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Information Staff Roles in The Hybrid Library

Andrew Hampson
Project Development Officer, BUILDER, Information Services,
University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT
Tel: 0121 414 7108
e-mail: a.d.hampson@bham.ac.uk

The hybrid library is situated on the continuum between the conventional library and the virtual library and is set to change over time. Many elements of the hybrid library already exist where ever paper-based information resources are offered alongside electronic information resources and services. However, it is integration of these resources which is crucial to the complete realisation of the hybrid library, enabling more seamless access for our customers.

Projects aimed at developing working models of the hybrid library are underway. In the public sector Essex Libraries has the 'Seamless Project' and, in higher education, Phase 3 of the Electronic Libraries Programme (eLib) has a hybrid library strand. This paper aims to report on one such eLib project and goes on to consider the impact of the hybrid library on the roles of library and information services staff in the academic sector.

BUILDER[1] (Birmingham University Integrated Library Development and Electronic Resource) is a two and a half year project running from January 1998 to June 2000, led by the University of Birmingham. It is developing a working model of the hybrid library within both a teaching and research context and aims to seamlessly integrate access to a wide range of printed and electronic information resources, local and remote, using a Web-based interface.

The project focuses on six inter-related modules which are being developed for, and applied across, six subject areas:

User registration and induction
A single point of registration for one common username and password will be developed, allowing access to a range of information and computing services.

Ordering and delivery of materials
The aim is to replace current paper-based procedures by developing Web-based interfaces to facilitate ordering and document delivery routines.

Metadata index for printed and electronic sources
Metadata is data about data (e.g. a library catalogue record). It describes information resources and enables access to that information. Our customers are faced with a wide range of information sources in different formats (print-based, CD-ROM, WWW). The aim is to provide a high-level metadata system to assist customers in identifying relevant information resources.

Teaching and learning
Electronic short-loan is a major element of this module. The aim is to provide a range of learning resource packs in support of identified courses, consisting of links to electronic book extracts and journal articles as well as computer-assisted learning (CAL) materials. Negotiating copyright permissions and defining a digitisation strategy are key areas for successful implementation. A toolbox of routines will also be developed to be used by academic staff in their own Web pages.

Publication and digitisation
The academic journal Midland History (1971 - present) and University of Birmingham Examination Papers 1997/98 will be digitised. BUILDER will also work in partnership with the University of Birmingham Press to develop an electronic publishing process for the journal Forensic Linguistics. The whole author/publisher interaction will take place in a Web-based environment, from submission of copy to correction of proofs.

Access gateways
A single Web-based interface will be developed to enable a range of catalogues and databases to be searched seamlessly.

Evaluation of the Project will be both formative and summative. An Evaluation Team consisting of Project staff and a representative from the Centre for Information Research and Training (CIRT) at the University of Central England (UCE) will co-ordinate these activities. Formative evaluation will inform the development of BUILDER products and is centred on Module Teams, consisting of Project staff, academic staff and representatives from the Project's primary partners. The Module Teams have defined quality criteria for each module and will test prototypes as they are produced. Feedback from the Module Teams will contribute to an iterative process, reflected in a continuous cycle of product development and improvement.

Summative evaluation will pull the strands of the Project together into a coherent whole. Although it will mainly take place in the Project's final six months, summative evaluation reports will be produced throughout the duration of the Project to inform the wider community of hybrid library management issues such as digitisation strategies, "how-to-guides" and technical solutions.

BUILDER is focused on delivering tangible products. The emphasis is on a practical approach. However, the Project also seeks to assess the cultural impact of the development of the hybrid library and explore associated human factors.

During September 1998, the Evaluation Team will undertake a Strategic Audit, consisting of standardised interviews with senior managers at the University of Birmingham. The aim is to provide a "snap-shot" of the impact the hybrid library has had on key decision-makers and institutional paymasters. In the same period, focus groups will be held with University of Birmingham Information Services staff to gain their views about the affect of hybrid library developments on their current and future roles, and the services they offer.

Staff roles in a changing environment
Increased investment in technology and IT infrastructure applied to an information context does not lead to a reduction in the staffing levels required to deliver that service. Early investigations of the HyLiFe[2] (Hybrid Library of the Future) project have found that diverse customer groups in higher education require more support and guidance from library and information services staff in the current hybrid information environment. Bernie Sloan[3] has identified 'a strong case for the necessity of human intermediaries in the digital library environment' and Brendan Rapple[4] states 'librarians have a strong future in the networked environment'.

