implementation, development and growth remained firmly grounded in research imperatives for a year.
During this one-year pilot stage, the growth of the Electronic Reserve proved to be a slow 'chicken and egg' situation. Unable, initially, to see a working system, academics were unwilling to commit time to providing reading lists - and, more specifically, to submitting them with a sufficient lead-time for obtaining copyright clearance. Without a critical mass of relevant documents, students were unwilling to commit the necessary effort in learning how to use an, albeit simple, additional library system. It was only towards the end of this early phase that the system's popularity grew. With its growing popularity came its evolution into a user-led service that more closely resembled the needs of UWE Library users.
The first phase of this evolution was the development of the current awareness service. This was, in fact, an expansion of an additional service developed during the research stage; mainly as a means of identifying and building a database of up-to-date correct publisher address and contact details. It was, moreover, a service developed to meet the demands of internal users. It grew and evolved at the request of library staff rather than directly from library users. In offering an electronic current awareness service networked to all campuses and incorporating links to publishers' websites, the Library is able to offer its users a service that is superior to its print current awareness bulletins. Information is freely and easily available to all users. It is not limited to the academic staff who were recipients of individual subject print bulletins. Dissemination is much faster and a backfile is created and maintained within a single source.
As the current awareness service began to grow, the electronic reserve itself began to evolve. Once the research phase concluded, it was possible to expand the service into other faculties and onto other campuses. Since individual academics were now 'requesting' the service rather than being invited to use it, they felt a greater sense of ownership and involvement.
This led to the service evolving in several directions simultaneously. Library staff had, inevitably, encouraged some lines of development to address research issues. The implemented system, however, was designed as a very simple and flexible service that could meet the diverse needs of different disciplines and individual teaching and learning styles in keeping with the Library's culture of a user-led service.
The service's tremendous potential as more than an easy access to a safe depository of module-related published material had always been evident to library staff. It can support a 'one-stop-shop' source of material encompassing copyright and non-copyright readings, module information, teaching and learning materials and a wide range of multi-media interactive materials. It can also be used as an agent of self-directed learning and as a teaching aid. It also underpins and could be used to introduce new pedagogic practices by supporting and encouraging academics to harness new technologies in their teaching and in the work set for students.
Different academics have sought different functions/features. Whereas the Electronic Reserve has now developed so that it is able to offer this fully comprehensive service at all times to all users, it is actually used in more individual and fragmented ways by different groups. This is because it has become clear that the system must evolve to meet the demands of one relatively small group of users; academic staff. The needs of students tend to be mediated through their tutors and lecturers. Academics identify materials held on the system. They are also the only group able to ensure its full exploitation by student users through submitting materials and recommending their retrieval and use. Consequently, they are the group that has dictated the development of the electronic reserve. And they have done so individually - to meet the specific needs of their own discipline and to support their own teaching style.
Consequently, the Electronic Reserve has developed to fulfil different needs. For some modules, it is a 'safe haven' for lecturers' own material and nothing else. This might include option details and reading lists only. Or it may include a much wider selection of documents such as lecture notes and slides and timetables, workshop details, and answers, module guides, assignment details and past examination papers with answers, tutor's reports and examples of excellent answers. This information might be added to help students plan their own learning and revision programmes, to support lecturers' teaching plans, as a means of securing key documents for internal and external audits or as a means of guaranteeing easy, twenty-four hour access to secure banks of material for their students. For other modules, the Electronic Reserve has become a safe depository for easily accessible published material. For some modules it is both. For a few lecturers it is also a means of communication with students. For some it is all these and is also used as a very proactive teaching and learning tool.
Unfortunately, the service has not and cannot evolve to meet all the expressed needs of the largest group of users - students, although their opinions can and are constantly sought as they were in the preliminary stage.
Student feedback forms, however, tend to reflect individual problems in using the system such as their inability to trace specific examination paper titles. They might suggest changes to the interface. All these comments are carefully considered and, whenever possible and appropriate, acted upon. Students, however, do not tend to make unsolicited constructive suggestions about system development. When asked, they very rarely proffer any suggestions about the overall system. Since the pre-implementation stage, none have ever suggested areas for future development.
Over the last two years, two module groups whose assignment work is based upon use of ResIDe have completed regular questionnaires. These students, however, rarely express their own information needs in ways that might inform further ResIDe development. Often, those needs that are expressed cannot be met because of considerations outside the control of library staff. Compliance with conditions made by rightsholders, for example, involves the imposition of passwords to which students object.
As students are a large and diverse group, it is also impossible for any one system to meet their needs as easily as it might those of individual module leaders in respect of their own module readings. Students, for example, have different degrees of computer literacy. Some want a very simple system. Others want a system offering a much more sophisticated searching mechanism. Compromises are necessary.
It is far easier to provide flexibility, within ResIDe's modular approach, for individual lecturers. Students are, inevitably, treated as one homogeneous group or, at least, one homogeneous group, with each module. Consequently, ResIDe has been developed to offer a standardised and very user-friendly interface and search engine that is sufficiently flexible to be adapted by individual module leaders to support their perception of their own students' needs. Following consultation with module leaders, for example, documents can be named and displayed in different ways to support different teaching and learning outcomes. Hypertext links to full-text databases to which the Library subscribes might be added to meet different pedagogic objectives. Links might be added with little further direction to enable more capable and enthusiastic students to retrieve additional peripheral materials whilst directing all students to a set of core readings. More direction and explanatory information to such links might be given where a module leader wishes student to become familiar with searching different databases. Assignments might be set and direction and help sheets given to students to guarantee that they use such links if a module leader so desires. Document sets can also be accessed through more sophisticated indexed programmes at the discretion of a module leader.
Students did lead the evolution and development of the third ResIDe Electronic Library service. From the very earliest stages, students had asked for easier access to past examination papers. It was not appropriate to offer this service during a research phase that was seeking to look primarily at Built Environment material, multi-media materials and copyright issues. It was, however, a very obvious step to take for an evolving user-led service and access logs reveal that this is a very popular feature of the ResIDe Electronic Library - especially in the three months leading to the main examination period.
The Current Service
The present service has evolved to meet the needs of UWE Library users. It has grown and developed far beyond the system implemented for research purposes. It has also grown and evolved beyond anything originally envisaged during this research stage.
The system, however, could only have developed at this time through an existing service. It might not have developed as a result of user demand. It certainly would not have been introduced so early as a result of user demand.
It is possible that this pattern might be the most appropriate way forward. Users do not, necessarily, articulate their needs very clearly. They may be unaware of possibilities for future development. Users have, for example, asked for the system to expand to include a new database containing module option details. It would be a simple process to design this. It may, however, be more appropriate to take the service into an entirely new direction rather than expand the current system.
Many users, for example, ask for all their information to be provided through a single resource. One means of achieving this would be the planned integration of the ResIDe system with the library management system. This would provide a more seamless provision of print and electronic information. Users, however, have not explicitly asked for this.
In deciding to integrate ResIDe with the library management system, therefore, it might be said that system development and evolution has come full circle. As at the beginning, library staff have taken a decision to introduce a change. It is, of course, the responsibility of librarians to be proactive in alerting users to new possibilities to meet their clear if unarticulated needs. Within this framework of an imposed change, however, a new user-led service should evolve.
- ResIDe Research Fellow
- Bolland Library
- University of the West of England, Bristol
- Email: Christine.Dugdale@uwe.ac.uk
- Tel: 0117 965 6261 ext 3646
- Web site: http://www.uwe.ac.uk/library/itdev/reside
Christine Dugdale manages the ResIDe Electronic Library at the University of the West of England, Bristol.