Retrospective Conversion of Library Catalogues in Institutions of Higher Education in the United Kingdom : report on a Focussed Consultation Group and a survey of Opinions conducted as part of this Project. Prepared by Information Management Associates.
Information Management Associates were approached by
Philip Bryant in February 1995 and invited to consider conducting some
qualitative research to supplement the larger quantitative research study
for the Retrospective Conversion project. After initial discussion about
setting up a pair of seminars for 'experts' and 'users', Information
Management Associates were invited to facilitate a consultative group
event for librarians interested in retrospective conversion and to carry
out a small-scale survey amongst practitioners and users to gather
opinions about some of the issues involved since they felt that this was
the best way to gather the information. This report outlines the work done
and summarises the main results.
2. THE SEMINAR
An invitation to attend a focussed consultation group
event was issued over JANET in March 1995. The response was encouragingly
high and the participants at the event had to be limited to eighteen. (The
subsequent consultation questionnaire was sent to the other people who had
expressed interest.) The event was held at the Isaac Newton Professional
Development Centre, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, on Thursday
6th April. A list of the participants is appended (Appendix 1).
The event was facilitated by David Streatfield of IMA
assisted by Graham Robertson of Bracken Associates. It was envisaged as
consisting of four main elements :
1. a group activity aimed at locating retrospective
conversion amongst the competing priorities of Higher Education Library
2. a structured brainstorming session to gather views
about the main issues to be faced in planning and implementing a national
3. an opportunity for participants to make prepared
statements about retroconversion; and
4. a general discussion about issues and priorities.
In the event, the first two elements in the programme
proceeded as planned, but nobody wished to avail themselves of the
opportunity to make a prepared statement and the general discussion led
into a group activity in which participants considered the nature of a
national programme and assessed the priorities for action in introducing a
The initial activity (which was envisaged both as an
'ice-breaker' and as a means of sorting out priorities) consisted of a
card-sort activity conducted in four groups. A set of 23 issues had been
drawn up through discussions with Bernard Naylor, Philip Bryant and
members of the Project Monitoring Group. At the event the four groups were
asked to jettison all but nine of the issues or concerns in academic
library management (the full list is shown as Appendix 2). They
were then asked to rank the chosen items in descending order of importance
in the form of a diamond, with one item on the top and fifth tiers, two on
the second and fourth levels and three on the third tier. (This method of
ranking items is based on the premise that it is relatively easy to
identify the 'most' and 'least' important items within a set but that
precise ranking of the items in between can be problematic.) The feedback
concentrated on differences and similarities in the choices made by the
four groups and on where retroconversion issues featured.
In the second activity, focussed on issues in planning
and implementing a national retroconversion programme, the participants
worked as two groups in generating a total of 98 topics and in
prioritising them. The high priority issues were similar for the two
groups, and these formed the basis for further plenary discussion. After
lunch, there was some further general discussions of the lower placed
priority items before further group consideration was given to setting up
a national programme.
The results of this focussed consultation are outlined
in sections 4 and 5 below.
3. QUESTIONNAIRE SURVEY
The main issues emerging from the event were transmuted
into 21 assertions about retroconversion. This process was based on the
scoring of priorities at the event but took account of those issues that
could usefully be incorporated into questionnaire format. (The resulting
questionnaire is attached as Appendix 3.) These statements were
sent to a selection of 16 librarians (including those who had not
eventually been invited to the consultative event), users (consisting of
13 prominent academics and seven postgraduate researchers, as well as six
medical researchers) and eight people with a commercial or organisational
interest in retroconversion. Recipients were asked to agree or disagree
with each statement by ticking one of an array of six boxes. Despite the
fact that the questionnaires had to be distributed immediately before
Easter for analysis at the beginning of May, a total of 33 responses were
received (giving a response rate of 66%). Apart from the commercial and
organisational respondents, of whom only four responded in time, all of
the categories of recipients responded well.
A summary of the responses is given in section 6 below.