However, this future is not guaranteed. To remain in the 'comfort zone' of familiar ways of doing things entails the risk of library and information services being sidelined. New skills and new mind sets are needed by information staff at all levels in order to promote the added value which information professionals deliver to customers. This means academic librarians assuming new roles with energy, confidence and an increased awareness, and involvement with, the wider environments in which they operate.

BUILDER has undertaken preliminary focus groups with Information Assistants at the University of Birmingham to gauge their reaction to the developing hybrid library. They were asked to identify the current needs of their customer-base. They suggested students required 24 hour opening with more core texts, study space and an enhanced IT infrastructure. Students also needed to know what was available and where to obtain it. They thought academic staff wanted increased access to research material, with more information available via desk-top PCs. Links were made with possible services the hybrid library could deliver to satisfy such demand.

Information Assistants saw themselves performing some hybrid roles in their current jobs. Traditional activities were still being undertaken such as shelving, processing reading lists and delivering issue and enquiry desk services. However, increasingly the digital environment was affecting their role, skills and their service interactions. They provided direct assistance to users about databases and electronic sources, addressed IT hardware problems, produced site publicity material on the Web and were involved in document delivery. Job insecurity was not mentioned as a factor. They expected their role to change, with the future consisting of self-service issuing, increased support to users both remotely and face-to-face, electronic processing of reading lists, less shelving and welcoming more visitors from other institutions and the wider community.

The IMPEL2 project[5] has found that 'it is organizational rather than technological factors that are now causing most upheaval'[6] as internal structures and strategies are re-aligned. New structures require new skills. Garrod et al.[7] have reported the concept of the 'hybrid' or multi-skilled member of staff with both information and technical skills being employed by some institutions, particularly in an advisory service capacity. The need for individuals to update their skills and define a programme of continuous professional development is essential. This personal responsibility entails strategic management of your own career and skills-base, analysing trends in the workplace and outlining a way forward which is revised when necessary.

The hybrid library will require information staff to foster partnerships with teaching and administrative staff. Partnerships will need to be formed between institutions, as improved external resource discovery has implications for library access arrangements. This will require information professionals to be skilled negotiators, who are also confident developing relations with data suppliers and publishers who operate in the commercial market place. Presentation and communication skills will be prerequisites

Team-working, particularly in the context of project management, will involve information and computing staff working together to create integrated information environments and then acting as intermediaries between customers and that information. Convergence of computing and library services will be the natural outcome of hybrid library developments for some institutions. For others, the services will remain separate but co-operation on the ground will increase as information services become increasingly dependent on a solid technological infrastructure.

The hybrid library offers new roles for information staff in assisting students, supporting academic departments and teaching and facilitating information access. A positive attitude is needed to embrace new developments and exploit the digital environment, as the core values of the information profession make it best placed to serve our customers well.

1 BUILDER, http://builder.bham.ac.uk

2 HyLiFe, http://www.unn.ac.uk/~xcu2/hylife

3 Sloan, B. Service Perspectives for the Digital Library: Remote Reference Services. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1997. Currently available at http://alexia.lis.uiuc.edu/~sloan/e-ref.html

4 Rapple, B. A. The Electronic Library: New Roles for Librarians. CAUSE/EFFECT, Spring 1997, 20(1), 45-51. Also available at: http://www.cause.org/information-resources/ir-library/html/cem971a.html

5 IMPEL2, http://ilm.unn.ac.uk/impel

6 Day, J. M., Edwards, C. and Walton, G. The Impact on People of Electronic Libraries: monitoring organizational change in UK higher education. Presented by J. M. Day to the Coalition for Networked Information Conference, San Francisco, 6-7 December, 1996. Also available at http://ilm.unn.ac.uk/impel/cni4.htm

7 Garrod, P. and Sidgreaves, I. Skills for new Information Professionals: the SKIP Project. London : LITC, 1998. (In press) Also available at http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/services/elib/papers/other/skip

[This article appears in September 1998 issue of Impact, published by the Career Development Group. Permission to reproduce this article has been granted by the editor, Alan Leventhall.]

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last modified : 26 April 1999
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