Home Contents
Chapter One: Access to knowledge, imagination and learning Chapter Two: Listening to the people Chapter Three: Skills for the new librarian Chapter Four: Network infrastructure Chapter Five: Investment and income Chapter Six: Copyright and licensing issues Chapter Seven: Performance and evaluation Chapter Eight: Implementation - creating the momentum Chapter Nine: A summary of recommendations and costs Appendices

4 The network


This chapter examines how and at what cost an infrastructure can be created to meet the vision of the networked library service of the twenty-first century. These are preliminary views - within the very tight time-scale of this report - and there is still work to be done once these proposals have been adopted in principle by government.

The infrastructure has been considered at local and UK-wide levels, and recommendations cover the provision of networks, hardware for users, management and coordination issues.

The implementation of a technology infrastructure should be fully integrated with the creation of content that people will want to use, with the National Grid for Learning, with training and development programmes inside the library service, and with coaching programmes for users. The funding proposals presented here attempt to provide the means for such an holistic approach to implementation.

These proposals provide the means to encourage innovation across the library networks. When implemented, they will make networked information and learning resources available to every UK citizen in all communities, linking individual learners - adults and children - and their teachers to a panoply of institutions and organisations. At the same time this network can make UK public libraries' services available worldwide, and give UK citizens access to global information sources.

The chapter gives a summary of recommendations; an examination of the network requirements both locally and for the UK (the bulk of the discussion); the recommendations in more detail and the reasons behind them; a discussion of the factors involved in implementation; funding and management recommendations; and finally a section on costs.

Summary of recommendations

The objective is to create a network infrastructure that will enable a step change in the way the public library service operates. The service has to be made easy to use, attractive to use, and accessible in all communities. The proposals should encourage innovation and sustainable continuous improvement.

This chapter sets out to scope the requirements but not to present them in detail. That is for the next stage. There are more than 4,700 fixed and around 700 mobile libraries; there are also over 19,000 service points - mainly unstaffed - in hospitals, prisons and community locations. All of them should be well equipped, so that all users in all places get ready access to the best networked library available.


People should see that these facilities are readily available to them, so the smallest library should have three or four multimedia terminals for users, plus terminal(s) for librarians' use. The largest libraries will need forty or more terminals for users, plus those for librarians'. If we estimate that an additional 40,000 terminals are required - together with printers, other ancillary equipment and installation on a suitable LAN (local area network) - then a spend of around £120 million is likely.

Maintenance and upgrading also need to be funded. In practice it is proposed that funding be made available on a flexible basis to cover hardware provision, training and other requirements according to local circumstances - see below.

The networks

To ensure people have fast access to networked services, every library should be connected by ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) where available. Where this is not currently possible, a negotiation with the network providers will be required to plan and agree the provision and financing. As the number of terminals and user sessions increases, higher bandwidths will be required. Sufficient bandwidth (i.e. capacity) will be required to deliver distance learning and real-time interactive visual services, as applications become available.

The whole of the system should be linked by a UK-wide network that ensures that individuals in any area can enter into and interact with resources and learning programmes available outside their immediate area.

Technology is available to help do all this, but the best, most advanced and highest capacity is not available everywhere. As a start, the core requirements for information and learning can be delivered everywhere, and it will be possible to go beyond this in many places. Main sites in all authorities can be connected to the proposed UK-wide network. Within authorities, technical and cost constraints will prevent all of the requirements being delivered to every single place from the start - it should be possible to reach all locations as the project continues. Right from the start, funding and contractual arrangements should be created that enable remoter places to have services otherwise unaffordable.

The costs of the network technology are difficult to estimate at this stage, before a full audit and design study. In round terms, a gross budget of £36 million is proposed for connections and £48 million annual rentals should be made available for local library systems. This would provide for a mix of network capabilities designed to fit local requirements. A budget of around £10 million for connection and £36 million annual rentals for UK networking would also be required. This budget envelope includes an allowance for full network management.

We have examined some individual operating costs and ICT investment proposals as a guide. However, exact figures will arise from the detailed audit recommended elsewhere in this report.

