BL RIC logo 4.0 Catalogues of Other UK Libraries

4.1 Background to the BLRIC study

The proposal to the HEFCs/JISC Secretariat for FIGIT study included a suggestion that the British Library be asked to support a study of non-HE library catalogue retrospective conversion.The report of the FIGIT study recognised that funding constraints prohibited JISC from funding research outside the higher education sector; however, it noted that the Libraries Review Group had stated in its own report that:

'a more strategic approach to providing library facilities in support of research in all subjects needs to be developed, involving both higher education institutions and other providers of research oriented library and information services'.

Reference was also made to the report of the Group on a National/Regional Strategy for Library Provision for Researchers chaired by Professor Michael Anderson.

The Project Monitoring Group for the FIGIT project were of the firm opinion that the problem of the retrospective conversion of library catalogues was of major cross sectoral interest. It stressed that academia and scholarship made heavy demands on the whole range of library provision, with many of the libraries involved receiving no additional funding in recognition of the services they provided. The Group recommended that a further study be carried out into the problems of retrospective catalogue conversion in libraries which were not funded by the HEFCs.

A meeting was held in London on 18th August 1995 with the intention of establishing whether a proposal for a project to be funded by the British Library should go ahead and whether the approach adopted in the FIGIT study was broadly acceptable. If the proposal was approved, it was hoped that the reports of both studies could be edited and published as one document so as to provide an overview of the sitiation relating to retrospective catalogue conversion for the UK as a whole. The proposal was accepted in December 1995 and the project started in January 1996.

4.2 Aim and objectives of the project proposal


'To provide knowledge of the large quantity of special research material in the UK for which manual catalogue records already exist and which could be made accessible, nationally and internationally to the great benefit of research and scholarship, through the conversion of these records to machine readable form .'


Specific objectives were:-

  1. To survey publicly funded (i.e.local authority, national, government) and privately funded (i.e. learned society, professional association, special, heritage - e.g. National Trust) - libraries in the UK in order to estimate:
    (a)The number of catalogue records for special collections (excluding non-print library material) in 'general' libraries which have already been converted to machine readable form and the number of catalogue records for specialist material in special libraries. (As in the FIGIT study Special collections were defined as any collection of material forming a discrete collection, separate from the remainder of the stock and not incorporated into the main sequences of the stock. It did not include collections in a given format or on a specific subject, unless they fulfilled the foregoing criteria)
    (b) The number of records still to be converted.
  2. To investigate the coverage and location of these collections.
  3. To assess the scale of any problems caused by non-Roman scripts and (despite the exclusion of non-print library material from this particular study) to obtain data regarding the nature and scale of problems relating to special materials (e.g. slides, archives, etc.).
  4. To establish where, and suggest how, retrospectively converted records for non-automated 'private' libraries should be mounted and made accessible.
  5. To find out the present conditions and terms of access to items in these collections.
  6. To establish whether 'private' libraries might be prepared to provide reasonable access to items in return for financial assistance to enable retrospective conversion to be carried out.
  7. To explore means whereby libraries without the necessary expertise, staff and other resources to undertake programmes of retrospective conversion could be assisted.
  8. To examine how a programme of retrospective conversion arising as a result of this study should relate to any programme set up for the HE community.

As with the FIGIT study the intention was a) to use a questionnaire survey to obtain data on the scale of the task posed by the problems of retrospective conversion and b) to arrange a focus group meeting, or seminar, to identify the issues to be addressed if a national strategy was to be encouraged.

4.3 Initiatives relevant to the study

A good deal of retrospective conversion and related activity, either by special groupings, or by individual libraries, has already been undertaken or is in progress and a good many projects are planned. The following contributed sections give details of some relevant activity in three sectors.

