This article sets out to explore some of the issues to do with the establishment of a new periodical publication for information and IT professionals in Higher Education (HE). It addresses the need for a channel of communication which reflects the developing broad spectrum of information services in academic and related institutions, and is intended as an aid to further discussion.
Over the last ten years the changes in both conventional library facilities and in the provision of electronic information have accelerated and arguably become even less predictable than they were, for example, in the mid- to late- 80's. At this time institutions first began to consider organisational changes in the wake of the growing impetus to integrate the delivery of information to the academic community.
Technological advances have made their impact through the development of the electronic library, hybrid libraries, Intranet development for academic and administrative use, and the involvement of both conventional information services and computer services in piloting such concepts as the virtual university. These trends have led to consideration of new organisational patterns linking separate services in ways which range from complete convergence to effective forms of voluntary co-operation. A significant number of services have formally created structures which offer a new focus for integrated support for the teaching and learning process, and for research. With the Web acting as a unifying force for all information services, the boundaries between providers and users are shifting; a process which is hastened by the development of organisational information strategies.
This in turn has led to an awareness of the need for a redefinition of roles for many staff in information and IT services. It has also led to a reappraisal of skills and training requirements, either through reskilling or upskilling of staff within the traditional library and academic IT areas, or by arriving at structural forms which permit a new skills mix to be applied to services without necessarily engaging in formal integration. Such issues are also finding their way into debates about education and training. At the same time other interested groups are positioning themselves to take a role in the provision of information for the academic community in general.
Recent government initiatives offer the opportunity for underpinning these changes, and the use of a combination of conventional and electronic information sources in research units, business information units and other academic-related organisations is developing rapidly. The programmes of professional associations are similarly reflecting these preoccupations, and tentative exploration of ways of unifying the representation of all sectors of the academic information profession is now on the agenda. In sum, there is a converging middle ground between the major arms of information provision in higher education. This is the ground which could be occupied by a new publication.
The model in mind is partly inspired by the Educom Review. The aim is to produce a bright, attractive magazine-style journal dealing with topical issues in networked information in HE. It could feature news, special reports on new projects and developments, interviews with key managers and innovators, profiles of users of information services, site and publication reviews and commissioned articles including opinion. The tone should be lively, enthusiastic yet critical, and tolerant. Members of the various professions who hold strong views will be encouraged to write for the magazine, and debate will be promoted, particularly in the Web version which can publish responses to articles between issues.
This will be a vibrant addition to the professional literature. A coherent community of information professionals is emerging in the field of Higher Education, and the new proposal will help define the shape of that community, its concerns and its values. It should address the delivery of information in a converged services environment, covering the interests of MIS professionals, end-users of networked information and IT staff involved with user services, as well as those librarians and information professionals in academic and national libraries.
The hybrid library, sought by eLib as it reaches the conclusion of its Programme, is not broad enough to encompass the scope of the vision. The information community is currently undergoing significant change because of networking. The development of hybrid information services together with communication strategies will be the goal of most organisations over the next few years, as the delivery of information in a converged services environment becomes a common solution in HE.
Appearing regularly in its two forms this new publication is intended as the awareness vehicle of choice for the many professionals whose information landscape is changing drastically either through their own efforts or by the efforts of others for their benefit.
For the most part, journals active in this area are sectoral, and tend to reflect the preoccupations of their respective constituencies. While some of them have accepted the need to work across existing service boundaries, they still appeal to a well-defined and exclusive readership predominantly made up of one or other of the partners in academic information services.
There is a niche which could be filled by a new publication positioned to occupy the middle ground of academic information services. it could serve to build bridges, interpret common issues and illuminate the overlapping concerns of all information workers, while reflecting range of complementary interests which are not covered in a single UK publication.
The target audience is a number of groups whose interests are not reflected in a single publication capable of spanning boundaries and focusing on the concerns of staff at all levels. It would appeal to staff from all sectors and all organisational levels based on the boundaries and potential audience sketched out above, the new journal would deal largely with issues. Some examples of themes to be covered could be:
It is proposed that the new publication adopts a parallel print and web format with a common set of materials and a common production schedule for each issue. The Web version should serve as an extension to the print version (essentially a superset), offering full text of articles which may have to be summarised or abbreviated in print and offer readers a medium for interacting with the editors and authors, permitting online feedback on individual articles. The new material in the online version will be updated between issues, and the Web version will be the authoritative archive and index for keyword searches.
Interested parties are invited to discuss this proposal and help define a strategy encompassing the entire design, management, editorial remit and production process. Last but not least, Navigator is only a suggestion, and a name for the new publication must also be agreed.
Readers' comments are of course also invited, and can be emailed to Lyndon Pugh at firstname.lastname@example.org or faxed to 01348 837681. Responses can also be made via the Web version at email@example.com.