Evaluation of the Electronic Libraries Programme
Synthesis of Annual Reports


Projects were asked to report on their objectives for the next reporting period, any anticipated changes in direction and emergent scenarios for the likely uptake and exploitation of their products and services.

The manifold objectives and milestones reported by projects reflect their domain level characteristics as well as their individual particularities. A substantial number of projects made reference to evaluation planning where this has been a previous weakness and there now is apparent recognition that exit planning cannot be left to the final year but must be built into project decision-making at this stage.

At the end point of the first year of the project life-cycle, virtually all reports have affirmed the core idea or concept of the project (that is the validity of what they are trying to achieve). There are however some concerns expressed about the likely financial feasibility of the products or services beyond the initial funding phase and a recognition in some domains that the cost-benefit equation may not support a continuation. Some projects have reported not so much a change in direction as a leap-frogging over existing technologies to WWW solutions, or a shift in this direction sooner than anticipated. Other projects have embarked on a process on continuous formative evaluation and see this as an adequate means of adapting to changing user requirements in a dynamic IT environment.

Envisaging future scenarios for the uptake of their products and services is novel for many projects and we detect a naiveté in some projects and domain areas about establishing the business case. Others, however, are beginning to look systematically at options for a sustainable future and we would expect to see these ideas and the actions they lead to elaborated in the second year annual reports.

Electronic Journals

The EJ projects listed the various different objectives or milestones for the coming year, in broad conformity with the initial project plan. In addition to the common goal of producing and publishing further journals or issues or launching new electronic services, projects were aiming to undertake further evaluation work, to improve the technical environment, to explore charging mechanisms and revenue-raising and to undertake market testing. Other planned activities related to the particular goals and circumstances of individual projects.

Generally speaking, projects felt that their experiences of the first year were in line with expectations and that they would continue along the same trajectory. Future developments therefore represented not so much a change in direction as an elaboration or extension of what was already planned or envisaged. Thus EJ projects were seeking to expand into cognate areas, to experiment with services that exploited the technology more effectively, to build links with other projects and to be more responsive to user preferences. Whilst the majority of projects might be defined as taking an experimental approach within a confined vision of the project, a minority functioned in an open systems environment and hence were more alert to wider cultural, social and organisational aspects which had the potential to significantly impact on the development path of the project and called for more proactive engagement of the project team with its environment.

In commenting on emergent scenarios of use for their products and services, some projects were reflective about the factors affecting success and the transfer potential of what had been learned. The need to explore further the nature of the new media and the changes in work habits and routines that would be required for increased uptake and exploitation was seen as important whilst others emphasised future staffing and training requirements. The task of achieving sustainability beyond eLib funding was also a shared concern: for some, the task ahead was to explore pricing strategies and to investigate charging mechanisms whilst for others, sustainability called for corporate change, risk and new investment strategies by commercial partners.

Access to Network Resources

The various ANR projects identified their objectives for the coming year with differing degrees of specificity. Some focused more on the immediacy of replacing staff, launching a pilot service and redesigning the interfaces in response to user feedback, others elaborated on the various tasks associated with software design and delivery and investigation of value adding services beyond what was originally planned, whilst yet others proposed to form strategic alliances and to focus on promotional activities.

ANR projects foresaw no change in direction, nor any serious challenge to the vision of what they were trying to achieve. Whilst there was some recognition of the desirability of involving users more actively in the development of the services and tailoring the product more closely to what users want, this was within the already established parameters of the projects. The ROADS technical infrastructure project however expressed a reservation about the nature of software and the culture of the community in which it is being utilised as potential constraints on uptake.

One or two projects are beginning to discuss the long term future of their ANR service within a commercial framework, exploring options and developing an associated business plan.

On Demand Publishing

In terms of objectives for the coming year, projects were at different stages in the development lifecycle: some had completed development work and year two signified a shift to monitoring users’ responses to the materials, whilst others anticipated further effort inputting materials onto the servers and negotiating copyright and security matters with publishers. All projects expected to undertake further field trials of the system and to gauge user reactions.

The ODP annual reports on the one hand signalled no change in direction whilst on the other called attention to the uncertainties surrounding the projects and possible alternative approaches for dealing with them. The latter included piloting an on-line delivery system and developing a system for managing copyright and delivery of digitised material on line.

The future scenarios for ODP were seen to depend on human, social and organisational factors rather than technical ones. Whilst one project considered there were grounds for guarded optimism about future sustainability, another considered the products were unlikely to be fully commercially viable beyond the project end without reference to the added value for academic staff, students and libraries when compared with traditional services.

Electronic Document Delivery

The EDD projects have a range of different objectives for the second year . For one project, the objectives are primarily technical and organisational whilst for another they relate to the shift to cost recovery or profit management. A third project is renegotiating the objectives and milestones for the second year following a major change in the functional spec to incorporate a WWW solution.

We note considerable uncertainty about the future scenario for the EDD products and services developed in eLib, although the reasons for this reflected the different circumstances of individual projects. In one instance, future viability of the services is dependent on EU information policy on documentation, one possible scenario being the development of a basic electronic document delivery service available to all which would then preclude any meaningful role for the project. In another, the cost-benefit equation is of vital importance, given the increasingly competitive environment in which the project has to operate. This project is at the point of needing to make substantial costing and marketing decisions which will determine its commercial viability and longer term sustainability.

Training and Awareness

The various T&A projects have identified specific activities for the next reporting period in keeping with their stated project objectives. These include further work in developing and piloting advanced authoring courses and materials, the development of a Netskills information gateway, the promotion of a networked professional learning community for networked learner support and workshop activities. Other activities mentioned include evaluation and exit strategy planning.

Several projects share in common a diffusion strategy based on the cascading down of skills and awareness through training of cadres within the user populations. Critical reflection by one project of its experiences with this model has led to revision of its dissemination phase but project reports have otherwise not signalled any change in direction or questioning of the underlying training and awareness strategy. Rather, projects accept the need for continuous adaptation of subject matter and course design to the changing requirements of the target communities.

Most projects in this domain are yet to consider a business plan, although one or two are beginning to explore alternative future scenario from the fully self-supporting, through mixed models, to central support or commercial adoption.

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The Electronic Libraries Programme (eLib) was funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC)
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