4.3.1 Public Libraries and EARL

(Helen Copeman, Manager, EARL Consortium)

EARL is a consortium of public libraries and associated organisations in the UK which was established to develop the role of public libraries in providing library and information services over the network. It aims to demonstrate and expand the ability of public libraries to deliver to the community at large the networked and knowledge-based services that are needed. The Consortium and its partners are committed to maintaining and expanding a public service that integrates all aspects of information access for cultural, educational, business, social and personal development.

EARL currently has 97 partners, of which 87 are public library authorities from all regions of the UK. At the present time there are 182 public library authorities in the United Kingdom and therefore nearly half of UK public library authorities are partners of Project EARL. Out of a total UK population of approximately 58 million, approximately 32 million are served by an EARL partner library authority, which means that approximately 53% of the total UK population have access to an EARL partner library on a regular basis.

Project EARL is listing the outline details of the special collections held by nearly 40 library authorities belonging to the EARL Consortium..
The listing of the collections appear on EARL Web under "Global Library"
URL: Each listing contains the title of the collection, a brief description, material included, location, contact details, access to the collection and conditions of use. The project is ongoing and as new partners join the Consortium they are encouraged to list their special collections.

The number of people who use the public library service in the UK is quite staggering. According to recent statistics, 33 million people in the UK are registered with a library. This means that 57% of the UK population are registered library users. In England and Wales alone, 24 million people use public libraries every year, and over 30% of the population are considered to be regular library users. There are about 4,000 central and branch libraries spread throughout the whole of the UK, with about a further 400 mobile libraries which serve even the smallest, most remote communities. EARL's partners are all committed to providing access to the network from all branches across their authority and to developing services to meet the needs of everyone in their community.

Further information from Helen Copeman - Tel: 0171-702-2020, Fax: 0171-702-2019

4.3.2 Cathedral Libraries Project

(Ed King, Cathedral Libraries Project Adviser)

This project has grown out of various developments. It is being coordinated by the Cathedral Libraries and Archives Association (CLAA), a body which aims to share information with regard to the care and upkeep of Cathedral Libraries. Permission has been sought from individual Cathedral Chapters to allow the CLAA to coordinate an application for funds on their behalf. Much of the detailed work to date has been carried out by a Cataloguing Sub-Committee of the CLAA.

There is a considerable background to cataloguing in Cathedral Libraries. The first volume of the Cathedral Libraries Catalogue was published in 1984 by the Bibliographical Society. It lists 24,854 entries and a total of 52,905 copies of all editions for books printed before 1701 in the British Isles, British America and English Books printed elsewhere. As this work progressed, automated records were created and held on computer systems, with some 70,000 records being currently held in machine readable form from this and other projects.

A large number of machine readable records for English books published between 1701 and 1800 have been created in recent years and their availability makes it feasible to derive these from existing databases and to attach specific information relating to those copies in Cathedral Libraries. Increasing interest in the use of primary research materials of the collections of individuals and in provenances are two further reasons to develop record sharing and common access.

The possible availability of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund provides an opportunity to bring together and to consolidate the initiatives of the past, to build on these through the provision of an online database, which would permit a greater degree of public access to the holdings of Cathedral Libraries. The Care of Cathedrals Measure of 1990 also recognised the important place of books in the heritage of Cathedrals; books need to be inventoried as well as other Cathedral artefacts.

Some of the aims of the Cathedral Libraries Project are:

One of the benefits of a coordinated approach will be the provision of common computer hardware and software in Cathedral Libraries to facilitate sharing of records, as well as to provide access to a central database.

There has been some initial discussion between the Heritage Lottery Fund and the CLAA about these aims. It has been agreed that the CLAA will draw up proposals for a feasibility study, which will look in more detail at the work to be done to carry the Project proposals into effect. The scope of the feasibility study has also been widened to consider the conservation of Cathedral Libraries.

