Part 1 Introduction

1.1 The changing learning environment

1.1.1 The SKIP Project has been set in the context of a UK higher education system which has changed radically and irrevocably over the past decade, moving from an elite system in which only 6% of the 18 year old population participated in 1980, to a mass system with a 30% participation rate in 1996. The latest Government statistics reveal an increase of 113.8% in total higher education enrolments in the period from 1979/80 to 1994/5. (1) Growth itself, however, has not been the single imperative for change. Of equal significance have been changes in the funding and planning of higher education; the increasing diversity of the student body; and the emergence of new information and communication technologies.

1.1.2 The exponential growth in the student intake has not been matched by a corresponding increase in funding. The ‘new’ universities, granted university status in 1992, have been particularly affected by the Government’s incessant demands for increased efficiency. LISU Annual Statistics 1996 give a clearer indication of the problem facing the providers of higher education. The student to staff ratio for the period 1984-85, in 29 English ‘new’ universities, was 11.9:1. By 1991-92, this had risen to 16.9:1, and by 1994-95 to 20.9:1 in this same sample group. (2) At the same time, the “unit of resource,” i.e. the amount allocated per student, dropped by 30% between 1992 and 1996.

1.1.3 The setting up of the Higher Education Funding Councils in 1993 gave government increased control over the rate of expansion of higher education. Through the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), they have also exercised more control of research funding. Whilst to date funding for teaching has not been linked to the process of Teaching Quality Assessment, similar assessment activities conducted by the Teacher Training Agency have. Some commentators have suggested that if this trend is extended to the assurance of teaching quality, this will lead to further bifurcation of higher education institutions (HEIs) into an elite of research establishments, and those institutions whose primary focus is teaching. (3)

1.2 Changes in the student profile

1.2.1 Mature students now make up almost half of all newly enrolled students in the sector (that is they started their course as an undergraduate after the age of 21 or as a postgraduate after the age of 25). (4) Entry is often via non traditional routes as entry qualifications become more flexible (in 1992-93, 24% of undergraduates were admitted on the basis of qualifications other than GCE A level - courses validated by the Business and Technology Council (BTEC) make up the biggest proportion of this group).(5) The current economic climate, based on market forces and value for money criteria, coupled with diminishing student grants, and the introduction of student fees all contribute to high expectations amongst students. Furthermore, the customer focused approach to services is a transparent one which encourages complaint and criticism as a means of evaluating and improving services.

1.3 Changing patterns of teaching and learning

1.3.1 There is evidence that a paradigm shift from teaching to learning, from knowledge based curricula to more active learning, is gradually taking place across the HE sector. There is also a move from a purely content based curriculum towards one which is more process based. This is driven in part by the demands of employers, who seek graduates with a range of skills and abilities, capable of operating in an increasingly complex and fast changing working environment. Traditional modes of teaching, many of which are staff intensive, are less easy to sustain, and, at the same time, there is concern for the maintenance of academic quality. One response is to move towards, what is variously termed, student centred learning, flexible learning, resource-based learning, independent learning, or autonomous learning. Distance learning, involving the delivery of programmes remotely from the University campus, is also widely mooted as a growth area. One immediate impact of this shift away from traditional teaching methods is to place greater emphasis on the role and nature of the academic support services. They are the providers both of the information and the means to access it, and will become increasingly involved in its creation. It is also anticipated that teaching staff will make increased use of networked information resources to enhance their teaching, including mounting course materials on the campus network to replace traditional lectures, and the provision of supplementary material for students to access at a time and place of their choosing.

1.4 The changing information environment

1.4.1 The ubiquity and affordability of the desktop computer, coupled with recent innovations in information and communications technology, has meant that many institutions, encouraged by the Higher Education Funding Council’s Review of Libraries of 1993 (the Follett Report)(6), and more recently the Dearing Report(7), are seeking to adopt IT-based solutions as a response to constraints on human resources and rising student numbers. SuperJANET, the UK’s academic network, has made access to the Internet easier, and will enable the delivery of video and multi-media services nationwide. Some institutions of higher education are also establishing intranets to provide campus wide information services to staff and students.