The overall investment can be related to the current ICT spend for public libraries. Replacement and new projects capital costs for IT in the library services of England, Wales and Northern Ireland were reported as £7.6 million in 1996/97 (Information for All, 1996). In 1995 IT expenditure for all libraries in the UK during 1994/95 was reported as approximately £20 million (CIPFA, 1995).

A detailed implementation plan will need to account for the systems library authorities already have in place or are developing, and some of the above costs will be offset by these. There is scope to share the costs of the local infrastructure between local and central government.

For local networking, an important point to consider is the possibility of libraries being connected into a local branch of an education network such as that being considered by government.

An ICT project of this scale will also create opportunities for efficiency savings, as well as new revenue-earning services, including payment from central government for the delivery of electronic services.

It is proposed that the network should consists of two main components:
  1. the library authority networks;

  2. the UK Public Library Network.

The library authority networks

The objective here is to assist library authorities to continue to develop their networks with maximum flexibility, responsiveness to local needs, and sensitivity to existing infrastructure.

It is proposed that library authorities should be assisted with funding which could be bid for according to agreed criteria and could cover the cost of:
  1. connectivity;

  2. hardware;

  3. Web sites/servers;

  4. maintenance;

  5. upgrading;

  6. staffing/training;

  7. special needs;

  8. convenient and extended opening hours.

Allowing a choice of how funds are allocated between these areas would ensure local flexibility and sensitivity.

There should be minimum standards of connectivity for all locations, providing for:
  1. fast connection to the Internet;

  2. interactive sessions using videoconferencing and multimedia tools with locations inside and outside the libraries network.

The capability (subject to demand) for higher-quality real-time services should also be considered.

A mixture of network provision dependent on local conditions is envisaged, including ISDN and higher-bandwidth networks.

We also recognise that some digitally recorded material could be more cheaply and efficiently provided by increasing the availability of CD-roms.

It is also proposed that minimum standards of hardware provision (terminals for users) should be set out, to ensure wide availability to library users. These standards should be specified in detail by the Public Library Networking Agency when established.

The UK Public Library Network

This would interconnect all public library authority networks at a guaranteed level of bandwidth. This should be scalable in the range of 2 to 35 Mb/s in the first instance, with development pathway to 155 Mb/s and beyond, so that libraries can deliver such services as access to digital film archives, or real-time interactive distance learning. This capacity would allow a universal availability of multimedia to reasonable level.

The UK network would enable higher-quality connections to other similar networks, and permit the creation of services for delivery across the whole of the network. It is recommended that a managed network service be purchased for the UK public library service.


There should be a UK-wide funding programme in which there are two pools of funding:
  1. for the library authority networks - funded by a procurement process through a managing agent. Funds should be available for regional consortia where library authorities choose to have cooperative arrangements. Compliance with the minimum standards will be required. The managing agent should be capable of managing an allocation process when required.

  2. for the UK network - the network to be specified and awarded to an operator or operators after a tender process.


The whole process should be managed by a managing agent under the supervision of a designated body.

Developing the infrastructure


It is widely recognised that the Internet will continue to be the principal driving force for the development of the information society. The Internet is a versatile and pervasive digital network capable of supporting a wide range of applications and providing access to a diverse and rapidly expanding range of information services. The Internet also provides a dynamic development environment that is pioneering a wide range of new technologies, applications and services. Connecting the UK public libraries to the Internet will therefore enable them to extend their services to a wider user community and to participate fully in the development of the information society.

The Internet is formed by the interconnection of thousands of separate networks in different management domains. Within a single management domain there may be several networks, and the management domains cover both private and public network services. The component networks exploit numerous telecommunication technologies, ranging from the dial-up telephone network to state-of-the-art broadband switching technologies. The objective of the Internet is to integrate this complexity and diversity into a single unified network from the user's point of view.

