Part 3 Conclusions and Recommendations

3.1 The Future of HE:

3.1.1 Initiated in the context of rapid change in Higher Education, the end of the SKIP Project research coincides with the publication of the Dearing(1) and Kennedy(2) Reports, together with an impending White Paper on lifelong learning. These will ensure that the nature and character of UK Higher Education will continue to change over the next few years. In articulating the opportunities for such change, Dearing places particular emphasis on the potential of new Communication and Information Technologies to influence not only the way universities deliver their academic programmes, but the very nature of universities and even higher education itself.

3.1.2 Higher Education must now be viewed within the context of a global information society. The potential of the Internet to influence the nature of higher education is as yet largely undeveloped and lacking in sophistication. However, the ease with which future students and scholars will gain world wide access to information implies that all universities will have to redefine their mission and purpose, and the concept of the campus University will require reassessment.

3.1.3 Some institutions will compete globally for the best students via the Internet, and may even have to face the challenge from non-traditional commercial providers, e.g. Microsoft, or Xerox. For other institutions, activities will be concentrated more locally and regionally, and many will develop partnerships with other HE institutions or their FE neighbours to create a seamless system of opportunities in post-18 education.

3.1.4 Institutions will look to the new technologies as one way of enhancing learning while at the same time maintaining academic standards. Such technologies are potentially a key element in increasing flexibility in access, student learning, and the delivery of educational programmes, while at the same time underpinning distance learning and outreach developments.

3.1.5 Against this background, Information Services must increasingly move to centre stage in support of such developments, informed by agreed Information Strategies focusing on the key activities of learning, teaching and research. Like their parent institutions, they will need to form partnerships with other service providers - universities, local colleges, the private sector and even other public service agencies such as libraries. Debates about service convergence, or at the very least collaboration, will finally become more focused as the integration of information services planning and provision becomes a prerequisite for the realisation of institutional missions. Though the library as a repository of printed materials will still have an important place in the totality of information provision well into the next century, information services will become broader in scope offering access to electronic resources, and supporting the distribution of facilities and services to remote centres. The library as a physical entity will no longer be at the centre of the information universe, and the role of the librarian must change to meet the challenges this represents.

3.1.6 The need for every HEI to produce an Information Strategy is overwhelming. The importance of articulating the context within which information services will be developed is crucial if effective long term strategic planning of such services is to take place. Only when policies covering teaching, learning and research, and such other activities as are central to an institution’s mission, are assessed within the context of their information needs can appropriate debate take place on the nature of the information services required.

3.1.7 Recommendation:

HEFCE through the JISC must continue to make every effort to ensure that HEIs demonstrate within their strategic planning framework that the information needs required to support their core objectives have been fully assessed. In making this recommendation, the SKIP team is fully aware of the excellent work already undertaken through the JISC Information Strategies Project.

3.2 The Role of Senior Managers and Service Heads

3.2.1. Though the SKIP research only provides a snapshot of eighteen institutions, it suggests strongly that the magnitude and scope of IT to change not only information services, but the nature of the institutions they support, is as yet not fully appreciated by senior institutional managers. Much change to date has been technologically driven and largely reactive with only a few institutions effectively setting such change in the context of a wider strategic academic plan.

3.2.2 Recommendation:

Senior Institutional Managers must be assisted to gain greater awareness and understanding of the potential impact and significance Communication and Information Technologies will have on the whole process of higher education. The initiative of the JISC in establishing the Assist Project is a welcome development. However, the JISC must also find appropriate ways of providing information and other support activities not just for senior information managers but also for Vice-Chancellors and other senior institutional staff.

3.2.3 Given the centrality of information services, the “Senior Information Manager” is a key strategic appointment in any institution, and as such will be expected to play an increasingly central role in the development of institutional policies and plans. The role demands individuals with clear vision and the ability to articulate the importance of information and the role of IT within the context of HE and relate it specifically to strategic institutional objectives. This demands above all else a skilful manager with a “deep understanding of Communications and Information Technology.” (Dearing) (3)

3.2.4 The style of leadership, commitment, and personal vision of the Service Head will determine the level of effectiveness and eventual success of information services. Staff will look to the Head and other senior managers for leadership and direction, and their motivation and attitude to work will be directly influenced by what they find. This becomes more noticeable in times of rapid change, when staff look for clear guidance and a defined framework within which to work. The JISC’s submission to the Dearing Committee reinforces the importance of the effective management of people, “.....human issues...are ultimately much more critical determinants of eventual success or failure.” (4)

3.2.5 Service Heads must be fully alert to the speed of technological change but at the same time understand the more evolutionary pattern of cultural change. Increasingly they will have to manage Information Services as partners in the academic process. Where service convergence does not exist, they will need to form strong strategic alliances with their computing counterparts in the common aim of delivering a seamless information service to meet institutional requirements.