1.4.2 The Electronic Libraries Programme (eLib) is predicated on the concept of developing and improving access to digital and networked information resources, and the majority of eLib projects are concerned with the development of information gateways and databases, digitisation of texts, and delivery to the desktop of documents and journals in digital formats.

1.4.3 The major benefit of electronic information is its availability. It is not a physical entity tied to a specific place, such as a library, but is freely accessible, subject to licensing and contracts, at any time or place to those with the necessary equipment. It can be accessed concurrently by a number of users in different locations. It can be downloaded and saved in formats to suit the needs of the end-user, e.g. stored on disk, or printed out in hardcopy format. Furthermore, electronic information is available on a ‘just in time’ basis, unlike library holdings, which are often acquired on a ‘just in case’ basis. Data might be held on a central database located in the U.S.A., but within seconds it can be downloaded onto a student’s workstation in a university library in the UK, and copied for study purposes. Electronic information thus provides a solution to the growing demand for resources at the point of need, at a time when independent, student centred learning is being promoted as a viable delivery mechanism for mass higher education. Many of the problems of storage, availability, and accessibility are thus overcome, and the user has, in theory, access to global information resources.

1.5 Organisational Change

1.5.1 Educational and technological change has caused many Universities to question the way they have traditionally organised their academic support services. The increasing commonality of some aspects of library and computing provision, particularly in their support for the learning process, and the interdependence of both services in the process of delivering electronic information services, has led to a variety of organisational solutions, which are loosely referred to as “convergence”.

1.5.2 Convergence, in the context of this report, means the merging of library, computing and audio visual services, with the potential to make a significant impact on methods of service delivery. Ideally, convergence also brings together staff and services to provide a seamless ‘user friendly’ service to the end-user, that is the staff and students of the institution. Convergence brings into question the traditional ways of working typified by distinctive library and computing practices and different ‘computing’ and ‘library’ cultures.

1.5.3 Library and Information Services which have not opted for convergence as such still face many of the same challenges and demands, both in the way they operate and in the services they provide. They too will need to reassess the way in which increasingly they are required to support technology-based services, and to re-evaluate their contribution in relation to the changing roles of other information providers. The following encapsulates something of this process of change:

There are likely to be important shifts in the organisation of access to learning resources in the future. In particular, the role of the library as a principal storehouse of learning materials can be expected to diminish....The library does therefore experience some loss of control. It is no longer the institutional library which is at the centre of things, but the work station on the desktop of the end-user. Furthermore, the electronic services offered by the library are only some among many of the information resources which the end-user can access...Traditionally the library has provided an organising focus for the collection and provision of access to information resources. Some of these functions are now being carried out at a national level. This trend is likely to increase in importance. (8)

1.5.4 Information professionals, whether they come from a traditional library background or from the computing profession, will need to establish new roles for themselves. Such roles, however, may not be unique to the information profession, but will form part of a process in which the previously distinct professional boundaries between teaching, research, computing and information specialisms overlap or become more blurred.

1.6 SKIP Project Rationale

1.6.1 The original project proposal as submitted to the Follett Implementation Group on Information technology (FIGIT) in 1995, placed the proposed research within the context of technological change and its impact on higher education. The central ideas contained within the proposal might be perceived as a chain reaction, in which the growth in demand for electronic based information services triggers a need to reappraise methods of service delivery, leading to a review of the roles and skills of staff, and ultimately a reassessment of organisational structures.

1.6.2 The SKIP Project, with its focus on the impact IT is having on the skills required by LIS staff working in the electronic and networked information resources environment, looked for initial guidance to the Follett (9) and Fielden Reports.(10) Towards the end of the Project, the Dearing Report on Higher Education (11) was published, giving added focus to many of the issues raised by the research.