The Internet approach offers considerable flexibility for networking the public libraries, allowing a solution that matches the organisational and funding characteristics of the sector, that can take advantage of specific UK opportunities and developments in telecommunications at both UK and regional levels, and that can embrace a variety of network technologies - including new technologies that will help the networking programme to evolve in the future. Furthermore, the Internet is associated with a rich and diverse development programme that is pioneering new applications and addressing major issues such as privacy, security, copyright, etc. The public libraries will be able to participate in the benefit from this programme.

However, the Internet alone cannot provide the level of service required by the UK's public libraries. The Internet has bottlenecks of information flow which cannot be managed, and it is a complex environment in which undesirable material cannot easily be controlled. It is therefore proposed that the library service adopts a model which allows management of these and other important issues.

The proposed model for networking the public libraries has two levels:
  1. the provision of local networks to interconnect the libraries associated with each library authority;

  2. the interconnection of the library authority networks and their connection to the Internet and to other UK and international networks, including the National Grid for Learning and the University for Industry.

Library authority networks

Although this project is directed at the public library service, implementation has to be through the library authority structures and funding mechanisms. In referring to library networks, it is recognised that these are sometimes part of a wider integrated local network. It is assumed that funding can and will be earmarked for library services within this context.

The following assumptions have been made about the nature of local networked public library services:
  1. Every local public library service can be represented as:

    1. clusters of users;

    2. a provider and publisher of content and services;

    3. a provider of expert guidance through information channels and sources, and in content publishing.

  2. Users are in a variety of contexts, combining location, need and service level:

    1. in major lending and reference libraries;

    2. in local community libraries, where (for example) after-school and student use should intensify from late afternoons, particularly when stimulated by homework clubs;

    3. in mobile libraries;

    4. in schools and other educational institutions;

    5. at other community information and service access points - such as information kiosks in rural post offices or in hospitals;

    6. at home and at work (thereby impacting on the remote dial-in services offered by public libraries), from where users should be able to access a range of free and chargeable services, via the Internet;

    7. in prisons.

  3. Users will be presented with a range of services and advice, and these should be matched to users' ability to make use of the systems and software available. The principle of access to increasingly sophisticated systems, software and advice should be built into the services presented. Expert assistance and guidance will be integrated with the services, and this expertise will be available online (via telephone helplines) and on-site, and will include an extended-hours service.

  4. All publicly provided locations will benefit from full multimedia access to services - text, audio and graphics and simple video services as a minimum, but ranging to higher-quality video and other services, dependent on demand - and for the purposes of costing there will be a minimum standard of terminals provided for users, to comply with the overall UK framework.

  5. Library authorities will continue to plan and purchase systems independently, but public library development will be in line with the UK-wide policy being developed here.

  6. Individual local public library systems will be interconnected (using agreed UK standards) to provide a UK Public Library Network service that provides interactive communication with:

    1. other public-sector online services;

    2. commercial online and Internet services;

    3. services running on SuperJANET and other similar networks in the higher education sector.

  7. The purpose is to provide:

    1. guaranteed high-quality levels of service for users;

    2. cost-effective purchase for the public sector of the infrastructure and content.

Each library authority will be responsible for managing an Internet-compatible network connecting all the libraries within its jurisdiction. These networks could exploit specific regional initiatives and opportunities where they exist - including collaborative ventures with local industry, schools, colleges, universities, etc., and local telecommunications opportunities. Each local network will exploit a mix of network technologies to meet its specific requirements. These technologies include the standard telephone network, higher-bandwidth services available on public and private networks, leased lines, and cable/modem, radio and satellite solutions.

It is expected that responsibility for each of these networks will be a local matter, but they should be supported via a UK programme that pump-primes and stimulates development and offers technical support and coordination. An appropriate UK-wide support programme will help to ensure local network compatibility, will encourage sharing of resources and experience, and will help to ensure that complete coverage of all libraries can be achieved within a time-scale to be defined.

Diagram showing a UK Public library network giving access to a library authority network

A UK network

Two basic approaches have been considered:
  1. a managed approach, under which there would be coordinated procurement and management of the network;

  2. a totally decentralised approach, under which library authorities would separately negotiate and procure their own Internet connections.