4. RETROSPECTIVE CONVERSION VERSUS OTHER PRIORITIES
When asked to sort out the main priorities facing
higher education libraries for the next two years by means of the
card-sort activity, the four groups highlighted:
enhancement of the IT structure "because most operations depend on IT"
sustaining the current acquisitions programme*
coping with the rising demand for purchasing and the
increased price of periodicals.
* These issues were added to the original set by
groups on blank cards provided for that purpose.
Other major priorities included:
the pressure on resources for student-centred learning (linked to the issue of rising periodical prices)
cost of acquisitions
document delivery enhancement and improvement of current catalogues
the purchase of hard copy texts versus buying
electronic publications (this was reported as a real issue by the British
Hardly surprisingly, given the focus of the day and the
interests of the representatives, retrospective conversion figured as a
priority issue for all four groups, but not at the same levels. Two of the
groups positioned this issue on the third tier (i.e. ranked between fourth
and sixth in their priorities) and one of these groups linked the issue to
enhancing use of collections; the third group positioned retrospective
conversion in their fourth level and again made the link to enhancing
collection use; the other group paired the issue in their fifth tier along
with catalogue development.
In discussing their decisions, participants emphasised
that although retrospective conversion has not always been seen as an
important issue it is now becoming so. It was agreed that retroconversion
should be seen as a question of unlocking resources not just a mechanistic
process. Other points made were that the level of attention to
retroconversion depends on how far the library has already gone and that
retroconversion was not always seen as an issue by other library managers.
5. A NATIONAL RETROSPECTIVE CONVERSION PROGRAMME?
5.1 The 'issues'
The two brainstorming groups generated a total of 98 issues (many of them overlapping) to be considered when planning and implementing a national retrospective conversion programme. They were then asked to prioritise these issues using a forced choice approach and the topics
were further refined in discussion. The main priorities
were shared by both groups, with points allocated by participants as
1 Resources - overt and covert costs 58
2 Objectives : what are we actually doing it for? 45
3 Priorities (national and local): what order? 42
4 Bibliographic standards and accessibility (to records and stocks) 27
The other issues identified by the participants have been grouped under general headings
Deals to be done
Mechanism for sharing and acquiring records
Impediments to inter-access of existing records
Involvement of 'owners' of the system and ownership of
Unified database of records
Improved access to information
Enrichment of catalogues 19
Local staff issues
Space for staff
IT capacity 15
Identifying libraries with rich collections
Identifying areas for conversion
Identifying 'source libraries' to act as pilots
Foreign language items 18
Co-ordination of effort
Impact on existing system
The 'undermining' impact of electronic storage 10
Need for Definitions
'Retrospective conversion' 6
Is speed of implementing the programme important? 8
5.2 A national programme
The participants then worked in groups to decide what a
national programme is and discussed the major issues and priorities in
bringing it about. It was agreed that there is a real difference of
approach when dealing with a national programme rather than reacting to
A national programme could be conceived as an umbrella
under which the remaining work could be shared out, assuming that the
objective was to have an accessible record somewhere of anything that
people might want. One group defined the objectives of the
national programme as:
to provide a timescale and framework
to get rid of card catalogues
to make rare and unique items available
to improve the accessibility of our total library resources
to create a national standard for catalogue records
They envisaged that a task group could be set
identify places for targeting money
set spending priorities
negotiate a basis for accessing records
encourage sharing and 'trading' amongst participants.
A key question was whether there should be a single
national database or whether emphasis should be on distributed but
connected resources. A national database would unlock some of the more
esoteric collections by providing signposts to their locations.
Forthcoming developments in information technology might overcome this
problem, if for instance, distributed databases could be set up to
interact with each other automatically (through software agents) so that a
"national database" concept might be achievable, even if it
consisted of smaller units managed independently.
