Conference logo Networked Information in an International Context


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


SIR BRIAN FOLLETT, Vice-Chancellor, University of Warwick

This account was prepared for this report by The Marc Fresko Consultancy. It is an edited version of a paper supplied by the speaker.


This presentation starts by covering some of the background to the University Libraries Review. Next it examines some of the follow-up activities resulting from the Libraries review focusing especially on the Electronic Libraries Programme (eLib) and the Anderson report. It concludes with a brief look at future hopes for the programme.


This paper is presented in the context of an international conference. Development of the Electronic Library (or the Digital Library) must be an international activity. Individuals need passports and visas to get into or out of Britain. Our goods and chattels need customs clearances. But our bits and bytes respect no formalities, going where we send them, and sometimes where we do not. Our laws and our institutions are territorial, bits and bytes are not. We must work together to ensure we can understand and use them.

Ariadne, a new electronic journal for libraries, was launched earlier this year in the UK. The original Ariadne, daughter of a king of Crete, features in a mythological tale which involves Theseus. In this tale, Theseus gratefully uses information supplied by Ariadne to find his way through the Minotaur’s labyrinth, but he later is unwilling to pay the price, and abandons Ariadne. Vice-Chancellors and Funding Council members might sometimes be compared with Theseus, having often been viewed as unwilling to pay the price to maintain university libraries. The launch of Ariadne, however, signifies that they are prepared to pay their share, as explained below.


In 1992 the newly formed Higher Education Funding Councils asked the speaker to chair an enquiry into libraries in higher education. At that time universities were in a time of tremendous expansion. The number of students in UK universities increased by 57% between 1988 and 1992. This was very welcome, but it exacerbated the pressures for university libraries, for during this period, library provision increased very little. How could we support these students? At the same time, the ex-polytechnics became universities. How could they meet their research aspirations without research libraries? Meanwhile, the infamous journals price spiral was threatening research collections even in well-established universities.

The review group decided to report quickly and pragmatically, rather than going back to basics. After 12 months work by the Review group and its 3 sub-groups, it reported in November 1993 with what has become known as the Follett Report. It came up with 46 recommendations to the Funding Councils covering virtually all parts of the library from space issues to the electronic future.

The four higher education funding councils accepted virtually all the recommendations, turning down only one: funds for inter-library co-operation. In all they set aside close to £100 million for implementation, and we have been very busy over the last two years. HEFCE "believes the report was a very successful document, suggesting pragmatic solutions for some of the major issues facing UK HE libraries". The speaker suggests it worked because the report not only identified an area of worrying neglect but also offered some practical solutions. The outcomes of the report are described below.


Buildings Programme

Perhaps the most visible and enduring result of the report will be the buildings programme. Across the country about £200 million was spent on 70 projects (about £150M from universities plus about £50M from the funding councils). This will produce spaces for about 250,000 readers, many IT-equipped, in 70 institutions. The first of these, in Southampton, is to open officially in March 1996.

Special Collections and Archives

The Review concentrated internationally on Arts and Humanities subjects; the focus was small to ensure that the results would be valid. Many libraries contain special collections of great importance to researchers in the humanities, but which are not widely known. In this part of the programme, we are funding projects to conserve, catalogue and preserve some of these collections. We will also do work on making information on archives accessible over the network.

The total cost of this over 5 years comes to £32 million. There is a provision to review the programme after 3 years, since many important collections are still not being funded.

National Journals Site Licensing Pilot

As mentioned above, the journals price spiral was one of the motivators for the Review. One of the options explored was for the licensing of copyright material under more favourable conditions. This would include unlimited copying on site, including for course packs, as well as electronic access.

The funding councils agreed to set up a UK-wide Pilot Site Licence initiative for three years starting in January 1996. The publishers selected for the pilot include Academic Press, Blackwells Publishing, Blackwells Science and Institute of Physics Publishing. In exchange for a central payment by the funding bodies, all the journals would be made available in both print and electronic form at a substantial discount. This initiative has a particularly democratic aspect: all universities, old and new, will have the same access.

This has been one of the most controversial proposals. The funding councils were rather sceptical. Librarians have been extremely suspicious. Publishers not involved are furious about it.

Final negotiations have proved very difficult. Undoubtedly there will be problems, and it may well not be the right way to go. But it is worth a try. Let this pilot be used to find out what the pros and cons really are.


Problems of copyright raise difficult and controversial issues.