1.6.3 The Follett Report refers to the factors affecting library staff, in particular to the changing nature of the student population and ‘the demands which certain types of students typically place on library staff’.(12) The report acknowledged the rising importance of the training and management of staff, within the context of these changes, and saw failure to provide adequate training and deployment of staff as:

one of the single most important constraints on change and development in library and information provision, ...[which] can seriously undermine its effectiveness, especially when this depends on the implementation of new practices, or on information technology. (13)

1.6.4 However, it was the Fielden Report, commissioned by the Follett Review Group, which dealt explicitly with the issues surrounding staff management in academic libraries.(14)

1.6.5 Fielden devoted several paragraphs to the concept of service convergence, and identified two different models:

1.6.6 The report also mentioned the physical co-location of the library and ‘open access terminals of the computing service’, examples of which were found during the research programme:

in a few universities it (physical co-location) is beginning to raise the option of establishing common enquiry or help desks for the more simple, first-line enquiry. (16)

1.6.7 The Report’s recommendations on training and staff development included a call for the development and updating of IT skills and competencies. Other areas requiring attention are: skills in customer service and interpersonal behaviour; training to support the management of change; skills in team working and in supporting quality management programmes such as TQM.(17)

1.6.8 Three groups of staff were identified as being most affected by change. SKIP found it helpful to focus on these three groups throughout its research programme, and has tried to assess the level of change which has already taken place over the three years or so since the publication of the Fielden Report. The three groups are:

1.6.9 The ‘background’ paper prepared by the JISC for the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education (the Dearing Committee) makes reference to the need not only to train staff in the exploitation of IT, but also to ‘feel at ease’ with it. (21) It stated that human issues are ‘ultimately much more critical determinants of eventual success or failure’, and accepted that, although the technological infrastructure was in place, and on-line electronic information and multimedia courseware has been mounted, ‘the requirements necessary to support this new environment (human as well as financial) are not well understood’.(22) The JISC sees a need for: ‘a greater sense of urgency as the information age has already begun... if the existing HEIs do not meet this new opportunity others will’.

1.6.10 The Dearing Report was published during the writing of the final SKIP Project Report, enabling some direct comparisons to be made between the project’s findings and those in Dearing. Report 4 of Dearing concentrates on the roles of “administrative and support types” of staff, which includes librarians (23). The report notes the impact of rising student numbers, changing student profiles, and continued resource constraints on support staff. It also comments on the “integral role that IT now plays in higher education”, which for library staff has resulted in “a constant rat race to keep up with the latest developments in IT”. Library staff are reported as stating that students were “ill-prepared for an independent learning environment” and they were having to deal with students’ fear of IT which rendered them reluctant to tackle the complex electronic data sources required for independent learning. However, Dearing recommends to the Government and the Funding Bodies that, “when allocating funds for the expansion of higher education, they give priority to those institutions which can demonstrate a commitment to widening participation....”, and therefore the implications for library staff, in those institutions which demonstrate commitment to expansion, are that the problems highlighted by Dearing will intensify, and there will be a growing need for learner support as students from the lower social groups start to enter the higher education system.

1.7 Project Aims and Objectives

1.7.1 The SKIP Project set out to identify and evaluate the impact of IT on the knowledge and skill base requirements of library staff in higher education. The Project aims covered four inter-related areas, namely:

· to define the nature and type of IT skills required by LIS staff to support learning, teaching and research in UK higher education;

· to evaluate and classify these requirements in terms of job definition, scope, level, skills, and experience;

· to produce guidelines which will assist managers both by identifying the requirements for staff development of existing staff and in more precisely defining the scope and nature of new posts;

· to explore the impact the traditional divisions between computing and library professionals currently have on the organisation, structure, and development of services.

1.7.2 The type and level of skills required, especially in relation to IT, has been widely debated in the professional literature, but perhaps not always clearly understood. The way such skills map onto traditional library skills, and the extent to which they overlap with, or complement, the skills of computing staff is often unclear and sometimes misunderstood. In converged or merged services this is brought into sharper focus, as the distinction between the roles of computing professionals and library professionals often become less clearly defined, and sometimes confused, with staff from either specialism jointly concerned with the provision of information to the end-user via networked computers.

1.7.3 The SKIP Project sought to identify the skills required by talking to managers and staff at a range of institutions where electronic and networked information resources have been introduced. Staff at all levels were asked to describe how developments in IT had impacted on their skills, and whether they felt they had received appropriate training to equip them for the changing environment. Staff who had recently graduated from schools of library and information studies were questioned on the content and usefulness of the courses they attended, and whether they judged the curriculum to be in line with the requirements of the post they now held.

