Public Libraries: Creating Websites for E-citizens -The Public Library Web Managers Workshop 2002
Background to the workshop
The third Public Library Web Managers workshop to be organised by UKOLN was held at the University of Bath on the 5th and 6th of November 2002. This year’s event aimed to provide public library web managers with a brief respite from the trials and tribulations of the workplace, and the chance to share networking experiences with colleagues up and down the country. It also aimed to bring together some key speakers on this year’s hot topic –e-government (electronic government).
The previous two workshops took place in 1999 and 2000 , and if we could wind back the clock to the event in 2000 I think we might appreciate just how far public libraries have come in a relatively short space of time. If two weeks is a long time in politics, then two years in public libraries is an eon. The £100 million People’s Network initiative is providing Information and Communications Technology (ICT) learning centres in every UK public library, and very soon we should see computers rubbing shoulders with long-established bookstock in 98% of public libraries .
Staff in public libraries are now grappling with a whole new set of issues revolving around the provision of community based networked services. From choosing filtering software and content management systems, to designing accessible web sites and building e-content – staff are having to plan ahead for the ultimate goal, i.e. the implementation of web-based government. Libraries are now technologically capable of playing a key role in their local authorities’ e-government strategy. They now have the hardware, although broadband network connectivity (defined as at least 2mb) is not yet available in all libraries, and libraries are able to offer access to the Internet, email and a range of learning opportunities. Having galloped the first furlong, public libraries now have to think about completing the course. They have to develop electronic services and content which not only meet the criteria of government in terms of interoperability and usability, but which are designed with the end-user in mind. Ordinary citizens, in particular, the socially excluded groups who tend to be big users of government and council services, must be able to locate web-based services with ease. Having found a service or resource, someone without knowledge or any significant experience in using the Internet, must then be able to complete an online transaction with ease, or must be able to find the information they require, without the need for specific search skills.
This year’s workshop
Creating websites for e-citizens: developing public library websites for 2005 – was the topic of this year’s even and it tried to address some of the issues surrounding e-government. The UK government aims to provide online access to national and local government services by 2005, and if this vision is to become reality, local and national government information systems must ‘join up’ – which means they must be interoperable, and this is where the e-GIF (the e-Government Interoperability Framework)  comes in. The e-GIF incorporates standards and is mandated on all new systems that involve the exchange of information between government and citizens, and government and the business community. To give you some idea of the scale of what the government proposes, it conducts over five billion transactions with citizens and businesses every year, spread over 20 large departments, 480 local authorities, and more than 200 agencies (4). It therefore makes sense to offer as many delivery channels for government and council services as possible. The Internet is just another way of delivering information and services, and the current technological environment has made web-enabled government a viable option.
Forty-five delegates from across the UK attended the event - from North Ayrshire to North Somerset, and from Lincolnshire to Luton, we were extremely heartened that so many people were prepared to travel to Bath to hear our speakers and share experiences with colleagues.
The workshop programme started after lunch with a welcome from the Director of UKOLN, Dr Liz Lyon. Liz then handed over to Ann Chapman, Bibliographic Management, UKOLN, who presented the Alan Jeffreys Award for 2001 to the keynote speaker, Maewyn Cumming. Maewyn is Senior Policy Adviser (Interoperability and Metadata) at the Office of the e-Envoy (OeE), which is part of the Cabinet Office, and she received the award in acknowledgement of the significant contribution she has made to the development of cataloguing standards. The award is conferred by the Cataloguing and Indexing Group of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), and Ann Chapman seemed the ideal person to present the award, as holder of the previous year’s award.
Maewyn began by outlining the rationale for e-government, and explained that although 45% of UK households can access the Internet from home, use is heavily skewed to London and the south of England, and also to younger people and higher income groups. No big surprises there, but - of those without access, fifty per cent gave their reason for non use as lack of interest, and this renders the government’s plans for universal access somewhat difficult. The government is particularly keen to encourage the heavy users of government and council services to use the Internet, again no surprises – as anything that is more cost-effective makes sense. However, their solutions to increasing the take-up of net-bases services include better marketing and content, improving access, and making provision for ICT skills development. The skills agenda is being addressed by the setting up of UKonline centres  - half of which (around 3000) are to be based in public libraries. These centres are designed to act as stepping stones to learning, for example by users signing on to Learndirect/UfI (University for Industry) courses .