3.2.6 Recommendation:

Given the strategic importance of Information Services within the future development of higher education, institutions must ensure that as far as possible individuals appointed to the post of “senior information manager” not only have extensive experience in senior management, but also an informed understanding of the scope and technical impact of new communication and information technologies, and be capable of articulating their potential within the context of the institution’s core functions.

3.3 The Impact of IT on Staff Skills

3.3.1 In embarking on its research, the SKIP Project Team sought to assess the impact IT is having on the roles of LIS professionals, and the consequent need to develop new skills. Developments in higher education during the life of the Project confirm the scale and pace of change taking place in HE, and the impact it is having on information service providers.

3.3.2 In HE libraries, IT has moved from a phase where it has been used to automate traditional library processes to one where it can be used to deliver electronic information to the desktop; to provide extensive access to electronic bibliographical tools; and to enable the use of remote data. In many of the libraries visited, however, the scope of these developments appears as yet to be having only marginal impact on the majority of staff, and many library staff are unaware of their need for new skills, and unprepared for new roles. Too many services still look to a relatively small group of staff - often based in the library systems area - to support their IT developments. The needs of other staff are often seen as peripheral, or at best narrowly in terms of the basic IT skills relating to locally provided software.

3.3.3 The opening of new multi functional buildings bringing together a variety of information and technology based services has forced change on many information professionals and other staff. The impact these have had on the nature of services and consequently the expectations of users has often been underestimated by those planning and ultimately taking responsibility for managing new services. The expectations and consequent pressures placed on relatively junior staff without the matching preparation, training, and ongoing support, particularly in IT, characterises several of these developments.

3.3.4 Our conclusion is that it is not helpful or indeed possible to provide a simple checklist of the skills required by staff working in the electronic library environment. One message is clear however and applies to staff at all levels and across the spectrum of responsibilities - whilst some staff may need a portfolio of skills, including high level IT skills, to meet the requirements of their particular function, all staff, working in today’s electronic library environment, must be comfortable working with IT.

3.3.5 There is still an overwhelming need to demystify IT, and develop overall confidence in staff in its use. This requires a basic understanding of computers, familiarity with appropriate terminology and an understanding of how the networked information environment works. It is less an emphasis on learning the use of a particular software package, and more about an overview which develops IT confidence in staff. In the absence of this, anxieties, will be fuelled by a lack of confidence, and basic ignorance. As a simple example, consider the impact the process of software upgrades, with all the attendant issues of change and relearning, has on staff. Instead of seeing them as part of an incremental process, staff without an appropriate level of IT understanding often regard this as a major change involving a steep learning curve each time they take place. As a consequence they feel destabilised, and even bereft of skill.

3.3.6 There is little doubt that much can be done to prevent this. In almost every institution visited we found a number of staff at different levels, who would not consider themselves to be technologically sophisticated but who nevertheless felt at home with IT and computers. A significant number of them had computers at home. Institutions need to make provision for “IT awareness” sessions alongside more specific training. Experience suggests that these are often best provided by non-technical trainers working interactively and hands on where possible. In addition to this general overview of IT, all staff need to be familiar with the basic software tools - word-processing, spreadsheets - and be able to use email systems and the Internet. Beyond this the skill requirements are more dependent on particular roles.

3.3.7 Recommendation:

Senior LIS managers must take account of the training needs of all staff working in the new information environment. IT impacts on all levels and on all functions, and staff need to receive appropriate training to ensure that they are prepared to deal with the new demands made on them. Particular emphasis must be placed on general IT awareness and the requirement for all staff to “be comfortable working with IT.” All staff should be able to use email, the Internet, and the basic core software tools available within the institution. Some roles will need additional specialist IT skills, though managers should take particular care to assess if any of these more technical functions would be better fulfilled by staff with a computing background.