We were extremely encouraged by the reports from the AAU/ARL working parties on intellectual property that came out last year. We hoped for a while that if we in the UK also took a similar line, that we might be able to do something about the copyright paradox. That is, universities paying to create the work, giving it away, then paying publishers again to buy it back for our libraries.

The speaker visited the AAU in May last year with two colleagues. It was clear from that visit that both sides of the Atlantic are finding these issues intractable. It is a difficult area for university Presidents or Vice-Chancellors to take concerted action. We need a continuing dialogue with our American colleagues. I strongly doubt that CVCP (Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals) can take effective action on its own so we need some sort of forum for international action.

Given this lack of progress , the publishers still have us over a barrel. It is crucial that arrangements are made that recognise the delicate economic balance that exists between players in the HE community. If this is not recognised, universities and academics are very likely to by-pass traditional scholarly communications methods altogether.

Recently, things seem to have got worse, with the publication in the US of the White Paper on Copyright and the NII. This report appears highly oriented towards the rights holders and away from the traditional balance of copyright. We are very concerned that the proposed legislation in the US should not form a precedent for other parts of the world.

We have recently published a collection of papers on copyright, on the network as well as in print. As usual, this collection provides more questions than answers.


Most IT-related activities of these took place under the aegis of the Joint Information Systems Committee, otherwise known as JISC.

JISC’s main role is to organise JANET/SuperJANET, our academic network, but it already had a substantial programme funding datasets and datacentres. An early endeavour was BIDS, which started with the national site licence for the ISI database several years ago. Next came MIDAS, hosting statistical and similar datasets, and more recently EDINA, a second site for bibliographic and other datasets.

Arts and Humanities Data Service

JISC recommended that funds should be provided to establish an Arts & Humanities Data Service (AHDS). This will be a distributed service, with an executive based at King’s College, London and headed by Dan Greenstein. The resources provided will be hosted by the universities where they originated, and where the expertise to maintain them lies. This corresponds to a "classical" digital libraries format, where materials remain in universities and are accessed by Internet.

We expect that a significant component of these resources will be images, and will be linked to other work relating to images in the electronic libraries programme.

CURL Database Extensions

The Consortium of University Research Libraries (CURL, a group of a dozen or so of our larger university libraries) has for years been bringing together the bibliographic databases from its members. However, the resulting database needed a lot of work. We persuaded the funding councils to provide funds for the development of this database as a national resource, with an associated document delivery service. This work is underway at Manchester.

Retrospective Conversion Study

We wanted to know if a major national retrospective catalogue conversion programme was justified. The report we commissioned is quite convincing on the benefits of that conversion. We have about 11 million records in electronic form in our university libraries. We need to convert over 25 million more. In theory this means that more than two thirds of the material in our libraries can be discovered only by inspecting card or other hard copy catalogues.

The problem is the cost. This is estimated at £50 million, made up of £25 million from central sources plus matching funding from the universities. This is going to be difficult to fund given the funding pressures and we are not sure how to cope with this, beyond spending a small amount each year attacking key parts of the problem. One thing is certain: decisions of this nature need to be linked to a national strategy. Initiatives in this area will give shape to prioritising collections for conversion and help to emphasise collections of national significance.


Now we come to one of the most significant developments, the Electronic Libraries Programme, eLib (a digital libraries programme as it might be called in the United States).

eLib is managed by an Implementation Group for IT (FIGIT), chaired by Lynne Brindley. FIGIT is a sub-committee of the JISC. The programme is directed by Chris Rusbridge, who has chosen to base himself at Warwick, where he is supported by Kelly Russell.

FIGIT has released two calls for proposals: one in July 1994 and one in November 1995. The initial call was divided into seven programme areas, and the second call into four areas.

Elib projects are quite different from the NSF/NASA/ARPA digital library projects. These are six huge, integrated projects each looking at many different aspects of the digital library. In contrast eLib, about the same size in cash terms, has funded over 50 projects to date. These are mostly small - aiming for deliverables over the next three years or so. The projects involve more than 85 different HE institutions. Overall it is a pragmatic programme, with relatively short term projects. With this scope, eLib could represent an important step toward broad based cultural change.


The programme areas of the first call are examined below.

Document Delivery

Having concentrated in part on the arts and humanities, we also initiated document delivery projects, some of which are particularly relevant to science and technology.