Maewyn then outlined the Government website guidelines - copies of which she had brought with her (on a sort of cut-down compact disk with two straight edges) – this is a long document which takes up lots of hard drive space (six parts; nine page index, eleven annexes and a 26 page glossary), so the disk version acts as a portable reference tool. The guidelines are designed to help government departments and local authorities develop their web sites, and I assume most developers will use them as a reference tool to consult as and when the need arises. From the guidelines we moved to the e-GMS – the government metadata standard, which is based on Dublin Core, but has additional elements for improved retrieval, records management, data security and legal requirements. Finally, Maewyn provided examples of the Government Category List (GCL) which is part of the e-GMS. The GCL uses broad subject headings and controlled vocabularies to aid browsing of public sector information. All of this aims to bring structure and order to official websites – library cataloguers must be laughing (or crying) at the irony of it all.
Our second speaker was Emma Place, who is Project Manager at the Institute for Learning and Research Technology, University of Bristol. Emma described and demonstrated the Virtual Training Suite (VTS)  which is part of the Resource Discovery Network . The VTS is a free online educational resource from the JISC (the Joint Information Systems Committee) , which is designed to help people use the Internet to support their learning. Emma specifically addressed the issue of whether the VTS could help public libraries, especially in developing ‘e-literacy’ skills to enable users to become effective ‘eLearners’ and ‘eResearchers’. During my years in higher education, I have noted a tendency to focus on the development of IT skills to the detriment of information or research skills – with the latter often being overlooked or not even considered as a specific skill. Academic librarians have been trying to address this problem for some time, especially in the context of rising student numbers, increasing use of ICT and Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), and the move towards more student-centred approaches to learning.
The VTS consists of 50 free ‘teach yourself’ tutorials on a wide range of topics, eleven of which have been designed for use in further education. The eleven tutorials are on vocational subjects, including: Art, Design and Media; business studies and hairdressing and beauty. The tutorials have been written and edited by lecturers, and librarians from more than 50 UK universities and colleges, and include aids to learning such as quizzes and exercises, and each has a glossary of Internet terms.
Our next speaker was Andy Holdup, e-Government Programme Manager at Hampshire County Council. Andy has worked in Hampshire’s IT department for 20 years, and is currently involved in shaping IT policy and the e-government programme. Andy touched on the thorny issue of how to actually get people to use electronic services, and the inescapable fact that the socially excluded groups the government are targeting as big users of government and council services, actually prefer to use the telephone or conduct transactions on a face to face basis. Andy showed us the results of a MORI  poll of Hampshire residents which was undertaken earlier in 2002. This revealed that 90% of respondents thought they were currently most likely use the telephone to report a highway defect to the council; even worse, given the 2005 goal for electronic services, 76% stated that they would be most likely to use the same method in two years time.
A quick and dirty search on MORI’s website produced a page on implementing local e-government which warned that services must be demand-led and hinted at the difficulties ahead. MORI’s charts showed that socially excluded groups are unlikely to make use of web-based services, precisely because they are less economically active, and are made up of the older sections of society. Yet it is these groups who are often most dependent on local authority services . Education and improved access are seen as crucial to success, and the People’s Network programme and UKOnline centres have been set up to address these two issues. Andy also cast doubt on the take-up of interactive digital television (iDTV) as a channel for interacting with local authorities, yet digital television is being heralded as the future in terms of delivering e-government services. Andy also argued that the web should be seen primarily as a tool to support front-line staff, with “self service as a valuable spin off”.