3.4 The Future of Library Professionals

3.4.1 Technological change in libraries over the past few years has resulted in some shift of responsibilities from qualified information professionals to paraprofessional staff. Many of the more routine administrative tasks associated with printed resources are now being undertaken by such staff, leaving qualified staff to develop new roles.

3.4.2 Emerging roles include academic liaison; user education and teaching; networked learner support; and IT development. The latter includes, inter alia, the development of Campus Wide Information Services; the evaluation of electronic information resources; and the identification and development of appropriate Internet, multimedia and other IT based services.

3.4.3 To fulfil such roles, today’s information professional working in the electronic information environment requires a balanced combination of knowledge, skills, aptitudes and personal qualities. These include:

i)understanding the Internet and the way it differs from other media;

ii) familiarity with different search engines;

iii) critical thinking when evaluating Internet resources;

iv) ability to identify and systematise appropriate Internet resources;

v)design and production of quality web pages;

vi) full use of email facilities including discussion lists and bulletin boards;

3.4.4 Many professional staff are concerned about their general lack of understanding of technological issues, and are confused about what they need to know in terms of hardware and software, or how best to acquire more advanced computing skills. Whilst some will occupy posts which require a high level of IT knowledge, the requirements outlined above do not in general necessitate high level technical skills.

3.4.5 Managers reflecting on the skills required by their staff often laid greater emphasis on personal qualities rather than IT skills. They saw the latter being acquired through training or on the job. More generic skills, such as communication, problem solving, analytical ability, flexibility, together with strong customer orientation were seen as key attributes for staff working in new information and learning environments.

3.4.6 Senior Managers must be able systematically to evaluate the skills requirements and staffing implications of the electronic and networked learning environment, promoting an understanding and awareness of the role of IT in teaching and learning; ensuring that appropriate training is provided in the required skills; and fostering an environment which accepts change as a norm, and encourages self development and continuous professional development.

3.4.7 Library staff will increasingly find themselves working in multi-disciplinary teams. This will require the development of team working skills, and the need to acknowledge and understand the complementary skills of others. For some library managers there will be the additional need to understand the skills of computing and media professionals, and to appreciate the differences in working culture. There is little doubt that the new information environment requires a vast range of different skills drawing both on those of library professionals, as well as others from computing. The skills and even the personal characteristics of the library professional are widely different to those of the computer scientist. There is as yet little evidence to suggest that these can effectively be combined in a hybrid professional (see Section 3.7).

3.4.8 Recommendation:

Service management must recognise the changing nature of the role of the majority of professional librarians within LIS. Their changed functions will require new skills and training, and continual updating. At the present time, three areas in particular require attention for a significant number of such staff:

i) information and IT skills required to function in the networked information environment;

ii) an understanding of the nature of change taking place in the teaching and learning process in higher education;

ii) team working and team management skills, particularly within the context of multidisciplinary team working.

3.5 Training Issues for Library Professionals

3.5.1 The Departments of Information and Library Studies (DILS) are often criticised for their failure to prepare graduates for the new information environment. In reality the majority of schools have made major strides to introduce imaginative new courses and develop new skills in their students. They remain challenged in initial professional training by the need to prepare graduates for a wide variety of information service outlets. However, new modules have been introduced to reflect current practice, and topics, such as the use of the Internet and the evaluation of electronic and networked information resources, are increasingly included as compulsory elements. Almost without exception, the most recently qualified graduates of library schools we met during the visits to institutions had good basic IT skills when compared to longer serving staff and were generally more comfortable working in the electronic environment.

3.5.2 Senior managers must be reminded of the increasing importance of Continuing Professional Development courses for staff working in the new information environment. LIS staff can no longer rely on initial professional education or on the job training. In common with other professions, they are dependent on continual updating if they are to keep pace with a rapidly changing world. Whilst several agencies, including the Library Association; ASLIB; the DILS; and several eLib projects have made significant effort respond to the need for training and development, the SKIP team found relatively little enthusiasm from managers to release staff to attend such courses. In part the problem is the release of staff from their normal duties, so the emergence of on-line courses, and in-library training should be encouraged.

3.5.3 There is an urgent need for more comprehensive provision of training and updating courses for all information professionals. The need to support lifelong learning and continuing professional development are essential if information professionals are to keep pace with the rapid rate of change. The Netskills Project within the eLib Programme provides a useful model of training. Some institutions have already made plans to launch courses on line.(6) The “pick and mix” approach to professional development will enable staff to build up a portfolio of skills rooted in practice and appropriate to their particular circumstances. The delivery of these on line to the home and workplace will overcome some of the current problems of staff release.