In document delivery, we aimed first of all to test different models in a networked, distributed environment. Most document delivery in the UK is sourced from the British Library’s Document Supply Centre at Boston Spa. We wanted to make more use of our own resources. LAMDA is a project using RLG’s ARIEL software to undertake document delivery between universities in the London area and a group in Manchester.

We are also funding two major systems development projects for paper-based documents. One of these is dual language: English and Welsh. We have also agreed to join with Australian and New Zealand partners to commission enhancements to ARIEL. Finally in this area is the InfoBike project, which will provide document delivery from electronic-sourced documents.

Electronic journals

In the electronic journals area, we are funding twelve projects. Two of these, CLIC and Internet Archaeology, are described in other papers in this report. Others range from support for learned society publishers moving to electronic formats, to the second SuperJournal project. This has a consortium of 20 publishers, in various disciplines. The project plans to test a selection of off-the-shelf interfaces, carrying out a series of user behaviour studies. These studies will then be evaluated to determine the way users interact with clusters of journals from these publishers.


Digitisation has proved to be a difficult area, and it has taken time to clarify and develop thinking in this area. We thought we might be able to release some space by digitising long runs of out-of-copyright material. Despite getting a good number of proposals, we have only funded two digitisation projects to date, and only one of these (from Oxford and Leeds) deals with early journals. The second deals with recent journals in the area of design. The motivation here is not space but conservation. Students in this area apparently steal not just pages or volumes, but entire runs of journals! We can only hope that they will not resort to stealing instead PCs or workstations...

These modest test projects have been funded to provide experience and insight into the technological and economic issues of digitisation. It seems clear now that the most appropriate model is a central digitisation facility (possibly in co-operation with the private sector) which would negotiate copyright clearance and provide off-site expert evaluation services. We would like to fund such a centre, though it is not yet certain that all necessary technologies are mature enough.

On Demand Publishing

On Demand publishing is the practice of printing short runs of publications - sometimes extremely short runs - when they are needed, rather than the more traditional practice of printing large runs and keeping stocks awaiting demand. An examination of this area shows how conservative, book-oriented, teaching is currently.

On Demand Publishing is one programme area where the major emphasis throughout has been on the teaching and learning benefits. We have funded seven projects. Most have a print-on-paper emphasis, but a few, notably the ERIMS project in management studies and the Liverpool John Moores project in the humanities, have an electronic basis. These projects are generally all having difficulties with getting publishers’ rights cleared at a reasonable price. Publishers seem determined to kill off a promising market.

Training and awareness

We have always believed that training and awareness is a vital area. We have funded six projects here, generally quite different from one another. Netskills is our main skills improvement project, based on the group at Newcastle who provided training through the Mailbase project. We also have EduLib, aiming to upgrade the educational competencies of librarians. There are three projects which are practically based, but essentially studies.

Finally there is the recently-launched Ariadne. This is a print and network-based newsletter which was initiated earlier in 1996. It aims to stimulate discussion in the library community, and should achieve that, from its first issue.

Access to Network Resources

It is notoriously difficult to find resources on the Internet. One approach we are taking is the creation of subject-based gateways. Another paper in this report describes the SOSIG gateway project; there are a further six gateways and one technology project in this area.

Supporting Studies

We always expected there would be useful work which was difficult to categorise. The supporting studies area brings these together. We have three projects, looking at the economics of document delivery, at cultural change, and at problems of resource discovery (refer to the paper on ROADS herein). There have also been shorter studies on existing digitisation projects, on the need for an images data service, and on technologies for copyright management.


Images have been mentioned more than once above. FIGIT received quite a number of image-based proposals in its first call but chose to wait for an images scoping study it had funded. That document is now out for consultation, and FIGIT has taken it as a framework for awarding three significant projects, covering very different areas: digital maps, medical images and photographic images of historical interest. These are very new.


The second call asked for proposals in pre-prints and grey literature, in quality assurance and in electronic reserve. These areas were addressing gaps where the initial response was not felt adequate. Pre-prints or grey literature lend themselves particularly well to an electronic environment. None of their timeliness is lost in processing or postal delays. We have agreed four projects in this area, and this is the first public announcement of support for a pre-print service in the cognitive sciences, directed by Stevan Harnad. This is an area in which the UK may take a world-wide lead.

Quality assurance projects will work to develop working models for refereeing in an electronic environment. The successful project is concerned more with streamlining peer review in than new models of quality assurance. It could prove very complementary to work in electronic journals and pre-prints. One can perhaps envisage further work on a system that moves materials directly from a pre-print via a refereeing environment into an e-journal.

