[UKOLN] Earl Information Audit

By Sarah Ormes. This paper first appeared in the Public Library Journal, Vol.11, no.2 March/April 1996

EARL<1> is a consortium of public libraries which have joined together to provide support, advice and help in the development of the Internet in the context of public libraries. It was officially launched on November 1st 1995 although much work had already been done before this date. In order to help EARL design and tailor these services a questionnaire was sent to all its members in late August 1995. This questionnaire was designed by Peter Stone (EARL consultant) and Peter Smith (Deputy Director of LASER) and as part of UKOLN 's support for EARL UKOLN undertook the analysis of the audit's results.

The aim of the questionnaire was to provide EARL with a selection of information - firstly the range and extent of material that the members could provide about themselves and would wish to be made available on the Internet, secondly the type of non-library information that the members have access to and wish to make available on their EARL WWW pages e.g. local information, council information, and thirdly the extent to which the libraries are already networked (both Internet and library management systems). Out of the thirty library services that were sent the questionnaire eighteen returned them in various states of completion.

This article is in two sections - the first and main section reporting the results of the audit and the second section offering a brief summary of the results and some comments on what these results imply for EARL and the library authorities.

1) Questionnaire Results

Library Information

The first set of questions attempted to identify information that libraries would or could be able to provide EARL about themselves. This information would then be used to create each authority's home page. In effect this question gives an indication of the amount of self promotional material that the library services are able to provide whether it be for EARL, the public or any other interested parties.

Diagram One

Diagram One shows the extent to which libraries could or would provide types of information about themselves. It is reassuring to see that all the library authorities were able and willing to provide information about their addresses and opening times! Seventeen of the eighteen libraries had a specially designed logo which indicates the recent pressures for library services to have a corporate image. However, whilst nearly all of them had a logo only around half of the services could or were willing to provide information on their special collections, services or even provide maps of their locations. This low level of self publicity was also indicated later in the audit when authorities were asked about their publications such as publicity, readers' guides, handlists and books. Eight authorities did not indicate that they could or would be able to provide any information of this sort, seven would offer both publicity and readers guides, only a third would offer handlists and a smaller number still would offer books. It appears therefore that library authorities were generally unable or unwilling to provide information immediately on themselves to EARL.

Information Held by Libraries

The second aim of the audit was to find out the range of information that the authorities held on local/community issues and to what extent this information should be made available on the Internet through EARL.

Firstly the audit revealed that all the libraries maintained a community information system of which only one was not computerised. The number of records held in these systems varied and was usually dependent upon the size of the authority - only three systems held more than 10,000 records with the majority falling between 1000 and 10000 records. Many members of EARL hope to, considering the computer based nature of these systems, translate these records (usually videotext based) into a WWW accessible service at some point in the future.

The libraries were then asked about what sort of local organisation information they would be happy to provide or would wish to see on their WWW pages.

Diagram Two

Diagram two indicates that in general around half of the authorities could currently provide information on these organisations and/or would wish to put it on the WWW. Local news however, scored badly with only three authorities either able to provide it or wishing to make it available - perhaps this could be indicative of the large amount of time and effort needed to be spent on the collection of this type of information. The diagram shows that overall only around half of the library authorities will be including these types of local organisation information on their EARL WWW pages. Unfortunately due to the ambiguous nature of the question it is difficult to tell whether this is because they do not wish to host local organisation information or do not hold the sufficient information required for EARL to prepare the WWW pages. A similar pattern was also found in the responses to the question which dealt with local authority information.

EARL had stated that it did not aim to provide local authority information but considering that some libraries were so keen to include this sort of information on their pages they would consider library related services.

Diagram Three

Diagram three shows there was a fairly even spread of responses to this question with again the number of libraries who could or would host Local Authority information averaging at around just under fifty percent. The two types of information that scored the highest were archive material - which is heavily related to libraries' primary function and Countryside and Heritage Sites information. Again it is difficult to tell whether there was not a greater positive response because the libraries did not hold this information or did not view it as their responsibility to make it accessible.

For this and the previous question the libraries were not asked to identify the extent or type of information that they expected each organisation and/or council department to provide them with. Libraries could find that they end up offering widely varying standards of information with one council department providing them with an in-depth guide to its services, achievements and responsibilities and another providing little more than an address, phone numbers and opening hours. However, if the library is provided with detailed information this will be an opportunity to provide an in-depth and comprehensive information service that will be available to anyone with Internet access.

Networking and Automation Information

The final aim of the audit was to get a picture of the current state of automation and networking in the authorities. The automation information was needed in order to explore whether it would be feasible to offer access to the libraries' OPACs over the Internet. The networking information was required in order to get an indication of the how advanced and what kind of experience the authorities already had of the Internet.

Diagram Four

Diagram Four shows the percentage of the book stock that was available on OPACs. The responses to this question seem to indicate that only 55% of library services have now converted all their records to a computer format and have OPACs which are accessible to the public. It is unfortunate that the question was somewhat ambiguous as it is impossible to tell whether those who answered 0% meant that they had not converted any of their records to computer format or simply did not have OPACs.