3.5.4 Recommendation:

Whilst the changes in initial training which have been made in the Departments of Information and Library Studies are to be welcomed, they alone are not sufficient to meet the ongoing needs of the profession. The DILS should reappraise their role in Continuing Professional Development, taking account of the particular difficulties experienced by many institutions in releasing staff. The work of eLib projects such as NetSkills should be used to inform providers of the kinds of approach to training which might better meet the needs of both employers and staff. On-line, distance, or in-work training all have particular attractions when the release of staff on a regular basis presents significant problems. In larger units, the appointment of a staff training officer may provide an additional impetus for change.

3.6 Paraprofessional and Other Library Staff

3.6.1 The understatement of the impact of change on this group of staff revealed through the Project interviews and visits is a matter for some concern. Their roles often place them at the sharp end of service activities: lending counters, enquiry desks, and advisory points. Many are working in increasingly sophisticated technological environments, yet relatively few institutions have begun to address their need for support and training. They have willingly taken on a wide range of additional functions, many previously the responsibility of professional librarians, e.g. acquisitions, cataloguing, interlibrary loans, but often feel that their increased contribution is not recognised. Many would like to seek an alternative route to professional status, which would give due acknowledgement to the extent of their growing knowledge and skill base.

3.6.2 All staff working at this level need a basic level of IT skill, and confidence in the use of computers. This will make subsequent training, or, as is increasingly the case, learning on the job, easier. However, several of the institutions visited have also over the past 2/3 years introduced varying numbers of personal computers into their reading rooms. Only a small number appear to have adequately assessed the impact this might have on the roles of support staff. Such pressure and the speed of change means that careful consideration has to be given to the ways in which staff continue to receive support and training. Where staff are working in libraries with large suites of desktop computers, they require a higher level of IT skill to enable them to trouble shoot hardware problems, and a basic understanding of mainstream computer software such as word-processing and spreadsheets.

3.6.3 A growing number of services are beginning to use paraprofessional staff, often supported by library and computing professionals, to provide information and advisory desk services. The training provision for such staff was found in general to be inadequate, and needs to be addressed with some urgency if user support services are to be improved. At present many front-line staff feel inadequate and isolated when faced with frustrated and angry users, who expect staff adjacent to sophisticated computing equipment to be able to help them both with the equipment and the other information resources on offer. The impression gained by SKIP was that, even where considerable thought had been given to the staffing of key information points, staff still felt unable to cope with the pressures of numbers, the pace of change, and the range of enquiries encountered. This was often coupled with the feeling that management expectations were often too high for staff at this level.

3.6.4 There was an overwhelming feeling in the institutions visited of staff being under siege. They are coping with an increasingly demanding and diverse customer base; the pressures inherent in demand-led services; and the uncontrolled growth of information both in print and increasingly in electronic formats with all the attendant issues. To further complicate matters, students in general appear to lack the ability to work in such a complex information environment without considerable assistance.

3.6.5 Recommendations:

The introduction of new technologies has provided opportunities for “non-professional” staff to take on a significant range of functions. This must be recognised, and rewarded as appropriate. The training needs of such staff should also be properly assessed, and provision made to ensure that they are appropriately skilled. In many services, it is this group of staff who will need a range of library and IT skills if they are to be prepared to meet the multiplicity of demands which will be made by students studying in the new electronic information environment. They will be working at the sharp end of service activities and will, therefore, set the tone for the overall service.

3.7 Hybrid Posts

3.7.1 The concept of professional hybridity has been seen by some as the way ahead for the “new information professional.” Such an individual would have training in library and information skills, together with technical computing skills. Whilst the SKIP research has concluded that all staff working in LIS must be familiar with IT, it has become clear that the required level of technical skill for the majority of posts would not require comprehensive training as a computer scientist. The work undertaken by Woodsworth and Maylone(7) on job evaluation in the information professions suggests that computing and library professionals should be seen as part of a single “job family.” Their research proposes a methodology for measuring the similarities and comparability, and concludes that the separate professional identities of the two groups is false. Their analysis of the spectrum of “information” functions demonstrates, however, that there are distinct features which can be associated with the current roles of library and computing professionals. Corrall and Lester(8) categorise the different professional functions as “content” and “conduit” information professionals. In some institutions visited, there were library staff with high level computing skills who were able to make a significant contribution to the support and development of services, but much of what they were doing could have equally well been undertaken by someone from a computing background, who was familiar with the needs of library and information services. In many of the converged services visited, professional library and computing staff work together, pooling a range of skills thus enhancing service support.