Various points about a national programme were made in
the plenary discussions:
it was emphasised that the focus of the current project
was bibliographic, although it was reported that the British Library will
mount its own manuscript database and a sound archive in the autumn of
some delegates were prepared to reallocate funds to
enable them to do work in support of a co-ordinated approach;
records could be paid for: the Council of Europe 1989
Recommendation states that catalogue records should be circulated
unrestrictedly; but it does not say that these should be free;
the discussion returned time and again to resources,
adequate space and staff motivation (customer concerns were only noted in
relation to increasing pressure on library staff.);
different universities have different political
frameworks and some universities might not want to disclose their special
collections (it was noted that American universities tend to be more open
- publicising their collections to attract academics);
there has been a high level working party between The British Library and CURL dealing with three areas:
At the end of the day participants were asked to offer their final thoughts. The main points are listed below:
it is not clear how we could avoid duplication of work locally without a national programme;
the programme should be about targeting resources inline with agreed objectives;
cost-effective record sharing is one of the keys to justifying the programme;
retroconversion is not a university problem only - it should involve the British Library and other major non-HE libraries;
basic criteria are needed for identifying priorities in implementing the programme;
'Garbage-in, garbage-out!' We should aim for acceptable bibliographical standards;
it is important to keep in touch with the university libraries that are doing work as part of the Follett programme;
we should focus on the best available practice.
6. THE SURVEY OF VIEWS
As already noted, 21 of the issues emerging from the event were rendered as propositions in a questionnaire and sent to 50 people. The 33 completed questionnaires were analysed by scoring each row of responses from plus 3 (agree strongly) to minus 3 (disagree strongly). Since one or, at most two, people had failed to respond to particular questions, averages were derived from the total scores for each of the 21 assertions. This refinement did not affect the rank order, so the mean scores have been omitted below. The assertions and associated scores are presented in rank order in table 1 with the most strongly supported propositions first.
Perhaps more important than the extent to which
respondents supported the propositions offered was the amount of consensus
shown. The strength of consensus is indicated in Table 1 by the
various typefaces used as follows :
Strong consensus = 90%+ respondents ticked two
adjacent boxes - bold type underlined
Moderate consensus = 90%+ respondents ticked three
adjacent boxes or 80%+ ticked two adjacent boxes - bold type
Weaker consensus = 90%+ respondents ticked four adjacent
boxes or 80%+ ticked three - normal type
Little consensus = 90%+ respondents ticked five
adjacent boxes or 80 % ticked four - italic
[No consensus = responses spread fairly evenly
across the boxes - brackets and italic]
Although the low numbers involved do not permit any
systematic analysis of the difference between the responding groups, it
may be of interest to note that :
the assertion that 'RCC will enable anyone to
locate any University library holdings within the UK via an appropriate
workstation within ten years' was more strongly supported by the four
commercial and organisational respondents (ranked 1st) than by the other
respondents (ranked 11th);
the librarians more strongly supported the idea that 'RCC
is highly desirable because it will eliminate manual catalogues and
provide a single point of access by computer' (ranked 9th) than did
the academics (ranked 18th);
only the four commercial and organisational respondents
collectively supported the notion that 'Libraries should be free to
charge each other for access to their catalogue records' (ranked 8th
by them compared with the overall ranking of 20th). It is tempting to see
a vested interest showing here!
the academics were even more keen that 'any
national RCC programme should encompass non-HE sector libraries' than
were the librarians (ranking this =1st compared with 5th)
the academics were also more inclined to the view that
'a national RCC programme requires significant advances in the
information technology infrastructure within Universities' than were
the librarians, (ranking this 8th= compared with 19th) possibly because
they were less aware of current IT possibilities.
Overall, most respondents were agreed about what a
national retroconversion programme should concentrate on (recording
unique/unusual publications and general publications and exploiting
existing stock) as well as how it should fit into the wider picture
(non-HE sector libraries, the British Library and European initiatives).
There was also some accord around the need for government funding,
agreements over collection access and the need for leadership (though not
necessarily a willingness to accept a lead!).