Three break-out sessions rounded off the day led by UKOLN staff: Pete Cliff (RDN Systems Developer), Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) and myself (Penny Garrod, Public Library Networking Focus). Pete’s session focused on syndicated content for websites (or: how not to do it yourself but grab what’s out there and free to use), in particular incorporating RSS newsfeeds . Brian focused on approaches to search facilities, and the use of ht://Dig and Google which drew on the results of a survey undertaken since 1999 on search facilities used by UK institutions of higher education. My session looked at accessibility and usability issues, and tried to set these in the context of implementing e-government, where the aim is to ensure users can find information and complete a task with ease.
The first day ended with a relaxing dinner in the University’s Wessex House restaurant. Fortunately, the sound of glasses chinking and the soft burble of conversation was only upstaged by the soothing sounds emanating from the home-grown quartet – remember this was the 5th of November – a celebration of the day a Mr G. Fawkes attempted to destroy the House of Parliament, and here we were attempting to install government in cyberspace.
On Wednesday morning after a hearty breakfast we started with Danny Budzak, Head of Information Management and e-Government at the London Borough of Lewisham talk on content management. Danny deconstructed content, content management and content management systems, and then went on to evaluate the need for, and advantages of, using a content management system. He drew on his experiences of the APLAWS project (Accessible and Personalised Local Authority Websites)  whilst working at the London Borough of Newham as their Internet and Intranet manager.
APLAWS, for those of you thinking what a wonderful acronym, and why didn’t we think of it first -.APLAWS is a pathfinder project -one of 25 Local Government Online (LGOL) projects funded by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) . Pathfinders were set up with the aim of finding generic solutions to a variety of technical, policy and management issues surrounding the implementation of e-government. APLAWS workstreams cover: content management; information architecture, and metadata, usability and accessibility. The APLAWS products include: an Open Source Content Management System; guidelines for implementing metadata standards for local government, and a category list based on the Government Category List – full details can be found on their website.
Nick Poole, ICT Advisor at Resource, then presented a paper entitled ‘dynamic accessibility’, which as far as I understand it boils down to a sort of turbo-charged accessibility for dynamic, rather than static, web pages. Nick focused on the effective use of XML (Extensible Markup Language) , and, after outlining the basic concepts: Cascading Style Sheets (CSS); reading order; visual presentation etc., he drilled down to specifics including semantic consistency and designing for platform independence. He then moved onto look at accessibility issues for some of the technologies, for example: SMIL (Synchronised Multimedia Integration Language); VRML (Virtual Reality Machine Language) and SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics). Finally, Nick addressed ebooks and text to speech accessibility issues, and the conflict that exists between XML coding and Digital Rights Management information [16,17].
Brian Kelly, Web Focus, UKOLN, provided a highly practical presentation on quality assurance for library websites. He started off by comparing and contrasting quality control and quality assurance, and then quickly ran through the typical problems to be encountered on websites, such as broken links, out of date content, missing graphics, and content which people with disabilities cannot access. Brian then looked at testing procedures and possible solutions to common problems. He emphasised the need to ensure that the tests chosen are appropriate for the site being tested, and the trade off between using automated tools which have major limitations, and manual testing which is time intensive. Brian illustrated this through a recent case study, using the website devised for UKOLN’s annual Institutional Web Management Workshop. The site contains information about the event, plus an online booking facility, but it also acts as a demonstrator of standards and best practice in action. Brian concluded by reiterating the importance of quality assuring your website, especially in the context of compliance with government guidelines and standards, e.g. the e-GIF.
Alan Davies, National Programme Manager, London Borough of Lewisham, outlined the LEAP project, which stands for: The Life Events Access Project . LEAP has a natural synergy with the UK Online programme as it organises information and services around a series of defined episodes in people’s lives. These events are based on times when people are most likely to interact with government or local authorities, and LEAP has identified eleven of these ‘events’ including dealing with crime, becoming a carer and moving house. Alan outlined the various channels for delivering e-government services: kiosks, one stop shops, call centres, Internet, Minicom, mail or fax and Telly Talk, which is a video conference facility placed in libraries, shopping malls, neighbourhood offices and one-stop-shops around the borough. 