3.7.2 The concept of hybridity can, however, be increasingly found at the senior management level and within paraprofessional and support staff groups. Service managers, and those managing multi-disciplinary teams must perforce have some skill and knowledge across the professional disciplines. This needs to go beyond basic familiarity, and requires an understanding of key issues and an ability to articulate them within an appropriate service context

3.7.3 Paraprofessionals and Library Assistants in many of the institutions visited are being asked to take on multidisciplinary roles. Staff working in a technologically rich environments typified by many of the newly built or newly refurbished libraries in HE, now require a range of skills across the computing, media, and information spectrum. If staff are to be able to support the multiplicity of facilities and services now made publicly available to students then they require training at an appropriate level. A number of institutions visited were beginning to provide such services, particularly through Advisory Counters where individual staff were dealing with enquiries across the range of services provided. In some cases, a second level of support was provided by professional computing or library staff.

3.8 Cultural Issues

3.8.1 A theme which has recurred throughout the Project’s research is the evident unwillingness of librarians and computing professionals to work together and to acknowledge and respect each others’ professional skills. Though many of the institutions visited have brought services together in some form of organisational convergence, only a small number have begun to assess the changing nature of service provision and the impact this will have on the future roles of library and computing professionals. There is strong evidence that there are still many unhelpful barriers between library and computing professionals. Comments made by librarians about their computing colleagues are evidence of long standing prejudices and misunderstandings, though it has to be said that similar messages also came from computing staff. In general there is an absence of understanding of what each group is doing, and a lack of respect for each other’s professional skills.

3.8.2 Unfortunately, among too many library professionals interviewed there was a strong sense of being inward looking and a professional rigidity which is not conducive to the collaborative partnerships which must characterise new information services. Many were steeped in a professional culture in a way which appeared to make it difficult for them to think outside the parameters of that culture. There was also an overwhelming feeling among many librarians of the need to know everything, and all too often an apparent unwillingness to acknowledge the contribution that others from different professional backgrounds might bring to the development of new services, and the support of those already in existence.

3.8.3 The future of Information Services in Higher Education will essentially be about the partnership between these professional groups with the blurring of some shared roles particularly in the area of user support. Institutions will choose whatever structures are appropriate to achieve this, but the culture barriers which still exist in many institutions between these groups, together with the array of mythologies and misunderstandings about working practices, will contribute little to the process of developing a cohesive information services policy in support of a university’s strategic ambitions.

3.8.4 Recommendation:

In advising HEIs on the fundamental changes taking place as a result of the introduction of new technological based systems, the JISC should continue to draw attention to the major impact these will have on the organisation and structure of institutional Information Services, and all staff working in them. The changes will necessitate some restructuring, and some reordering of management responsibilities. More importantly it will require an audit of staff skills and mechanisms to ensure that appropriate training and development is provided. Above all it is a process which institutions should handle sensitively, acknowledging the varying contributions each professional group will make, and respecting the mix of professional cultures which will continue to exist within the new information environment.


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

(2) Kennedy,H. Learning Works. URL:

(3) Op.cit [1] (The Dearing Report)

(4) The Joint Information Systems Committee. JISC Submission to the Dearing Committee. Background paper for the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education. September 1996. URL:

(5) Gilster,P. Digital Literacy. New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 1997.

(6) Levy,P. Comments made during questions at the conference: Training for Change: New skills for the electronic library. the Eleventh UK-Nordic Coference, organised by UKOLN on behalf of The British Library Research and Innovation Centre and NORDINFO. The national Railway Museum, York, 25-28 September 1997.

(7) Woodsworth, A. and Maylone, T. Reinvesting in the information job family: context, changes, new jobs, and models for evaluation and compensation. CAUSE Professional Paper Series, No.11. Boulder, Colorado: CAUSE, 1993.

(8) Corrall,S. and Lester, R. “Professors and professionals:” on changing boundaries. In Working in Higher Education. SRHE/Open University Press, 1966, pp. 84-100.

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