Further information from Ed King - Tel: 0171-412-7621, Fax: 0171-412-7566

4.3.3 National Trust Libraries

(Yvonne Lewis, National Trust Assistant Libraries Adviser)

Background data

The National Trust currently has approximately 500,000 volumes (estimated some 350,000 individual titles) distributed across 135 houses. In terms of size, the individual 'libraries' range from houses which have one book, to those with over 10,000 volumes. Around 50 per cent of this material is pre-1801.M

Existing 5"x 3" card catalogues cover mainly the pre-1701 printed material in twelve of the major and four of the minor collections received prior to 1970. There are around 35,000-40,000 cards which cover this material, also including a small proportion of 18th century titles catalogued post-1970. No catalogue records exist for non-print material. As most of the Trust's archives pertaining to its acquisitions have been deposited with county record offices, indexing of this material is in the hands of their archivists. The remaining non-print material (mainly manuscripts) only forms one per cent of current holdings.

National Trust libraries cover a whole range of subject matter: history, politics, religion, topography, biblical studies, natural history, classical studies, medicine, chemistry, mathematics, etc. The languages represented are mainly English and Latin, but also include Greek, French, Italian, German, Dutch, Hebrew, Cyrillic, Coptic, etc.

Access to collections

Access is provided to bona fide scholars by arrangement with the Libraries Adviser, c/o 36, Queen Anne's Gate, London SW1H 9AS. Facilities in the houses are variable,so access is determined on an individual basis.

Owing to conservation requirements, staffing arrangements and security, the Trust's libraries are to be used as either a last resort, or where they contain unique material.

Photocopies will only be provided when conservation requirements permit; not as a matter of course. Where possible references will be given in the computerised catalogue to standard reference sources (Adams, Wing, STC, etc.) in order to ascertain the availability of other copies or existing microfilms (e.g. UMI sets).

Machine readable catalogue records

The computerised database forms the basis of a union catalogue of Trust holdings. Such records are available for around 7,500 titles (some entries with multiple copies). The records are in UKMARC format and of a level of bibliographic description which falls between that of the ESTC 'Green rules' and their current higher level cataloguing of STC/Wing material for the RLIN database. Copy specific material is entered in an in-house style, based on the format of the new UKMARC fields for provenance and bindings. Just under 2,500 records have been downloaded from the ESTC (18th century file) and are in the process of being edited. These holdings are of Trust items matched to the ESTC CD-ROM, added to the RLIN file directly and later downloaded to the National Trust database. In future STC/Wing/ESTC material will be added to EngSTC from books catalogued in house, and from matches to printouts from the EngSTC file or the new CD (due in 1997). Any subject headings (Library of Congress Subject Headings - LCSH) used by the EngSTC will be incorporated into the National Trust database. References to the EngSTC records will be retained for future reference.

Retrospective conversion programme

Eventually the Trust would hope to integrate the existing card catalogue (closed 1991) with its computer database, upgrading the records wherever possible (e.g. expansion of entries, inclusion of shelf-marks, provenance details, etc). There are 35,000-40,000 cards which include cross-references and multiple copies of the same title. Batches of cards are added to the computerised database as and when time allows. As these card entries are mainly of collections currently being catalogued from the book inhand, the card will afterwards be removed from the files. In many respects, therefore, retrospective conversion will proceed in parallel to current cataloguing. Availability of any additional funding could only serve to speed the process of retrospective conversion.

Public access to catalogue records

This may be possible when the Trust has completed computerisation of its inventory system. Discussions are taking place as to the possibility of some details, including scholarly catalogues, being available over JANET.

Further information from Yvonne Lewis - Tel: 0171-222-9251

4.4 Seminar on the BLRIC study

A seminar, held at the British Academy on 8th May 1996, was attended by over fifty senior representatives, with a particular interest and expertise in the area of retrospective conversion, from all types of library and from other agencies such as the bibliographic utilities, .

The objectives of the meeting were

  1. to seek advice from the experts present regarding: the adequacy of the draft questionnaire, the population of libraries to be surveyed and the material to be covered;
  2. to inform an invited audience of senior librarians from as many sectors as possible (and others with an involvement in the field) about the aim and objectives of the forthcoming survey;
  3. to address resourcing questions such as: possible sources of funding; organization and administration; provision of expertise.
  4. to discuss what type of ongoing national strategy for retroconversion is needed and what steps could be taken to ensure that the final report informs and influences national policy; also, how far should the recommendations of the new study be harmonised with those of the FIGIT study.