Option (a) would allow the provision of specific network resources and guaranteed levels of performance for inter-authority traffic. This is important to facilitate close collaboration among all of the library networks on a UK scale - for example in realising the vision of creating a National Digital Library, or for sharing networked resources at the UK level. If, however, the primary requirement is to provide access for each library network to the global Internet without any specific requirement for good UK-wide interconnection of library networks then the decentralised option - option (b) - would be appropriate.

For option (a) it would be necessary to develop or procure a switched wide area network providing some 200+ access points spread across the UK. This could be developed and managed by the Public Library Networking Agency, or it could be supplied as a managed service by one or more network service providers; it could also be part of the framework of the National Grid for Learning. A mix of these options is also possible. The final choice would be determined by cost-effectiveness and flexibility to meet changing requirements. A central management team would be required to oversee the operation and development of the network. The JANET/ SuperJANET network in the higher education community is an example of this approach which could provide useful guidance for the public library community.

Option (b) does not require the provision of any dedicated UK network resources. Each library network would independently connect to the Internet, using an appropriate Internet service provider (ISP). It is likely that several ISPs would be involved in covering the full set of library networks. These connections could be procured either independently by each authority or by a central procurement initiative covering all networks, though this would carry with it the problem of reconciling dispersed funding with strategic direction. Central procurement would have the advantage of bulk purchasing on a UK scale, which should attract considerable interest from the ISPs and yield reduced costs compared with independent procurements. The central procurement would identify the best ISP for each library network, and the library authorities would then individually contract with the appropriate ISP.

It is strongly recommended that option (a) - the managed approach - is taken, on the grounds that it offers advantages of:
  1. economy;

  2. technical resilience;

  3. guaranteed service levels;

  4. realisation of a UK-wide strategy.

There is already an example of this approach in UK, namely JANET - the Joint Academic Network, linking higher education institutions - which is recognised as a success and is much envied abroad. This is not to say that the UK Public Library Network would emulate the technical infrastructure of JANET: the world has changed since JANET was established, and there are many other options now available. However, the benefits and outcomes of a managed network like JANET are those appropriate for the UK Public Library Network, as follows:

Reasons for a managed network

Guaranteed service levels

A managed network will ensure that within the UK Public Library Network minimum levels of bandwidth can be guaranteed which will provide predictable and reliable levels of service for users. This is essential for user satisfaction - particularly in providing the multimedia services which are required for lifelong learning and educational applications. At the same time the managed network will ensure that capacity can be geared to traffic need and overcapacity can be avoided. A managed network will also guarantee universal access and service levels irrespective of geography, and thus overcome the potential disadvantage of rural locations. In this way a UK-wide strategy can be realised, ensuring equality of access and maximum benefit for all citizens.

Combined purchasing power for telecommunications

A managing agent acting on behalf of all the public library authorities would be in a powerful position to negotiate advantageous rates. This would be particularly helpful to smaller authorities and rural areas, where bandwidth and connectivity costs could aggravate geographical disadvantages. Access to advantageous tariffs for libraries has been identified as an objective by OFTEL, which is committed to facilitating this process. The costs of operation of this model are likely to be significantly better than those of a decentralised model of operation.

Management of content

This solution would make it considerably easier to filter out illegal or otherwise unacceptable content being distributed over the UK Public Library Network, although this important policy issue must be the subject of further discussion.

A mechanism for licensing of content

A concerted UK-wide approach to negotiation of national licences for access to copyright material would be a powerful and simplifying process for large-scale access, with the potential for immense savings to the public purse. Substantial progress has been made in the university sector which will pave the way for this development.

Creation of content

A managed network will encourage UK-wide cooperation on creation and maintenance of content generated by public libraries, avoiding wasteful duplication and creating a trading environment where useful products can be shared and disseminated - in cooperation with the private sector where appropriate. The managed network will also be a more favourable environment for the development of new services, and will bring all citizens within equal reach of these opportunities.

