Conference logo Networked Information in an International Context


9th and 10th February 1996 at the Ramada Hotel, Heathrow, UK


TERRY CANNON, Assistant Director, The British Library Research and Development Department

This account was drafted for this report by The Marc Fresko Consultancy. It is based on notes taken during the presentation and notes supplied by the speaker.


For many years the main support agency for Information Technology applications in library information services, The British Library Research and Development Department, has had a long-term interest in networking. The founding of UKOLN, by the addition of networking to the existing bibliographic management research centre at Bath, set up a powerful facility for awareness, advice, research and standards. UKOLN initially concentrated on the academic sector, but, with encouragement from The British Library, has since extended its operations to all types of library. The Research and Development Department itself has undertaken a number of projects in non-academic libraries and its plans for the future give a high priority to this area.


The British Library is the main United Kingdom funding agency for research in the Library and Information field. Even so, funds are limited - the 1995/6 budget being only £1.6 million. They are also spread over a wide range of topics, such as information policy, user studies, education, training and awareness, and across all communities, not just the academic. In addition, technology is applicable to information handling in all information services, not just libraries. The British Library has had to live with dwindling resources in real terms (the equivalent to the 1979 level of funding would be £3.6 million today) and the trend looks set to continue. Much tighter focusing in the future is therefore inevitable.

In view of the funding position, collaborations and partnerships with other funding sources are always very welcome. The Library has also become involved in functions which are tantamount to management of research and development funds for other bodies - in particular, various public library development schemes for the Department of National Heritage.

The Follett initiative to put resources into university library research and development is very much appreciated, especially at a time when the smaller scale projects of the type generally supported by The British Library in this area were no longer sufficient to address needs.


Nevertheless a great deal of library research projects have been supported, which in retrospect can be seen as precursors to the present eLib programme. Some of these are described below.

The BLEND Project

BLEND, the Birmingham and Loughborough Electronic Networking Development, was undertaken in the first half of the 1980s and constituted a very early attempt to set up an electronic journal. Although the technology was crude by todayís standards, many new ideas were tested. The basis of the project was an electronic conferencing system, which set up a community linked together by communications (with all of the attributes of a present-day networked community), including e-mail, and the journal arose as a by-product.


University College London and the University of Hertfordshire joined them in a subsequent project, the former bringing expertise in integrating text, sound and graphics in electronic documents, the latter bringing extensive research on optical media. The quartet of universities combined to investigate electronic document handling, with a view to developing practical applications from the research. One of these was a researcherís workstation, but in the event this was superseded by external developments resulting from the rapid progress of technology, currently rendering products obsolescent every two years or so.

More recently the University of Loughborough, with Institute of Physics Publishing, has delivered an electronic physics journal, and University College London has networked the American Chemical Society Journals.

Electronic Library

The De Montfort University set up an electronic library on the Milton Keynes campus, with support from The British Library, eLib and the European Commission. They also collaborated with the Nara Institute in Japan and with NACSIS, which provides an academic network similar to JANET.

Multi Media

A call for proposals in 1987 led to a range of research projects investigating retrieval from image databases.


Many information technology projects have a networking aspect, and by 1989 its importance had been recognised by university libraries and by The British Library. At that time a considerable amount of early work concerned with applications, surveys, awareness and publicity was undertaken.


In 1992, UKOLN, the United Kingdom Office for Library and Information Networking, was fully established at the University of Bath, with half of its funding from The British Library Research and Development Department and half from JISC, the Joint Information Systems Committee. It is now a major vehicle for dissemination of information on electronic libraries, supporting events such as the Follett Lectures, seminars conferences and publishing. In particular, UKOLN has demonstrated networking power by implementing and offering a wide range of Web services.

ARIADNE, the Internet magazine for librarians and information specialists, is the latest outcome of collaboration with eLib and in January of this year it attracted over one hundred thousand accesses.

The Conference on Long Term Preservation of Electronic Materials, held at Warwick University in November 1995, engendered various possible study areas, including:

Sectors outside the university environment - where research is a main raison díÍtre - have been less fortunate, with no Follett grants and consequently less awareness of information technology or networking matters, and on the level of research in general. The British Library Research and Development Department is therefore concentrating efforts on the Public Library and other relevant non-academic sectors.


After long neglect, Public Libraries have a window of opportunity which must not be missed. Initiatives such as EARL, Electronic Access to Resources in Libraries, and Millennium funding must be promoted. A strong movement is developing to "empower the people" through public access to information superhighways. Political statements, such as the following issued recently by the Labour Party are very encouraging:

"Access: We wish to ensure that participation in the information revolution is available to all and not just to the privileged few. There must be equality of access through an integrated national network which covers all parts of the country, reaching as extensively and as affordably as possible, in which each network system links with others. We seek to empower individual citizens as participants and consumers and also to ensure equal access to the providers of services."

Currently, rather than Public Libraries being the focus of Governmental networking efforts, priority is being given to wiring up schools and hospitals. Thus, to support the Secretary of State for National Heritageís statement concerning uptake of the Internet in Public Libraries, UKOLN commissioned a rapid review of this subject, using telephone survey techniques to contact all Public Libraries. The results, with a 100% response, revealed that:

The survey shows a low take-up and a need for investment; though leading-edge research (for example, CLIP, the Croydon Library Internet Project, IT-Point, the Solihull Library Access Project) and consortia such as EARL cannot transform Public Libraries. They can, however, point the way to larger scale endeavours, such as the Library Associationís Millennium bid, and influence political strategies backed by hard cash - be it Government financing, Local Authority sources or public/private sector partnerships.


The British Library Research and Development has a new Director, taking his appointment at a time of immense change.

The Secretary of State has appointed a new Libraries and Information Commission to co-ordinate information issues between sectors, to review the United Kingdomís international role, especially in regard to the European Union, and, in particular, to develop research policy in Library Information Systems. The new Director will be involved with the Research Sub-Committee of that Commission.

Meanwhile, the cuts in funding are expected to continue and both The British Library and its Research and Development Department will not be exempt. Accordingly, The British Library is re-structuring and the Research arm will follow suit. There will inevitably be a re-focus of effort, with perhaps less directed at higher education, though liaison with that area will remain of paramount importance (universities are still the logical contacts for high technology). Interest will grow in private sector input into research, probably via partnerships and joint funding.

It should be emphasised in this context that it will be the hand of friendship that The British Library Research and Development Department will be extending and not the begging bowl. Research will continue at The British Library.


For further information, contact the speaker at

British Library R&D Report 6250
© The British Library Board 1996
© Joint Information Systems Committee of the Higher Education Funding Bodies 1996

The opinions expressed in this report are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of the sponsoring organisations.


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It may also be purchased as photocopies or microfiche from the British Thesis Service, British Library Document Supply Centre, Boston Spa, Wetherby, West Yorkshire, LS23 7BQ.

This report of the conference was prepared by The Marc Fresko Consultancy Telephone +44 181 645 0080 E-mail

Converted to HTML by Isobel Stark of UKOLN, July 1996