Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Electronic Resource Creation and Management at Scottish Universities

Dennis Nicholson and Martin Smith describe the Catriona II project.

Key questions

The CATRIONA II eLib-funded project is in the process of examining approaches to the creation and management of electronic research and teaching resources at Scottish universities, looking in particular at the following key questions:

  1. To what extent are academics creating electronic RAE-level research material?;
  2. To what extent are they creating electronic teaching material of value beyond the local institution?
  3. Is the material in deliverable and usable form and is it accessible? Is it important to academics that it should be?
  4. Will universities create and manage services to deliver such resources to the desktop either within or beyond the local institution?
  5. What are the institutional, as well as the operational, requirements of such services, and what, if anything, is the role of the Library in terms of policy, strategy, organisational infrastructure and related matters?

The project, which began in June 1996, is based at Strathclyde and Napier Universities and has the support of the Scottish Confederation of University and Research Libraries (SCURL).

Progress report: surveys and a demonstrator service

During 1997, the project conducted surveys of over 500 randomly selected academic staff at six Scottish universities, seeking to discover:

In addition, work was begun on a Web-based demonstrator service that will:

This article summarises the results of the surveys and looks briefly at the initial development and implementation of the first of the project’s two demonstrator services based at Strathclyde University Library. This service has been designed at the library - and ultimately also the Research Park – of the Clyde Virtual University project, a SHEFC-funded project managed by Niall Sclater at Strathclyde University. The Strathclyde demonstrator envisages a distributed model of institutional service provision, with departmental servers as well as a central service. The second demonstrator, based at Napier University, will look at a more centralised approach to service provision and organisation.

The surveys: purpose and extent

The project’s purpose in conducting the surveys was to examine the situation across Scotland with regard to the existence, in electronic form, of RAE-quality research material and externally valuable teaching material, to establish whether such material exists on Scottish campuses in a deliverable and usable format and, if it does, to evaluate to what extent it can be considered accessible. Six of the thirteen Scottish Universities have been surveyed – Abertay and Napier (two of the five ‘new’ universities), Stirling and Strathclyde (two of the four ‘modern’ universities), and Edinburgh and St. Andrews (two of the four ‘ancient’ universities). In each case, the two chosen institutions were the smallest and largest of their type, ensuring that the surveys covered both the smallest and largest of the Scottish universities, together with a good sample of intermediate-sized institutions.

Key issues and conclusions of the CATRIONA II surveys

The results of the surveys in respect of the key issues of resource creation, delivery, usability and accessibility, show that a significant amount of research and teaching material exists (90% report that they have such material), but that it is not generally accessible (31% say they have some accessible material) and that even ‘accessible’ material may require further conversion or the use of specialised ‘helper applications’ and may be difficult to find. An important finding of the surveys was that a high percentage of academics regard desktop access to resources created at other institutions as either important, very important, or essential (85% in all). Such findings – given the high creation to accessibility ratios found – underline the importance of seeking to examine institutional intentions regarding the creation of services to manage the delivery of such resources: the key element of the second part of the project

Key survey results: research and teaching material combined

The surveys asked about research and teaching materials separately. However, it was possible to combine the results of the two questions - using, in effect, a Boolean OR - to give a measure of the extent to which relevant electronic resources of both types are being created at the surveyed sites, a procedure which effectively balanced the various institutions in respect of one or other having a stronger focus on research or a stronger focus on teaching. They show that a high percentage (83% - 97%) of electronic resources are being created at all six universities, and that such differences that were found in the survey results are not statistically significant. This suggests strongly that once the research/teaching variable is removed from the equation, all six universities surveyed are essentially similar – each is creating electronic resources at essentially the same high level and the measured differences between them are not statistically significant.

Electronic material (research and teaching)
All Universities90%10%
St Andrews97%3%

Key survey results: research material in electronic format

In total, 74% of all academic staff surveyed at the six institutions indicated that they had research-level material in electronic format. There was, moreover, a clear pattern of response linked to university type: respondents at the ‘ancient’ universities (90%) were, on average, more likely to have research-level material in electronic format than were ‘modern’ (78%) or ‘new’ (52%). The institutions of each type were chosen as the largest and smallest of their type, yet the two in each type pair showed no statistically significant differences between them. Arguably, therefore, each was representative of its type and, since the sample sizes were relatively large (50% each for modern and ancient and 40% for new), it is not unreasonable to assume that the results may be representative of the other institutions of similar type across Scotland.