(See Appendix A for full details of the programme and a summary of the proceedings)

4.5 Conduct of the study

4.5.1 Project Advisory Group

As with the FIGIT study, an Advisory Group was established by the BLRIC and this Group chaired by Barry Bloomfield played a major role in identifying issues, informing decisions and making recommendations. The membership was representative of a broad range of library sectors.
(See the Foreword and Acknowledgements for details of the membership)

4.5.2 Population of libraries and the sectors included

The number of libraries in some sectors is known and well documented (e.g. public libraries); however, there are thousands of other libraries and collections, many of which are not well known, and the number of these can only be surmised. Given the resources available for the study it was clear that it would be necessary to make a selection of these libraries. It was decided, in the first instance, that the addresses to which questionnaires were to be sent should be selected from the Library Association's directory Libraries in the UnitedKingdom; however, additional addresses were supplied by members of the project's Advisory Group, especially Peter Hoey, Barry Bloomfield and Peter Hoare and a number of other groups were approached, including the following: The Association of Independent Libraries, The Cathedral Libraries Project, The Historic Libraries Forum and, in the case of the National Trust, its Assistant Libraries Adviser Yvonne Lewis undertook to supply data on its behalf. Additional cathedral addresses were taken from Crockford. In the case of public libraries the Library Association also supplied addresses for the new unitary authorities.

Questionnaires were sent to all the public libraries, and to most of those libraries listed in the LA Directory as 'Selected government, national and special libraries in the UK'. As noted in Section 2.3.1 the national libraries were not included.

The numbers of questionnaires sent out were:
Public Libraries 183
Cathedral Libraries45
National Trust1 **
Selected government and

4.5.3 Material covered by the study

As in the FIGIT project, the focus of the study was on the bibliographic/printed stock in libraries, including printed maps and music, but it excluded non-print material such as AV items, artefacts, archives and manuscripts and it also excluded retrospective cataloguing i.e. the cataloguing of titles which had never been previously catalogued. However, although such material was outside the main boundaries of the BLRIC project, in order to obtain a clearer picture of the scale of the problem in the UK and to provide some background data for any future studies, three supplementary questions about these categories were included.

  1. Non-print material
    As in the FIGIT study, the decision to exclude detailed consideration of retrospective conversion of non-print material was because it is a huge and complex area; however, the FIGIT report did recommend that a separate study should be undertaken in this area.
    Section 2.2 of this report notes that retroconversion of records for non-print library material is of particular concern in the United States, as such items pose many problems for the academic and research community.
  2. Titles which have never been catalogued
    In a similar way an additional question was included regarding the cataloguing of titles never previously catalogued and a third question asked for details of non-print items included in the totals given.

4.5.4 'Special' collections and 'local' collections

'Special collections' were defined as any collection of material forming a collection separate from the remainder of the stock and not incorporated into the main sequence of the stock.'

Although the 'objectives' of the study made it clear that special collections constituted a primary focus of the study the overall 'aim' of the survey was 'To provide knowledge of the large quantity of special research material in the UK for which manual catalogue records already exist.' The great majority of libraries in the higher education and public library sectors already have computer records for their general and most used stock, but for the rest, although many items do not fall within the above definition of special collections the material involved is indeed special

Of course many of the special libraries constitute 'special collections' in their own right and some general non-public libraries such as 'subscription' or 'club' libraries have collections which become significant with the passing of time as they come to reflect the ethos and literature of a particular period.