The electronic reserve projects take our on-demand publishing work one stage further. There are some very interesting projects here, including some vital software for tracking access to copyright materials. There is also a project on delivering access to music and video as electronic reserve materials, for dance


Naturally, there are numerous sources of information about eLib:

A famous British writer, Terry Pratchett, has written a whole series of science fiction stories about his imaginary Discworld. This world has many extraordinary parallels with our own. In these stories, the Librarian at the Unseen University has been changed through some unfortunate magical accident to an orang-utan. He could be changed back, but the magical books he looks after are so dangerous that he chooses to remain as an orang-utan. It may be hard to communicate when you entire vocabulary is Ook, but I have heard of librarians in our universities who feel that very long arms and orange fur would help in dealing with their clients!

In one story (Guards! Guards!) the Librarian uses a thread, like Theseus, to find his way back from an expedition deep into his library. The density of knowledge is so great that it distorts space-time. He manages to find his way to a point a week ago, before a critical book had been stolen. After reading it he carefully replaces it and retraces his step to the present, following the thread. Presumably some of our librarians wish they could do that, too!

In another book (Small Gods), he makes the suggestion that this distortion of space-time is so great that all Libraries everywhere are connected, in "L-space". The Librarian is thus able to rescue some books from the centre of a burning library in another city.


This idea that all Libraries are - or should be - connected, is one of the central ideas of the Anderson Report. Michael Anderson looked at the problem of support for research, and essentially decided that we absolutely have to co-operate and collaborate. We have highly competitive institutions, but we must find ways to develop some sort of national strategy for co-ordinated support for research - a strategy that includes the national libraries. This is especially important in the UK with our numerous smallish universities and libraries. This idea underpins out thinking on the national distributed collection (print and electronic). We know also that we must go far beyond connecting OPACs in providing simple means to find our information resources.

The Anderson Report also raised the issue of preservation of digital information. We are all familiar with the fate of the fabled Alexandria Library, and probably also the medieval monastic library in Umberto Eco’s book The Name of the Rose (this library was also a labyrinth, this time to protect the monks from the knowledge in some books). It was not clear until a few years ago that digital information might be similarly vulnerable. Now we realise that the move to digital information - an inexorable move, it seems - brings new and unique problems in preservation. In the US, the Commission for Preservation and Access has been considering this for some time. They wrote an excellent draft report with the RLG [1]. We have now taken our first steps to play our part in resolving these difficulties, with a workshop at Warwick last year [2]. Unless we continue to support this work vigorously, it will inhibit taking advantage of the new methods of scholarly communication.


So where do we go from here? We have a significant programme of projects under way. The projects are sometimes described as a set of experiments. We now have to start looking for ways to make these experiments practical realities in our libraries. We must look wider than the UK, and try to integrate our work with overseas projects - whatever we can find that is useful.

So the first plank of our future strategy is to select some projects, then to embark on scaling up, integration and implementation, with wide dissemination and real efforts at cultural change. We should aim to get the results implemented across many or all libraries. In order to maintain the flow of funding, we shall have to "deliver results".

The second plank is to build on the ideas from the Anderson report. We must try to increase library collaboration. We want to be able to find documents wherever they are.

The third and final plank of the strategy is to try to make some real progress - backed by real money - in the emerging area of digital preservation.

We have not got all the funds we need to implement this strategy.


As a result of the Libraries Review, we have some very substantial programmes funded. This may not be everything we could wish for, but there is plenty to get on with. The eLib programme is the key development. It will have a major effect on cultural change in universities. We need to go further with this if we can get the funding to do so.

The organisation of HE in the UK means we can have a national strategy. Electronic library developments will only happen in this way.

We want to see eLib and other national programmes such as TLTP, etc. developing an holistic approach to teaching and learning. At the same time, we have to try to collaborate more in support of research.

It is important to keep relationships with the USA strong - particular areas include digital preservation, licensing and copyright.

We could view our world as a multi-dimensional labyrinth. In different ways as funders, Vice-Chancellors, Librarians and as users, we are all faced with a different maze of difficult choices. How do we find our way? We need whatever guides we can find. Let us hope we treat our Ariadne better than Theseus did.


[1] Draft report available at URL and by FTP at server

[2]Report available at URL

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.


The primary publication medium for this report is via the Internet at URL
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