Mirroring of content

A big problem with the Internet is that it can become clogged with traffic, and access to remote resources and can be slow and frustrating. A useful solution to this is the mirroring of resources, whereby important information sources are copied and held where they are more readily accessed. This is already happening on JANET. It is envisaged that in the managed network libraries will cooperate to obtain a licence for a major reference resource and hold it on a public library server. The guaranteed bandwidth of the network will provide the required access capacity for all the public libraries.

Links to other networks and abroad

Links to other networks such as JANET and NHSnet will be facilitated through use of a managing agent, which would be well placed to negotiate service-level agreements, cooperative licensing schemes, and so on.

The World Wide Web (WWW) will be an important element of public library networking for the foreseeable future. To improve the performance of wider WWW access and make efficient use of network capacity - particularly high-cost international links - it is anticipated that WWW caches will be required. Caches significantly reduce the number of external access requests and allow the implementation of filtering to screen some of the unwanted information. The UK Public Library Network would allow these facilities to be provided and managed efficiently for the whole sector.

Management information

The whole public library service could benefit from improved management information from the UK Public Library Network, not solely about the technical performance of the various networks, but more importantly about user behaviours and preferences. This would enable improved demand forecasting at the micro and macro levels and enable demand-led development of new services.


A UK-wide service will allow the public library service to offer a consistent look and feel to users. This should be used to encourage take-up, and will further ensure universal access through better marketing and through friendly easy-to-use screens and menus that reassure all users, enable them to find the service they want quickly, and act as signifiers of quality.

Capabilities of the UK managed network

The UK network will be a wide area network interconnecting all of the library networks and providing access to the wider Internet, including international access, and linking into the National Grid for Learning and the University for Industry. Access to the network from the library networks will be via permanent connections. The network must be capable of offering a range of access bandwidths from several hundred kilobits per second to tens of megabits per second, both to meet the different requirements of the library networks and to provide a future upgrade path.

In considering the linking of the library networks to the Internet, it is important to specify the requirements for the connections. These requirements will include the bandwidth of the connection, reliability, Internet options - which service providers are used, and how they are connected - etc. The bandwidth requirement will depend on a number of factors associated with the development of the library networks to be connected, including:
  1. the size of the end-user community requiring access to the Internet - this will be a function of the number of simultaneously active user terminals;

  2. the capabilities of the available user terminals, and in particular the multimedia capabilities;

  3. the range of Internet applications and services of interest to the users. It is expected that e-mail and basic information access via the World Wide Web will be standard. More advanced applications using facilities such as multicasting (delivering the same data packet to a number of locations), videoconferencing, video content and virtual reality will become increasingly important (see implementation stages 2 and 3 - paragraphs 4.64 and 4.65);

  4. the range of networked information and library services available on the library network that can be accessed from the Internet.

It is expected that over a period of only a few years the bandwidth requirements will grow considerably as the public libraries develop their networked services. The provision of Internet access must therefore include a performance-upgrade path that is within the funding capabilities of the sector.


Three stages of implementation are envisaged.

Stage 1 - establishing connectivity

This will involve:
  1. using services that can be provided now by existing companies to upgrade all libraries - irrespective of location - to current best practice, providing bandwidth to accommodate the factors listed above;

  2. establishing a managed UK network with appropriate interfaces to local and other networks as described above.

The network should be provided as a managed service, available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. A service-level agreement should be developed to define the required services in detail. A growing number of British Internet service providers are capable of providing private networks on a UK scale, and the most appropriate method for obtaining the network would be via a competitive procurement for a managed service.

The contract with the selected service provider should include access to the wider Internet. In addition, specific bilateral links to other networks might be required - for example, to the higher education community's JANET network or to the Government Data Network. These links would be negotiated separately. International access should be sought as part of the requirement for the UK network, but the possibility of separate provision should also be explored. As a guideline, the cost of a 2 Mb/s transatlantic link is estimated at £0.5 million per annum.

