New Skills for the Electronic Library

Denmark's Electronic Research Library / Danmarks Elektroniske Forskningsbibliotek, DEF

Niels C Nielsen, State and University Library, Denmark

"Challenges for change"

During the last 10-15 years two conditions have brought about special challenges to the libraries: the scarcity of money and the plenitude of information technology. - As to money both reduced grants and decreased purchasing power have caused problems to the libraries in extending their collections and in financing the establishment of new services. The information technology, on the other hand, has offered a number of new possibilities of automating the work of the libraries and making it more efficient as well as of creating new options for our users.

Briefly speaking, the IT-development of the libraries can be described in two phases: the first one consisting in the establishing of an integrated library system with an OPAC for the individual library, the second phase consisting in the transition to becoming libraries with a full utilization of the possibilities which integration of data processing and telecommunication offers us in recent years - to be the IT-based library which has been characterized by different adjectives: electronic - digital - virtual.

In the following I will go into particulars on the efforts to tackle the two challenges of IT and money and to create a political understanding of the investments for the second phase of the IT-development of the libraries - especially on the report which was published in the spring of 1997: Denmark's Electronic Research Library.


Realizing the technical and economic challenges the implementation of the second phase would present, the four major research libraries under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture, decided in the autumn of 1994 to work out a memo jointly to the Ministry: "Migration to the virtual library, 1996-2000". This joint memo was supplemented with an application from each of the libraries, which stated the demand for investments during the four years mentioned and within 10 different areas - estimated on the prices valid at the turn of the year 1994/95. The total amount was 170 million DKK.

Among the officials of the ministry there was at first a surprise and a scepticism at the size of the investments, however they realized that a serious effort should be made in this area. The considerations of the ministry resulted in a desire to have the matter thoroughly examined through a consultant agency investigation, with special weight on an evaluation of the information technology conditions. The whole year of 1995 passed with these considerations.

I shall not bother you with going through the whole sequence. The important thing was that early 1996 a contact was made with two other ministries, under whose jurisdiction there are research libraries: The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Research. This contact resulted in an agreement in May 1996 to carry out a joint investigation by impartial consultants. The main purpose should be to provide a description of a reference model for the electronic research library and an evaluation of the costs of establishing Denmark's electronic research library.

The actual work started by appointment of an inter-ministerial IT-working group. The first task of the group consisted of working out terms of reference for the investigation and of organizing a public examination of tenders in order to find a suitable consultant agency.

The group consisted of representatives for the three ministries, the project manager from the National Library Authority, the Ministry of Culture's advisory officer, representatives (5) for the major research libraries, and the consultant agency's project management. The group was presided over by the Ministry of Culture.

As consultants a consortium of two Danish firms was chosen: Ernest & Young and UNI.C.

From the beginning the work was characterized by rather diverging opinions in the IT-working group of how to define the task - what was wanted and what was the objective of the investigation. Some of the group members attached great importance to the visionary and the revolutionary possibilities in servicing researchers with digital documents, bypassing the libraries - others maintained a more specific and down-to-earth aim, among other things based on the present role of the research libraries in the dissemination of information in printed or digital form and on further development of that role.

However, the working group eventually succeeded in balancing the different viewpoints and agreeing on the work of the consultants and a draft report. Especially for the Ministry of Culture it was important to get a report, which was credible and which could constitute a basis for further political work. Being the initiator, the ministry was therefore also satisfied when the work ended up with broad agreement in the group on the final result. It consists of a main report, four part-reports and summary; the latter has later been translated to English in connection with the IFLA conference.

The report

At first a terminological remark: "Denmark's Electronic Research Library" - the word research library is to be understood as comprising: National library, university libraries and other academic libraries.

The main elements of the report are

The concept

As previously hinted the question of the vision caused some discussion in the working group: what was the major aim and which elements should form part of it? From the discussions between the consultants and representatives for the libraries crystallized the following concept:

"Denmark's electronic research library will be established through a network of research libraries and information centres.

The system of research libraries forms a virtual system, which transcends the borders of regional/local libraries. In a simple, transparent way, and within the given legal and economic framework, it makes available the libraries' collective information resources (digital and traditional) to users all over the country.

The establishment of Denmark's electronic research library is based on present technical possibilities. Its aim is to realize an effective national information supply, which makes available those resources already developed in the research libraries of the country, and which makes it possible to incorporate other information centres as a natural part of the virtual information system.

It is important to stress the fact that Denmark's electronic research library will emerge as one large, coherent, virtual information system as a result of the net- work of linking of research libraries' and other information centres' services, like for example national license agreements. The overall effect is gained by complying with and following standards: for communication, for search support, for (subject) registration and for document description and representation."

