Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Down Your Way: University of Ulster, Coleraine

Isobel Stark investigates University of Ulster, Coleraine.

THE VIEW, DOWN THE VALLEY and towards the mouth of the River Bann, from the Central Library of the Coleraine campus of the University of Ulster, is seriously distracting. However, I was not here to be distracted, but to learn about the University of Ulster’s Library Services[1].

The Ulster Polytechnic and New University of Ulster (NUU) were merged in the mid- 1980’s as part of a rationalisation of higher education in Northern Ireland. With 16,000 FTE students, the University is now split between four campuses, and all have distinct qualities. Belfast is the smallest and the least diverse subject wise, housing only the Faculty of Art and Design. Magee is double the size of Belfast, but is still a small campus with roughly equal numbers of full and part-time students. Jordanstown has many part time and sandwich course students, and is by far the largest campus with about 8000 full time equivalent students. Coleraine has a more traditional, mostly full time, student body of just under 5,000 FTEs.

The library service at Coleraine has grown from its origin in an old barn to two libraries, Central and South. As well as the standard works to support teaching, learning and research, the library at Coleraine has received some generous bequests, namely from Henry Davis and John Hewitt. Henry Davis was an industrialist who lived in Belfast and London and became an avid collector of books and bookbindings. In his will, he left the most important parts of his collection, valued at £5M, to NUU, as it was then. The bulk of his collection, although individually less valuable, went to the British Library. The Central Library now houses 200 of Davis’s bequests, including 80 incunabula. Examples are accessible on the web [2]. The collection attracts international scholars who always appreciate the opportunity to view and hear about these rare items.

John Hewitt, the influential poet and teacher, left his papers, personal library and literary archive to the University, and this material is also in the Central Library. Much of it was uncatalogued until the university received a grant of £50,000 from the HEFC in May 1995. The project ended in May 1997 with almost all of the work finished. Information about both the archive and the poet have been published on the library’s Web pages [3]. This includes textual material and digitalised imaging technology was used to create visual examples of the manuscript material.

Not all the special collections are as literary. Coleraine has been a European Documentation Centre (EDC) since 1972 [4]. The EDC in the South Library contains a wide range of European Union publications in most formats and now also links to European information on the Internet -including the ever informative Euromyths page.

The merger of the Polytechnic and NUU in the 1980’s brought its own challenges for the library service. An Educational Services division was created and embraced the libraries, computing and media services. There is managerial convergence at directorate level and all three services share the same mission: ‘to provide value to our clients through provision of, and leadership in, solutions to information access, information retrieval and information management problems’. However like any modern library, the library staff need to have good working relationships with the computing and media services staff and the planned development of a 24 hour access computing cluster in the South Library at Coleraine will only heighten this co-operation.

The previously separate catalogues have been successfully integrated, and apart from the rather obvious difference in the classification schemes, little remains to show that the component libraries of the service were once independent. The CD-ROM network across all campuses is managed centrally from Jordanstown and CDs can be made accessible over the entire network or restricted to one campus as necessary. The growth of networking has brought the libraries closer and has led to a greater cross-campus exploitation of the stock by students and staff alike.

Some faculties operate on more than one campus, with the Business Faculty for example split between three of the four sites, and this inevitably increases inter-site loans. The library has looked at a networked solution. European Business ASAP is a full text database covering Finance, Acquisitions & Mergers, International Trade, Money Management, New Technologies & Products, Local and Regional Business Trends, Investments and Banking. This is its first full year of use and its impact on inter-site loans is yet to become clear.

The Ulster Subject Tree is another cross-campus service [5]. It contains pointers to Internet resources of particular interest to staff and students at the University but it is not intended to be a comprehensive guide. The idea is rather to provide a launching pad to quality Internet resources, especially subject guides, gateways and search engines, as well as to library guides and documentation. It is also used by the library staff as a training tool: an associated training page for Internet matters generally is also being developed.

The Library is firmly committed to exploring how IT may be exploited to improve provision, as is evidenced by the participation in eLib projects. The University of Ulster is involved in CAIN, ESPERE, Eurotext, Formations, EduLib and the SuperJournal projects [6]. However, despite all this technology, whether it be twentieth century or seventeenth, I found myself wondering how, because of the view, anyone in the Central Library could concentrate - no wonder most of the desks face inwards!


[1] University of Ulster Library Services

[2] The Henry Davis Collection

[3] The John Hewitt Collection

[4] University of Ulster European Documentation Centre

[5] Ulster Subject Tree

[5] CAIN

Author details

Isobel Stark
co Web-Editor, Ariadne
UKOLN, c/o Library, University of Bath, BA2 7AY