Beyond the Beginning: The Global Digital Library

Previous Paper Next Paper



Centre for Research in Library and Information Management (CERLIM)
Manchester Metropolitan University, UK


This paper concentrates on lifelong learning. After introducing the topic and examining some of the attributes which differentiate it from conventional education systems, the paper considers the demands it makes on library provision. Some current exemplars of libraries providing support to lifelong learners are described. Principles underlying the evolution towards support of lifelong learning are listed, and the paper closes with the challenge faced by libraries in this regard.


The context of my involvement with libraries and lifelong learning has been both operational and research oriented. My institution, the University of Central Lancashire, has some twenty thousand students. Unusually, about 20% of these students are off-campus, mainly in the North West of England, but also elsewhere including in other countries. All the courses are fully modular and semesterised, and the University has a converged library and IT service, accredited to ISO 9000. The university is also unusual in having an academic research centre (CERLIM, the Centre for Research in Library and Information Management) which is linked to an operational academic library.

CERLIM has a number of research themes. These are illustrated by the Centre’s participation in a number of research projects in eLib and programmes of the British Library, the JISC and the European Commission, as shown in figure 1.

Most relevant to this paper is our work on distributed services, in projects such as BIBDEL and AL3, which is concerned with lifelong learning and academic libraries.


Why is Lifelong Learning Important?

There are plenty of good reasons to encourage Lifelong Learning. First, society in general is witnessing a massive rate of change. The change encompasses technological, economic, commercial, cultural and other shifts. Lifelong Learning is an important response to these changes and enables individuals and societies to cope and prosper. Second, the increasingly global society requires us to be better informed about the world at large, the words of John Donne, No man is an island, are now writ large. Third, the ever-growing competitive threats, between trading blocs, between nations, between companies, even between individuals, are a powerful argument for Lifelong Learning.





Electronic Library


Student Reading lists
Self-service systems
Electronic Journals
News alerting
Resource Discovery


Disadvantaged Users


Visually-impaired users
Extremism & the Internet


Information & Service Quality


Quality Management
QM and MIS
CPD Network


Performance Measurement

MIEL Programme

Management Information for the Electronic Library


Distributed Services


Off-campus users
Distributed libraries
Lifelong learning


Figure 1: Research Themes and Projects

Benefits and Effects of Lifelong Learning

At least in theory, the benefits of Lifelong Learning accrue not only to the individuals who do the learning, but also to organisations who promote it or are otherwise involved, and also to society as a whole. This is taking us down a road from the information society towards a learning society. That shift is only just beginning; we still have much to get used to.

In 1996, the UK government issued a paper which said that Lifelong Learning would lead to a highly motivated, flexible and well qualified workforce. It suggested that:

1996 was the European Year of Lifelong Learning. Edith Cresson, the responsible European Commissioner, said that citizens of the European Union should be encouraged and empowered to take on more responsibility for planning and carrying through their own personal and professional development on a lifelong basis.

Also in 1996, the Royal Society of Arts pledged itself to working towards creating a "New Learning Society" by the year 2000 wherein:

Finally, in 1997 the British Government’s proposed the establishment of a University for Industry and the introduction of Individual Learning Accounts (£150 for each of one million people). It also issued a White Paper on Adult Education. We also await the Dearing Report on higher education, particularly with interest to see whether it will recommend "two plus two" degrees and whether it will seek to break down the Victorian divide between higher education and further education which is less and less relevant today. We will all be interested to see what other ideas it may hold.

Lifelong Learning is Different

Lifelong Learning differs in a number of important respects from today’s "conventional" educational models. Key trends and differences are summarised in Figure 2.

Conventional Education

Lifelong Learning

One-off, discrete courses

Continuous activities

Knowledge transmission
("mode 1" learning)

Skills transmission
("mode 2" learning)





Timetabled teaching

Any time/any place learning

Structured courses

"Bitty" modules

Teacher driven

Student driven

For individuals

Group learning as a social activity


Inclusive and pervasive

Figure 2: Differences between Conventional Education and Lifelong Learning

The last line in figure 2 reflects the fact that current conventional educational processes can be exclusive of some parts of society. This is vividly illustrated by a recent survey [51] which have shown that active or recent learners comprise roughly:

That only 23% of the unemployed should be recent or active learners is surely an indictment of our society. Other research has shown that learning is a habit; the more initial education and training people receive, the greater the likelihood of their learning later on, a finding which illustrates the importance of beginning lifelong learning early!

As a definition of Lifelong Learning, CERLIM has tentatively proposed the following:

Lifelong Learning is a deliberate progression throughout the life of an individual, where the initial acquisition of knowledge and skills is reviewed and upgraded continuously, to meet challenges set by an ever changing society.

At a recent colloquium held at the Royal Society of Arts on this subject, three main themes emerged:


Academic Libraries and the Lifelong Learner (AL3) is a Supporting Study in the eLib programme [52]. Ten key findings of the study are:


This part of the paper presents three UK case studies where the serving of Lifelong Learners is integral to the operation of academic libraries.

1: Open University

All courses in the Open University employ distance learning. The university is regarded as a major success, and its model has been copied around the world. It makes use of highly packaged materials, but provides no formal library service of its own for students. Instead, the learners are encouraged to negotiate, and make arrangements with, other university or academic libraries. The university is also starting to use the internet and World Wide Web resources and thus may be moving towards a model where traditional library services are unnecessary.

2: University of the Highlands & Islands Project

This new university project in Northern Scotland has local campuses spread across a wide geographic area, in locations such as the Isle of Lewis, the Shetland and Orkney islands, Skye, Perth and Moray. It includes further education colleges and research institutes, and is developing a new type of learning centre. These centres will integrate library and teaching functions, so that the librarian and tutor work alongside each other. As there is no central campus, the distributed locations are connected and enabled by high bandwidth networks. In this model the centralised campus-based academic library is replaced by a distributed resource.

3: VALNOW - Virtual Academic Library of the North West

This service, based at locations in NW England from Barrow-in-Furness to Liverpool, is derived from a model developed in the European BIBDEL project, which was co-ordinated by CERLIM. It covers students of the University of Central Lancashire wherever they are based, and aims to provide an equitable service to all. The services are delivered through Learning Centres, at locations which are further education colleges or hospital sites. VALNOW incorporates the delivery of services based on print, human contact, and electronic media, including, for example, videoconferencing with human experts as part of the information service. Co-operation with public libraries is also a feature.


Clearly, libraries will play an important rôle in supporting lifelong learning in the future. Equally clearly, change will be called for. The following is proposed to act as guiding principles during the change process:

All this change raises important issues, perhaps the key ones being:

These, and several other, issues will keep librarians occupied in the near future.


These principles and issues can be neatly summed up in the form of the challenge they pose to libraries :

If everyone is to be a lifelong learner, academic libraries will need to deliver a holistic service portfolio to much higher numbers of customers, providing clear and demonstrable added value in an increasingly competitive environment…

and this carries a clear threat to libraries:

… or else customers will go elsewhere!

[50] This account was prepared for this report by The Marc Fresko Consultancy. It is based on notes taken during the presentation and slides used.

[51] Department for Education and Employment/Gallop, 1996.

[52] Final report due to be published under the title The Development of the UK Academic Library Services in the context of Lifelong Learning.

Previous Paper Next Paper