CEI Looks for Bold Response
The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC)  this month releases a circular inviting higher education librarians and information staff to propose ways of developing the electronic library infrastructure of the UK. The document begins by retracing the creation of 'the successful eLib programme ', starting with the Follett Report of 1993, and moving forward to the present time with 60 funded projects across the UK. JISC's five-year strategy document of last year described a new structure, including the creation of a Committee for Electronic Information (CEI) which has responsibility for developing the work eLib has begun.
The eLib programme will run through until the summer of 1998. Most projects are funded until then, but for those whose funding finishes beforehand, a separate call for proposals to extend funding by a further period has been made direct to the projects themselves. A later call will also be made for proposals to pilot the important work of digital preservation. Here, the document suggests that the time is not yet right to look for proposals while extensive discussion on the future of legal deposit is in progress.
Two major areas for development are spelt out in some detail in the document. The first is 'hybrid libraries', a concept which challenges libraries "to bring together ... new developments, plus the electronic products and services already in libraries, and the historical functions of our local, physical libraries". CEI wishes to fund a few pilot hybrid libraries, and is asking proposers to include a 'sketch' of their vision of a realisable hybrid library in expressions of interest. The Committee is interested in ideas with potential rather than full proposals, which will be invited later.
Chris Rusbridge, eLib Programme Director, emphasised the importance of ideas at this stage in the development of the programme's objectives. "We'd like to see some bold visions of hybrid libraries coming forward. The first eLib call produced a lot of innovative thinking. We now need more. Sites should not feel that they must be involved in a big eLib project already funded and established - indeed we would welcome proposals from sites which have had little or no involvement in eLib to date. Developing eLib does not mean continuing to fund existing projects, but rather maintaining our commitment to the eLib vision of an electronic library infrastructure." CEI is expecting proposers to draw on a wide range of electronic library developments, looking also to work done in the US, in the European Union and elsewhere. The funded hybrid libraries must disseminate as they go, sharing their experience and their learning with the community, including the mistakes they make, rather than presenting results only at the end of their projects. Together with other successful features of the eLib programme's methodology, this formative dissemination will extend the commitment to openness and sharing within the community, a commitment which has given eLib a quite remarkable unity of approach since its inception.
The second major area is large scale resource discovery. The connection of HE online public access catalogues (OPACs) to JANET does not equal a national service, which CEI envisages as a type of national union catalogue for the digital networked age.
The circular adopts the recommendations of the MODELS project  on distributed electronic library services, which proposes physical and virtual clumps of OPACs, utilising the Z39.50 standard for distributed database access. Full proposals from consortia for the establishment of pilot bibliographic clumps are sought. An agency to co-ordinate the national service will be funded through later bids, after the scoping study currently being undertaken by Fretwell Downing has been completed.
In addition to bibliographic clumps, MODELS has proposed cross-domain clumps for generic collections with specific cataloguing requirements. Archives, museums and electronic text collections are all examples. Again, CEI is looking for expressions of interest in this area, with encouragement given to the involvement of partners from outwith HE. A single pilot project to co-ordinate national service requirements for cross-domain searching is also sought.
- Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) Information,
- eLib (Electronic Libraries Programme) Web Site,
- MODELS Web Site,
Managing Editor, Ariadne project