As will appear the question of establishing connectivity among the different partners is the central part of the concept - that is the network's linking of services. (The summary, p. 6)"

The crucial aim of Denmark's electronic research library is to create or enhance access to information resources. It will be virtual in the sense that it will give access to physically distributed, interconnected services (a network of knowledge systems). It will be digital in the sense of giving access to collection of digital documents. It will be electronic in the sense of giving access to old and new services through electronic communication. It will give access to material in print from the old collections as well as to material in digital form - and in that sense be a hybrid library.

The participants

Exactly this connectivity creates new forms of interaction between the various partners in the production and distribution of scientific information: author, publisher, library and user - as shown in the figure: Relations between the participants. Electronic connection between libraries, users and interested parties facilitates more effective information exchange.

New possibilities

Electronic access to all catalogue information and to an increasing amount of digital documents, as well as ordering traditional materials from those libraries, which are part of Denmark's electronic research library will be some of the new opportunities presented to the users.

A new frame for cooperation

"Denmark's electronic research library must create a profile and a level of service, which encourage the users to feel that they are "customers" in a common (virtual) unity and not in different physically separated research libraries with different conditions (borrow/download) or options. A similar profile should be presented to the suppliers. It is, therefore, necessary to develop a common set of rules to formalize this cooperation. Some areas might be: Increased cooperation between the research libraries will require overall, joint management/coordination. Cooperation across ministerial borders must be established, but the decentral participants must retain their independence in order to preserve the dynamics of the system." (op. cit. p.8).

The main components

Denmark's electronic research library will consist of four main components:

Proposed projects

A number of projects at national level - closely associated with existing national and international projects - should also be launched: These projects could form the basis for a decision on whether they should become national services with the necessary critical mass." (op. cit. p. 9).

Economic scenarios

An important point in the terms of reference for the consultants was the demand of drawing up three economic scenarios: a basic, a developed and an advanced scenario, in which the costs of realizing Denmark's electronic research library should be calculated - covering an investment period of five years. The report expounds the basis of calculation of the investments in the main areas for libraries of different size.

Denmark's electronic research library is not a well-defined entity in the sense that a precise number of demands have to be complied with. The report points out that various levels and different overall priorities of service level etc. can be defined. The main parameters of importance to the extension and to investment demands are:

The distribution of investment covering a 5-year period

(Mil. DKr.)Year 1Year 2Year 3Year 4Year 5Total

Distribution on main components

(Mil. DKr.)National

The basic scenario

In the basic scenario network cooperation is established between the 13 major libraries. The users, particularly the researchers, are having their basic demands fulfilled: They gain transparent access - from their individual work station - to localize material, assess possibilities for loan and order electronically. The collection of digital documents consists of material originally produced in digital form.
(Mil. DKr.)Year 1Year 2Year 3Year 4Year 5Total

The developed scenario

In the developed scenario access is extended to material in electronic form and shared facilities are established somewhat earlier in the period. All catalogue records will become accessible, the most important ones in the early stages of the period. The main difference is the emphasis or digitization of documents to reach the critical mass, and establishment of suitable user facilities, i.e. access for students too.

Furthermore there will be an increased number of users and electronic usage of the libraries.

(Mil. DKr.)Year 1Year 2Year 3Year 4Year 5Total

The advanced scenario

In the advanced scenario the circle of libraries is supplemented by a dozen libraries with special collections. The emphasis will be on an increase of multimedia oriented documents, i.e. through digitization. The main emphasis will be on establishing user facilities.

(Mil. DKr.)Year 1Year 2Year 3Year 4Year 5Total

Response to the report

For library people I don't think that the report contains decisive new ideas or evaluations, but it gives a total picture of what may already be obtained by the present day technology, and it points out the effort areas to aim at. The primary aim has not been to convince librarians of the promises of the electronic library, but to make a technological and economical investigation that could provide the basis for the continued work in the ministries to plan a national strategy - which may be used to convince politicians and the Ministry of Finance.

The report was handed over to the ministries in February 1997 but not published until May. In the ministries they wanted time to discuss the recommendations of the report and go through the economic evaluations - in itself an indication that the ministries took the report seriously. Above all the three ministers involved wanted peace for deciding on a political attitude without interference from elsewhere. The remarkable fact is that in a few months the three ministries succeeded in coordinating their attitude and agreed on trying to provide the economic basis of financing a joint effort to realize Denmark's electronic research library. This plan was based on the developed scenario. The preliminary conclusion of this work is the budget estimates which the government presented in August. It contains proposals for appropriations for financing the establishing of the electronic research library with a total of 200 million DKK over 5 years.