Stage 2 - re-engineering and adding value
to the public library services UK-wide

This will involve service development requiring investment in content origination and in the quality of service delivered to identified user groups - for example, in:
  1. cooperatively managed UK-wide services;

  2. remote (dial-up) access for every household and business that wants to be connected;

  3. content and services exploiting links from local libraries to local schools, adult education centres, business training establishments, etc.;

  4. improved content publishing and distribution capabilities;

  5. extension of information-user groups with targetable needs for service - for example, business users in an industry sector; people with disabilities; environmental action groups; ethnic groups with special cultural, learning and language needs;

  6. charging mechanisms for added-value services - for example, to business;

  7. enhancements to messaging networks for individuals to communicate with councillors, local government offices, MPs, etc. from all access points via e-mail and videoconferencing (the simple provision of which should be within Stage 1).

Stage 3 - advanced services development

This will involve piloting and implementation of services utilising leading-edge networking and software, enabling:
  1. personalised libraries using intelligent agents to seek out material likely to be of interest in the light of past user behaviour;

  2. totally new services created specifically for the network;

  3. new inter-regional and international networked library services;

  4. more advanced and fully interactive community/citizen services, extending democratic access to government representatives, officials and information;

  5. next-generation content and services providing educational software, etc.

Management of the network

A range of issues which will need an expert professional management approach has been identified. These issues are:
  1. procurement - procurement of products and services which form the network services, and achievement of economies of scale on behalf of the public library community;

  2. network contract management - managing contracts with the telecommunications suppliers on behalf of the public library community;

  3. service-level monitoring - operation of the network to standards set by and on behalf of the public library community;

  4. service coordination - coordinating the provision of services offered on the network either by participating libraries or by third parties - for example, mirror sites;

  5. network links - managing the interface with other networks, including government departments, SuperJANET, NHSnet, international links, etc.;

  6. support - providing expert advice to participating libraries;

  7. development - keeping up to date with technical development on behalf of public libraries, and promoting continual improvement;

  8. registration - management of public library participation and (possibly) looking after domain names etc.

Managing agent

These issues would almost certainly need to be handled by a managing agent. Two models are possible:
  1. the cooperative model - by which all participating public libraries would agree to set up an agency to act on their behalf;

  2. the contracted model - by which a tender document would be drawn up on behalf of public libraries for open competition by competent parties, and the successful bidder would operate the service on behalf of the libraries.

Option (a) is likely to present formidable problems. At present there is no mechanism by which libraries could reach such an agreement, and reaching consensus from an ab initio position would be costly and time-consuming. Such problems would hinder the speedy and effective implementation of such an important initiative as this.

On the other hand, option (b) could be organised with relative ease through existing mechanisms. Assuming that central funding is forthcoming for the UK Public Library Network, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, in consultation with other relevant departments, could channel this through to the Library and Information Commission. The LIC could oversee a tendering and selection process, calling on specialist advice as necessary. The LIC could either advise government on the letting of the contract, or let the contract on behalf of government. Following the award of the contract, the LIC would be the appropriate body to monitor and arrange for audit of compliance.

Local development

Local development for the new services has been considered with the following factors in mind:
  1. Library authorities already operate networks in a variety of configurations, and with variable degrees of sophistication, for public library services.

  2. It is recommended that all library authorities bring their networks up to a minimum standard in order to deliver world-class standards of networked information services to their users.

  3. Any solution has to be responsive and flexible to local needs and policies.

  4. Differences in population density and geography need to be allowed for.

  5. Implementation should be compliant with a UK-wide framework that will emerge from the detailed design phase, and which will include:

    1. Internet compatibility;

    2. interconnecting all libraries within an authority;

    3. compatibility and connection with the UK network.

  6. There is no prescription for the hardware configurations required to meet local needs beyond the requirement to comply with a minimum UK standard.

On this basis, it is recommended that a pool of funding be created that enables objectives to be met on a matched funding basis. The assessment of such funding should take account of in-kind resources such as staffing for extended opening hours and similar operating costs. Library authorities should have access to funds that will enable them to acquire the appropriate mix for their local needs of connectivity, hardware, training, and so on.