1.7.4 One particular hurdle facing SKIP has been how to address the fact that certain IT skills might be transient, rendering it counter-productive to advocate training in these skills. Identifying the skills which come into this category can be difficult, as advances in hardware and software are now so rapid that people are struggling to keep pace with them, though in many cases software tools are simplifying access to and use of data. This has particularly been the case with the increased use of World Wide Web browsers as an interface to databases and software.

1.7.5 Higher Education itself is at a cross-roads in the way it chooses to use technology in support of learning. Faced with increased demand and diminishing resources it has to seek radical solutions, but in so doing it is reluctant to discard long established methods in favour of innovative ones for fear of compromising quality and standards, and thus jeopardising future funding. Higher Education thus seems to be in a transitional or interim phase; it is poised on a timeline between past and future practice, which makes the task of identifying IT skills requirements for staff, and the extent to which they need to retain traditional skills, particularly difficult.

1.7.6 During the course of the research a number of factors have influenced the extent to which SKIP has been able fully to address its initial aims. Many of the institutions which took part in the Project were found to be in an early or interim phase of development. This often resulted from a number of common factors:

1.the restructuring of LIS was either in process or was scheduled to take place in the future;

2.LIS had recently moved into new purpose-built, fully networked accommodation, resulting in redeployment, reskilling and structural change;

3.the post of Head of Service was vacant or was due to be vacated and change was anticipated once an appointment had been made

As a consequence, the human resource issues had not always been resolved at the time of the SKIP visit, and uncertainty often remained as to the nature of future roles, and the skills required of staff, once changes had been fully consolidated.

1.7.7 In a further number of information services visited the use of new technologies was limited in scope. Several were still essentially operating traditional print-based services with at most some limited use of CD-ROM facilities. In these cases, staff had only limited experience in the use of electronic information resources, and had not had to deal with the problems associated, for example, with the large-scale introduction of library based student workstations.

1.7.8 SKIP has, therefore, been less successful than anticipated in identifying a cross section of good practice across the HE sector. The majority of institutions are still in the early phases of responding to the changes taking place in learning and teaching, and electronic based information services are still largely at the developmental stage. As a result, it has not been possible to draw on a range of existing jobs, and evaluate and classify requirements in terms of job definition in a manner which will be helpful the senior managers. However, having taken such factors into consideration this Project Report seeks to address the original aims, but also:

  1. Describes and evaluates examples of good practice;
  2. Makes a number of recommendations based on the interview data but tempered and informed by current opinion as expressed in the literature and through contact with leading professionals;
  3. Highlights trends in teaching and learning, with particular reference to the Dearing Report, and assesses their possible impact on library and information services staff.


(1) DfEE: education facts and figures.

URL:, page 4 of 7.

(2) Sumsion, J, Creaser, C and Hanratty, C. LISU Annual Library Statistics 1996. Featuring trend analysis of UK public and academic libraries 1985-95, Library and Information Statistics Unit, Loughborough University, 1996, pp.163.

(3) Ford, P. et al. Managing change in higher education. A learning environment architecture. Buckingham: SRHE and Open University Press, 1996, ch.2.

(4) The Student Profile. URL:

(5) Ibid.

(6) Joint Funding Councils’ Libraries Review Group: Report, December. 1993. Bristol: HEFCE. [The Follett Report].

(7) Sir Ron Dearing. National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education. (The Dearing Report). 23 July 1997. URL:

(8) Op. cit [3] (Ford, P. et al ch.2, p.15).

(9) Op. cit. [6] (The Follett Report)

(10) John Fielden Consultancy. Supporting expansion. A report on Human Resource Management in academic libraries, for the Joint Funding Councils’ Libraries Review Group. July 1993 (revised September 1993). Bristol: HEFCE, 1993. (The Fielden Report)

(11) Op. cit. [7] (The Dearing Report)


Op. cit. [6] (The Follett Report, pp. 117-128.).

(13) Ibid., 123.

(14) Op cit [10] (The Fielden Report)

(15) Ibid., 2.26.

(16) Ibid., 2.30.

(17) Ibid., 4.37

(18) Ibid., 4.13, p.38

(19) Ibid., 3.28

(20) Ibid., 4.21.

(21)The Joint Information Systems Committee. Background paper for the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education, 3.3.


(22) Ibid.

(23) Op. cit [7]. (The Dearing Report). Report 4.

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