When the same question was asked about serials it revealed that a much smaller percentage of the authorities had catalogued in a machine readable form their journal collections. Only three of the library services had 100% of their serials catalogued in this way - with one service having catalogued 50% and eight indicating that no such cataloguing had been done. The remainder of the eighteen services did not answer this question. Therefore in the effort to back catalogue the library stock serials have been given a much lower priority or been ignored completely

Thirteen authorities indicated that they could provide EARL with bibliographical records on tape with 8 of these being in the MARC format. Whether the remaining five either could not or would not do this was not indicated. Seven authorities in total could also provide this information on cassette form as well.

The audit also revealed that even among eighteen library authorities there is a wide range of computerised library management systems in use as shown in table one.

Table One: Library Management Systems In Use

Type of Library Management System

No of Library Services Using It

ALS 900


















Table 1

There is an even mix between quite recently developed systems and those that have been around for a considerable length of time. The older the system the more inflexible it is and usually the more incompatible with other manufacturer's systems. Most of the newer packages however now use the same communication standards and so are compatible with each other. This compatibility offers the option for authorities to search each other's OPACs and possibly even directly order and manage inter library loans. There is a danger that some of the authorities with the older systems could be excluded from this new potential level of cooperation, especially as the ability to communicate with other systems becomes more important. However, recent work with the Z39.50 protocol may help overcome these problems.

When it came to the Internet the audit revealed that 61% of the eighteen libraries already have an Internet connection and another 17% are planning to get one independently of EARL. Only 22% of the libraries, had EARL not come about, would have had no plans to connect to the Internet. It must be emphasised that these figures refer to authorities as a whole and not to individual libraries. Unfortunately the libraries were not asked to identify the type of Internet access that they had i.e. was it e-mail only (e.g. through Viscount), did it include gopher and telnet access or include all this and the WWW. This is an area that would be useful to explore in future audits of this kind. The audit went on to try and identify the number of systems/machines within each authority on which the Internet was available.

In four of the authorities access was only available on 1 machine, for three it was on 2-3 machines, on two it was available on 4-5 and only one authority had more than 6 access points. So even though a majority of library authorities may have access to the Internet it is in a very limited capacity- logistically most libraries and therefore most library staff cannot have access to these connections. Internet access therefore appears to be an option for very few staff members - there was no attempt to try and document the level of access that is currently being offered to the public.

One way in which access may be widened is through the local authority network - nine libraries reported that their local authority was definitely planning an Internet network and three more indicated that such a network will be probable - there was no indication, however, of whether the libraries would have access to these networks.

A record of how libraries are at present connecting to the Internet was also collected by EARL in another information request which was completed by all thirty libraries independently of the audit. It has been included here as it complements the information that was recovered from the audit.

Diagram Five

Diagram five shows that forty percent of EARL members already had an Internet connection - the majority of which were via commercial dial up providers. The remaining methods of connection were through the Janet Viscount Project, leased lines or ISDN. Out of the SLIP/PPP dial up operators the most popular were Demon, BBC Networking Club and Compuserv. The remaining forty percent of the authorities had joined EARL without any previous Internet experience.

2) Summary and Comments

The audit has shown that there is considerable variation between library authorities in the amount of information that they are able to offer EARL about themselves, the type of information that they want or able to make available on the WWW and their current level of experience with the Internet.

From the results (if we generalise) we may assume that the typical EARL library authority

From this it becomes very clear that at present there is a considerable variation in network awareness. The EARL members are generally unsure about the type of information that they should be making available on the WWW. The fact that the only information that all the libraries were able or willing to make available was opening times and addresses shows a lack of experience of understanding how an organisation can exploit the WWW for the benefit of itself and its users. At present the home pages that will be available through EARL will vary greatly in their extent and usefulness to the library user - some giving comprehensive guides to library, council and local information and others restricting themselves to little more than opening hours and addresses. It will be up to EARL to encourage libraries to offer more information, to show them what is possible and assist them in exploiting the WWW for the maximum benefit.

The results of the questions about networking and automation issues reveal again considerable disparity between different library services. There are considerable variations in the percentage of back catalogued stock, library management systems and current access to the Internet. Different authorities have had different levels of experience with some fully aware of all the Internet has to offer and others still struggling to back catalogue all their book stock.. Earl therefore has the difficult job of co-ordinating its members and providing a service that is tailored to each individual authority's needs

However, the issue of the Internet and public libraries will not disappear and these problems identified by the audit will need to be addressed. However, the audit has also shown that most libraries are beginning to explore the possibilities that the Internet offers, are looking for opportunities where they can expand on their traditional services and even improve upon them. EARL appears to offer the mechanism in which libraries can begin to face these problems in a co-operative and supportive manner. The opportunities are there - it is now up to EARL to make sure that public libraries make the most of them.

<1> Further information about EARL can be found on the WWW at http://www.earl.org.uk/