Finally, library authorities should meet the needs of the library service by being prepared to outsource implementation - this will help to overcome resource bottlenecks that some library authorities' in-house ICT departments are experiencing.

Choice of network solutions

A number of network solutions to meet libraries' needs both locally and UK-wide have been considered, and indicative proposals have been provided to summarise how currently available services could meet the requirements. Over the short to medium term, market conditions are likely to drive down the costs of networking (but, equally, usage rates are likely to increase significantly). The question of migration to technologies with greater capacities and capabilities is catered for - in general, this is better managed by purchasing a managed solution - and the network should be reviewed frequently in the light of user demand and the content and services available.

The assessment is that a mix of SMDS (Switched Multi-megabit Data Service) and ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) technologies could meet the need, matched to appropriate local networking. ISDN links would provide additional flexibility for audioconferencing and simple videoconferencing worldwide.

Present needs can be satisfied by this (or an equivalent) combination, and future needs - including the delivery of more advanced content applications - should be provided for by a growing proportion of ATM and other new technologies in the network.

Network solutions and costs

The network descriptions and costs outlined below are for illustrative purposes only. A particular solution cannot be recommended without first conducting a full tendering exercise.

SMDS is designed to integrate with LAN data networking architectures, and its connectionless nature (see below) and multicast facilities make it ideal for interconnecting LANs over the wide area. SMDS suits 'bursty' data applications, and extends down to sites with relatively low bandwidth requirements. SMDS is also ideal where bandwidth between sites is required 'on demand' up to the agreed service-class bandwidth. This means that SMDS is very efficient where the volume of traffic between sites is unpredictable and varies significantly on a daily or weekly basis. In the context of intranets, in which closed user groups obtain the benefits of the Internet on a password-controlled basis, users can rapidly access information, download trade and financial market information, access corporate news and directories, view archived photograph and film collections, and so on.

ATM is an emerging communications technology which can be used as the basis for both local and wide area networks. Its specification enables it to support voice and real-time video as well as data applications. Within both the customer and the service-provider domains, this creates opportunities to reduce total communication costs by streamlining the operational and support overheads.

ATM can provide quality-of-service guarantees which SMDS (and Ethernet) cannot, and ATM supports real-time services such as voice and video. While some video applications, such as desk-to-desk videoconferencing, may be supported over SMDS, it is inappropriate for high-quality video services, such as business television or real-time training delivery.

While it appears that the majority of the requirements for application and information availability between libraries could, in the short to medium term at least, be satisfied by a core network based on SMDS (probably with ISDN serving the smaller and outlying libraries), it would also be appropriate to consider migrating to ATM at some or all sites at some point.

Interworking between SMDS and ATM networks can be delivered where required.

Networking technology is evolving rapidly, and this, combined with likely changes in user requirements in libraries, suggests that contractual arrangements should allow for migration and future-proofing.

Basis for the costing of the UK managed network

The costing is based on the following assumptions:
  1. The network will interconnect all library authority networks.

  2. The costs for the UK managed network service have been prepared to an agreed outline specification. The suggested solution is based on an SMDS network, to allow the overall investment to be estimated and to provide a standard for comparison with other potential solutions.

    Being a connectionless service, SMDS simplifies the planning and dimensioning process for constructing the network. 'Connectionless' means that customers do not need to pre-establish connections of a particular bandwidth before information is transmitted. The customer needs only to forecast roughly how much traffic will be going into and out of a site - the destination or origin of that traffic and exactly how much of it there is is not important. If the access class at any one site starts to become a constraint, the access can be upgraded to provide greater bandwidth.

The cost of such a network can be estimated with accuracy only when the requirement has been studied in more detail. A guideline estimate for a network providing 2 Mb/s access for 189 library networks indicates costs in the region of £1.7 million for installation and £7.5 million annually - exclusive of VAT and the costs of routers and other hardware. Upgrading the performance of all connections by a factor of five would increase the costs to £6.2 million for installation and £14.9 million annually. These figures are derived as below.