However, the support for a parochial argument in favour
of RCC and for various other justifications advanced for a programme was
less general. As to the time scale, the relatively optimistic suggestions
of five and ten years met a pessimistic response and, interestingly, there
was little sympathy for the idea of libraries charging each other for
Although it would not be appropriate for the
facilitators of the activities described above to usurp the role of the
main project researchers in offering detailed conclusions, it is evident
that there is substantial support for a national retrospective conversion
programme. However, there do appear to be a variety of views about what
form of leadership this programme should have; about a realistic timetable
for completing the programme; and about how the participating libraries
can be recompensed for the work involved or otherwise recoup some of the
Information Management Associates
Questionnaire propositions in rank order
|1. Recording unique publications for the benefit of researchers is very important.||89|
|2. Recording of unique/unusual publications to
improve overall access to these
items is very important.
|3. Any National RCC programme should encompass
non-HE sector libraries
(e.g. National, Special and Major Public libraries).
|4. Any National RCC programme should be closely
co-ordinated with relevant
British Library initiatives.
|5. Recording of general publications for the
benefit of library users is very
|6. A major justification of RCC is that it enables
Universities to benefit from large
sums of money that they have already spent on existing bookstocks.
|7. Significant central government funding is now
essential to support a national
|8. It is vital that any National RCC programme should
take account of European
|9. A national RCC policy/lead body* is required to
co-ordinate priorities and to
|10. A National RCC programme will require agreements about access to collections.||56|
|11. RCC will enable anyone to locate any University
library holdings within the UK
via an appropriate workstation within ten years.
|12. A national RCC lead body is required to negotiate
national deals with commercial
providers and to secure funding.
|13. RCC is highly desirable because it will
eliminate manual catalogues and provide
a single point of access by computer.
|14. The main benefit arising from RCC is to improve
access to the stock of my own
|15. A major justification of RCC is that it helps to
preserve existing library collections
by spreading the impact of demand.
|16. University libraries would welcome priorities
for RCC being set by a national lead
|17. [A national RCC programme requires significant
advances in the information
technology infrastructure within Universities.]
|18. [ Humanities publications should be given
priority over science publications in any
National RCC programme.]
|19. A national database incorporating all
University library records will be in place
within ten years.
|20=. Libraries should be free to charge each other for access to their catalogue records.||- 49|
|20=. RCC of University libraries in the UK will
be completed within five years
(apart from 'windfall collections').
* Respondents were invited to indicate their preference at these
points by striking out the other options. Less than half of the
respondents did so and no clear preferences emerged.
ANNEXE 2 - Appendix 1
John Arfield, Loughborough University of Technology
Philip Bryant, University of Bath
Robert Butler, University of Essex Library
Marion Chadwick, London Guildhall University Library
Robin Davis, University of Stirling Library
Fred Friend, University College London Library
Tom Graham, J B Morrell Library, University of York
Henry Heaney, Glasgow University Library
Derek Leggett, British Library of Political and Economic Science
William Marsterson, Middlesex University Library
Michael McClaren-Turner, British Library
Bernard Naylor, Southampton University Library
Alasdair Paterson, University of Exeter Library
Graham Roe, Sheffield University Library
Hugh Taylor, Cambridge University Library
John Tuck, John Reynoldss University Library of Manchester
David Welding, Leicester University Library
Liz West, University of Northumbria at Newcastle Library
ANNEXE 2 - Appendix 2
Topics provided for the Card-Sort Activity
1. Refurbishment of the library
2. Enhancement of weak areas of stock
3. Enhancement of IT infrastructure for library users
4. Making better use of existing space, furniture and equipment
5. Responding to the rapid increase in the cost of periodicals
6. Coping with the rising demand for book purchasing (with greater
7. Document delivery enhancement
8. Overlapping demand for electronic and print versions of publications
9. Longer opening hours and new patterns of library use
10. Pressure on resources through student-centred learning
11. Retrospective catalogue conversion
12. Cataloguing current acquisitions
13. Staff training in relation to student-centred learning and
14. Pressures on library staff time imposed by the assessment of
15. Increasing the capacity of libraries to find what enquirers want
16. Implications of SuperJanet
17. Reducing theft
18. Spiralling demands for photocopying
19. Need to link students and staff to particular courses in the library
20. Enhancing the use of existing library collections (i.e. increasing
the effect of money already spent)
21. Increasing the visibility of stock to users
22. Training users in library use
23. Information skills training for students
ANNEXE 2 - Appendix 3
NB: What follows is a copy of the questionnaire sent to 50 people in
April 1995. The numbers indicate how many people ticked the boxes provided
in the original version. 31 replies were received but in some instances
one or two people did not respond to a particular question.