In the preface to the English summary of the report the three ministries express their opinion on this initiative as follows " ... the three Danish ministries have taken the initiative to establish the DEF project for the purpose of accelerating and coordinating the Danish development within the library sector in such a way:

Of course, nothing is certain until the basic government grant has passed through our parliament, Folketinget - but personally I think there is good reason to hope that the proposal mentioned will obtain acceptance. Response from other parties than the Government Parties also indicates understanding of the importance of the project.

The primary aim: to create political understanding of and acceptance of this large stake of money on an IT extension of the research libraries of benefit to research and the higher education appears obtainable.

Denmark's electronic research library as a challenge to the research libraries

The realization of Denmark's electronic research library will be a challenge to the research libraries - but also to the users of the libraries.

There will be technical, economic, psychological and legal barriers to overcome.

In many respects the Danish research libraries will be well prepared for tackling this challenge due to their work with utilization of IT in libraries.

What is certain, at present, is the report, above all with the concept for Denmark's electronic research library, DEF, which is given in it, and with the proposal for financing presented. Thus, a framework for the continuation of the work has been created. Now the task is to concretize contents and organization - it is a task which will involve libraries, the ministries and representatives of the users.

The organizational challenges

The very concept of DEF being a network of a number of independent actors indicate a managing and coordinating effort, which on one hand shall ensure interaction and unity, for instance through a goal-directed investment and observance of standards, and on the other hand give the individual actor free scope for the local creativity.

With CultureNet Denmark institutions under the Ministry of Culture have experienced that such a network can be established in interaction between a central managing body and the individual institutions without leading to heavy-handed centralism.

At present, elaboration of the management of the project has not been determined. But as far as I am informed a small cross-ministerial committee is planned - only consisting of officials from the three ministries - for administering the economic coordination of the grants - and a proper steering group for administering the distribution of the means appropriated for joint purposes.

It is a must for the ministries to ensure the users a considerable influence on the realization of DEF. Therefore, the majority of the steering group is supposed to be user representatives - perhaps there will be only one representative of the involved research libraries in the group.

Also, for the individual research library DEF will offer considerable challenges. Each participant of the electronic research library must be able to co-operate with the other partners on i.a.:

It will be required by the users that they can experience DEF as if they are patrons in one unit - and not in individual physically separate units with different conditions and possibilities for use. Thus it will be necessary to develop the set of rules for the cooperation we already have today.

Realization of DEF will also interfere into the organization of work in the individual library, i.a. as to collection development.

For the individual research library it will be necessary to attach greater importance to an orientation towards its users and to involve them in the adaption of the library services to the different user groups - the segmentation of the services that is possible in the electronic library.


Beside the above mentioned organizational and technical challenges there will be many challenges to create substance in DEF and to ensure all users easy access to information. However, I am convinced that the greatest challenge regards competence. Even though the realization of DEF implies IT and requires considerable investments in hardware and software, DEF will in the end be a product of people, maintained and supported by people: our staff - and used by people: our patrons. Thus, the topic of this seminar: "Training for change" also states a substantial demand on the libraries if DEF shall turn out successfully.

Training is necessary to ensure a sufficient competence level of the different staff groups; this applies to purely technical competence in handling new tools and solving new tasks, but beside these more specific IT-skills also a general understanding of what can be done with IT, an ability to see new solutions and to skip old ways of working; in several areas there will be a need for reengineering processes. The demands are complex, so what I see as the most necessary skill, is simply flexibility.

But not only our staff needs new competence, it also applies for our patrons. DEF will create new conditions for retrieval of information. To make the most of these possibility demands adaption and new skills of our patrons. I think we have all realized that some of our patrons already today have difficulty in fully exploiting the existing possibilities of their own desktop pc in information retrieval. Certainly there is a job for the librarians to facilitate out patrons' understanding and use of the new facilities that the electronic research library will offer them - and to train them to implement these facilities in their daily work.

In my mind there is no doubt that the most serious challenge to the library in the next 5 years will be the task at the same time to be a learning and a teaching organization.

As a conclusion of this statement of the Danish plans of DEF and their present status I will allow me to pass on a quotation which in the report is placed as a motto for the crucial second chapter: Reference model for the electronic research library: Larnier's paradox which goes like this:

"We always tend to overestimate the short-term effects, and we always tend to underestimate the long-term effects of technology changes." (cf. References)

The emergence of networked information has had a profound impact on knowledge management techniques. The aim of the DEF-project is to ensure the academic community an information service that is adapted to these conditions. It is an important further step in the development of the Danish library system - and it will be judged by the capability of the research libraries to give the patrons value for money in the form of better and more efficient services in return for the great investments.

But it is only one step. In Denmark there is a tradition of a cooperating library system comprising both research and public libraries. The next step, which there is some talk about, is therefore a similar development of the public libraries. It is the vision of Denmark's electronic library.