In view of the EARL (Electronic Access to Resources in Libraries) Project - set up to offer public libraries a major opportunity to promote their services in the community - and the LA's bid to the Millenium Commission to fund the connection of public libraries to the network, local history/studies collections were of major interest. Appendix D gives a sample of the data on special collections detailed by respondents in both the FIGIT and BLRIC studies. The full details cannot be circulated at this stage for reasons of confidentiality (see 4.5.6). Additional comprehensive information is given in the Directory of rare books and special collections 2nd edition, edited by Bloomfield (1997)

4.5.5 The questionnaire: its design

The questionnaire and notes for completion used in the FIGIT study provided the starting point for developing the BLRIC study's questionnaire. Members of the Advisory Group were consulted, as were other colleagues with an interest and expertise in the field; for example, Michael Crump, previously Head of the ESTC (English Short Title Catalogue) and now Director of the British Library Reader Services and Collection, was specifically invited to comment on the questions relating to the ESTC. The questionnaire was then piloted using a sample of 18 libraries representative of a spread of sectors. The delegates to the seminar held at the British Academy were also invited to advise on changes which could be made before the final version was mailed at the end of June 1996.

The questionnaire was designed in five sections:
Section A: Background data
Section B: Machine readable records
Section C: Retrospective conversion programme(s) - currently in progress
Section D: Retrospective conversion programme(s) - planned
Section E: Public access to catalogue records.
All respondents were asked to complete Section A and libraries with machine readable records were required to complete Section B, but only those libraries currently involved in, or planning for, retrospective conversion of their library catalogues needed to complete Sections C to E.

The aim was to make completion simple for those libraries which did not have machine readable records and/or did not have either current or planned programmes of retrospective conversion. This seemed particularly important in view of the fact that many of the special libraries have small staffs - frequently only one person and then often part-time and/or voluntary. It was encouraging that only one respondent wrote "you really are asking too much".

The notes provided at the beginning of the questionnaire attempted to make it clear that it was the number of 'titles' which were required and secondly that, if exact figures were not available then a 'best estimate' should be given.
A copy of the questionnaire is included as Appendix C.

4.5.6 The questionnaire: its completion

quality of the completion of the questionnaires was very variable. Many were filled out correctly in accordance with the 'notes for completion' and in great detail, and several libraries provided a good deal of supplementary data. Many questionnaire responses, however, posed a number of problems.

'Titles' and 'items'.

spite of the definitions and explanations supplied, totals of items rather than titles were often provided. It was not possible to ascertain the number of 'other' libraries which had misinterpreted the instructions, but, in the case of the public libraries, estimates could be attempted as the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) produces public library statistics each year and from these it was possible to adjust the totals for the 23 public libraries which gave 'item' totals instead of 'title' totals. Sue Broughton (Information Manager Resources) at the Library Association was consulted and she agreed that a reduction based on the following could be used. The CIPFA statistics, which record the number of'items' held by each local authority, showed that, in general, the public library bookstocks were constituted as follows: 50% adult fiction and children's books; 35% adult non-fiction and 15% reference/special stock. A decision was made to reduce the adult fiction and children's books by factor of 3, the adult non-fiction by a factor of 2, and the reference books by a factor of 1.5. (The same formula was also used to estimate the stocks of the 71 public library authorities which did not respond to the survey. See Section 5.1

Incompatible answers

Over 200 telephone calls were made to libraries to clarify inconsistencies between responses to particular questions, especially those relating to totals. For example, the sum of the totals for the number of machine records available, the number of records requiring conversion and the number of titles never catalogued should broadly equal the number of titles in stock; this was not always the case. An example of another disparity is that there would be a negative reponse to Question 11 'Have you any definite plans for programmes of retrospective conversion . . .? but Section D of the questionnaire would be completed..


79 libraries (including 28 public libraries) indicated that they did not wish to be identified when the report of the study was published. In addition the libraries in the FIGIT study were promised that they would not be individually identified in any published report. This means that the full lists of special collections, which have been submitted to the studies' funding bodies will require the permission of those libraries involved before they can be more widely circulated or published. Appendix D is a 'sample' page produced from a selection of those libraries who were prepared to be identified.