Retrospective catalogue conversion (RCC) is the process of converting manual catalogue records into machine-readable form so that they will be more readily accessible. So far, UK University libraries have converted about 10.5 million records without benefit of a national programme. It is estimated that there are another 28 million records yet to be converted.
1. RCC will enable anyone to locate any university library holdings
within the UK via an appropriate workstation within ten years.
Agree strongly 12 5 10 4 0 1 disagree strongly
2. Recording unique publications for the benefit of researchers is very
Agree strongly 27 5 0 0 1 0 disagree strongly
3. Significant central government funding is now essential to support a
national RCC programme.
Agree strongly 20 4 4 3 0 2 disagree strongly
4. A major justification of RCC is that it enables universities to
benefit from large sums of money that they have already spent on existing
Agree strongly 17 6 7 2 1 0 disagree strongly
5. The main benefit arising from RCC is to improve access to the stock of my own university library.
Agree strongly 10 6 6 8 1 2 disagree strongly
6. A national RCC policy/lead body* is required to co-ordinate
priorities and to target resources.
Agree strongly 16 6 6 2 2 1 disagree strongly
7. A national RCC lead body is required to negotiate national deals with
commercial providers and to secure funding.
Agree strongly 12 10 4 1 2 3 disagree strongly
8. Recording of unique/unusual publications to improve overall access to
these items is very important.
Agree strongly 23 5 5 0 0 0 disagree strongly
9. Recording of general publications for the benefit of library
users is very important.
Agree strongly 18 9 5 1 0 0 disagree strongly
10. University libraries would welcome priorities for RCC being set by a
national lead body/policy*.
Agree strongly 7 7 6 4 5 2 disagree strongly
11. RCC is highly desirable because it will eliminate manual catalogues
and provide a single point of access by computer.
Agree strongly 15 4 5 0 2 6 disagree strongly
12. Humanities publications should be given priority over science
publications in any national RCC programme.
Agree strongly 9 6 4 2 4 7 disagree strongly
13. It is vital that any national RCC programme should take account of
Agree strongly 16 7 5 4 1 0 disagree strongly
14. Libraries should be free to charge each other for access to their
Agree strongly 3 3 2 2 2 20 disagree strongly
15. Any national RCC programme should encompass non-HE sector libraries
(e.g. national, special and major public libraries).
Agree strongly 23 7 1 2 0 0 disagree strongly
16. A national database incorporating all university library records
will be in place within ten years.
Agree strongly 7 2 9 7 5 2 disagree strongly
17. A major justification of RCC is that it helps to preserve existing
library collections by spreading the impact of demand.
Agree strongly 5 5 12 7 2 1 disagree strongly
18. RCC of university libraries in the UK will be completed within five
years (apart from 'windfall collections').
Agree strongly 1 0 3 10 9 9 disagree strongly
19. A national RCC programme requires significant advances in the
information technology infrastructure within universities.
Agree strongly 6 9 4 6 4 4 disagree strongly
20. A national RCC programme will require agreements about access to
Agree strongly 17 5 5 3 2 1 disagree strongly
21. Any national RCC programme should be closely co-ordinated with relevant
British Library initiatives.
Agree strongly 19 10 3 0 1 0 disagree strongly