The SMDS price consists of a connection charge and annual rental, both of which are based on an access class. An additional distance-related rental will apply for any customer site more than 25 km from the nearest SMDS service point. As 16 Mbit/s and 25 Mbit/s access classes are offered only as part of discrete closed user groups and subject to Identified Traffic Connection charges, the costing has been based on 2 Mbit/s and 10 Mbit/s access classes only. Of the 189 sites whose details were provided for the costing exercise, 121 were located within 25 km of an SMDS service point and 52 were over 25 km. Sixteen sites had either no postcode or the wrong postcode, so an assumption has been made that they have an average distance of 67 km - the mean distance of the 52 sites which are over 25 km - giving a total of 68 sites which are an average of 42 km over 25 km. The resulting costs for the 2 Mbit/s and 10 Mbit/s access classes are as follows:

2 Mbit/s access class
Connection charge = £9,000 x 189 sites » £1.7 million
Annual rental (up to 25 km) = £16,000 x 189 sites » £3.0 million
Additional charge over 25 km = 68 sites x 42 km x £1580km » £4.5 million

10 Mbit/s access class
Connection charge = £33,000 x 189 sites » £6.2 million
Annual rental (up to 25 km) = £55,000 x 189 sites » £10.4 million
Additional charge over 25 km = 68 sites x 42 km x £1580/km » £4.5 million
Total annual rental = £10.4 million + £4.5 million » £14.9 million

It should be noted that these costs are for budgetary purposes only and exclude VAT. A more detailed breakdown would result as part of a tendering process for the provision of a UK library network.

In addition, these costs do not include hardware costs such as routers and associated SMDS cards for each of the 189 local network sites. An allowance of £0.4 million for connections and £6.4 million rentals for a 10Mb/s service has been built into the overall funding proposals to allow for these.

Typical bandwidths per site with SMDS are 0.5 to 2 Mbit/s, and the service supports only data applications. It is ideal for LAN traffic and relatively large numbers of sites. However, where the total aggregate bandwidth per site is around 5 Mbit/s or is growing rapidly, an ATM network may be a more cost-effective solution compared with the 10 Mbit/s service quoted above, and additionally provides the ability to support real-time applications such as voice and video alongside the intranet traffic.

The diagram below shows a very simple model of connecting four of the 189 sites, with each site having a single physical connection to the SMDS 'cloud', allowing it to communicate, in theory, to any other site connected to the cloud. SMDS uses incoming and outgoing address screening to form closed user groups, thereby maintaining security.

A diagram showing a simple model of four sites being connected to the SMDS cloud

While SMDS already offers a gateway which allows customers high-speed access to and from the wider Internet community - as indicated in the diagram above - costs for such Internet access have not been included.

In addition to providing the 'network' to link all the library authority networks, SMDS has the capability to connect the 'network' to other intranets such as the academic networks - for example SuperJANET - as shown in the diagram below.

A diagram showing the SMDS's capability to connect the 'network' to other intranets

Where two or more customers' intranets join together, this forms what is becoming known as an 'extranet'. Again, the introduction of a cloud network such as SMDS can simplify the process of integration of already existing systems, at least at the network level. The 'new' site(s) has only to connect to the cloud, using the single physical connection, to then be able to establish connectivity to all the other sites. The fact that connectivity is changed through software rather than hardware means that connections can be rapidly established and changed in response to a physical or logical restructuring of the organisation.


Information for All (1996). Millennium Libraries: A National Public Library Network. Cambridge: Information for All.

CIPFA (1995). Public Library Statistics: Actuals 1993-4. London: CIPFA.

Home Contents
Chapter One: Access to knowledge, imagination and learning Chapter Two: Listening to the people Chapter Three: Skills for the new librarian Chapter Four: Network infrastructure Chapter Five: Investment and income Chapter Six: Copyright and licensing issues Chapter Seven: Performance and evaluation Chapter Eight: Implementation - creating the momentum Chapter Nine: A summary of recommendations and costs Appendices

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