Alan then described the various standards developed at Lewisham, in particular the LEAP ‘Process Naming’ standard, which starts with a top level header – in this case a ‘Frequently Asked Question’ (FAQ) and drills down to branch process and sub-process level. He then demonstrated how this works using an application for a ‘blue badge’ as an example (Blue badges are parking permits which are granted to people with severe mobility problems).
Alan concluded by looked at how Lewisham might progress its virtual services and identified implementing an integrated content management system and exploring further partnerships, possibly with the private sector via the Office of the e-Envoy or Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, in order to develop XML schemas, e-forms and enabling customer access to services.
Our final speaker before the end of workshop panel session, was Cathy Day, Community Information Network Officer, Essex County Council. Cathy described the use of standards in the development of the web-based citizen’s gateway service: Seamless UK . Seamless brings together quality assured local, regional, and national resources, and offers users single search and retrieval access to a wealth of information. Seamless meets the 7 critical tests outlined in the key local e-government paper e-gov@local , namely: it is joined up and accessible; it is delivered and supported electronically, jointly and seamlessly (this counts as 3 tests); it is open and accountable; and it is used by people. Many organisations have contributed information to the gateway including: ‘Age Concern’, the BBC, UK Online and NHS Direct Online. The project exemplifies effective public sector partnership between councils at various levels (district, unitary etc.) and Essex Fire and Police Services, local educational establishments, and voluntary organisations. A semi-automatic metadata tool (SeamlessUK.dot) was developed which is template based, and the metadata used throughout is based on Dublin Core, and is e-government compliant.
The event ended with a final panel session with delegates breaking out briefly to frame any last minute questions for our presenters. The event was a very enjoyable one, and the feedback has been very positive. All we have to do now is await 2005 to see if the measures being taken now and over the next two year have had the desired effect. Considerable effort will be going into the development of websites that are both accessible and usable, but the ultimate determinant of success will be the take-up of e-government and electronic services, and how far government and councils are able to influence and educate people to use electronic services either using a computer at home or using a terminal or kiosk in a public place.
- Public Library Web Managers Workshop 2000: http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/public/events/managing/;
- Public Library Web Managers Workshop 1999: www.ukoln.ac.uk/public/events/running/
- Chris Batt, speaking at the Public Library Authorities Conference, Carden Park Resort, Chester, 15-18 October 2002
- UK GovTalk: www.govtalk.gov.uk/ (current and past versions of the e-GIF are downloadable from here)
- Maewyn Cumming. Metadata for e-government. (CILIP)Update 1 (3) June 2002, pp.40-41. http://www.cilip.org.uk/update/
- UK Online. www.ukonline.gov.uk/
- Learndirect: www.learndirect.co.uk
- Virtual Training Suite: www.vts.rdn.ac.uk
- Resource Discovery Network: www.rdn.ac.uk
- The JISC: www.jisc.ac.uk
- MORI (Market & Opinion Research International): www.mori.com/polls/
- MORI – egovernment pages: www.mori.com/pubinfo/anc-egovt.shtml
- RSS Xpress see: www.ukoln.ac.uk/metadata/resources/rss/ and http://rssxpress.ukoln.ac.uk/
- APLAWS Project: www.aplaws.org.uk/
- Local Government Online: Pathfinders: www.lgolpathfinder.gov.uk/
- XML: www.w3.org/XML/
- Open ebook Forum
- Mooney, Stephen. Interoperability. Digital Rights Management and the emerging ebook environment. D Lib Magazine, Vol. 7 (1), January 2001. www.dlib.org/dlib/january01/mooney/01mooney.html#6
- LEAP Project: www.leap.gov.uk/
- Telly Talk at Lewisham: www.lewisham.gov.uk/NewsAndViews/tellytalk.asp
- Seamless UK project: www.seamless-uk.info
- Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR). April 2002. e-gov@local. Towards a national strategy for local e-government. A consultation paper.
- Penny Garrod
- Public Libraries Networking Focus
- email: email@example.com