Research material in electronic format
YesNoNot sure
All universities74%22%4%
St Andrews90%10%0

Key survey results: teaching material in electronic format

The survey revealed that 69% of all respondents had teaching material in electronic form which they thought either would be of value beyond the local institution (35%), or might be of value beyond the local institution (34%). The figures for individual institutions ranged from 49% to 87%, highlighting that significant amounts of material were being created at all six institutions. Looking at university type, it appeared that both modern and new universities seemed to be equally likely to have such material (74%) and much more likely to have it than ancient universities (57%).

However, these figures disguise a situation which is much less clear. Looked at individually, the institutions show the following:

The overall picture, however, is clearly one of significant levels of creation of teaching material, and of significant variations between institutions not related either to type or, less clearly, to size, or size within type.

Teaching material in electronic format
Would be
of value
May be
of value
All universities35%34%30%1%
St Andrews59%28%14%0

Key survey results: accessibility of electronic material to others

A substantial number of all respondents (64%) who had electronic research or teaching material said that this was accessible only to themselves. Only 31% of those surveyed had network accessible material and 6% had material accessible to others by some other means. Results of manual trawls of Web sites at Napier and Strathclyde Universities suggested that even the networked material was not generally accessible in that is was often difficult to find and frequently in formats that might cause potential users access problems. The general pattern, therefore, was one of inaccessibility. Across the six institutions, 90% of respondents had some kind of quality information in electronic form, but only 31% said the material was networked. Even at Edinburgh, which showed the highest level of network accessibility, the figure (43%) compared unfavourably with the level for the existence of material in electronic form (93%). This was the clear pattern at all six sites and it is again not unreasonable to conclude that the same pattern may be found at other Scottish universities. It is worth noting that those respondents who indicated that they had accessible material were not suggesting that all of the material they had created was accessible – only that they had material that was accessible.

Key survey results: are resources in deliverable and usable formats

Provided the user has access to the appropriate helper application, any electronic format is arguably deliverable and usable. If they do not have helper applications – and this may often be the case if the surveys are accurate – only HTML and Web browser compatible graphics formats such as gif and jpeg can truly be considered to be widely deliverable and usable. The figures for specific graphics formats are not known, but on average only 21% of respondents had html material, with the level at new universities significantly lower. It follows, therefore, that much of the material available is not necessarily in an immediately accessible and usable form, although high scores for Microsoft’s Word for Windows package indicate that a substantial amount of the material might be easily converted to HTML by a combination of automated and manual methods. No clear pattern across the six institutions has been discerned to date, however, the general picture is so varied with so many different formats involved, it is safe to assume that the pattern across Scotland is similarly varied, and that much work is likely to be required in respect of formats at least as far as existing material is concerned.

Key survey results: is lack access to resources important?

Overall, 85% of respondents viewed desktop access to electronic versions of published and unpublished research and teaching material at other UK universities as either essential (14%), very important (25%), or important (46%). Differences between institutions, institution types, and institution within each of the three types, were not statistically significant, suggesting that the pattern across Scotland (and perhaps beyond) is likely to be similar to the survey results, i.e. that academics would much prefer wider access to resources created at other institutions.

Summary of other survey results

Besides the key issues discussed above, the CATRIONA II survey also investigated a number of issues associated with the creation and accessibility of electronic resources at Scottish universities. These issues included:

In very general terms, there was a fairly predictable variation in the balance of research and teaching responsibilities amongst respondents from different types of institutions, with academics at the ancient universities spending more time on research activities than their colleagues at the modern or new universities surveyed. In terms of the proliferation of computing platforms at the institutions, IBM-compatible computers were found to be the most widely used, although Macintosh and UNIX machines still have a strong user base. The survey found very high levels of staff access to e-mail and Web browsing facilities within the surveyed institutions, together with significant levels of departmental Web server deployment.

The survey also attempted to assess the relative importance of a number of factors aimed at stimulating resource creation amongst academics. Of the various incentives put to respondents, those which ranked of highest potential value included: more free time to create resources, and improved technical support and advice during development. The final issue which was put to academics in the survey was copyright ownership. This section seemed to reveal a considerable degree of uncertainty amongst respondents regarding the copyright status of published and unpublished electronic research and teaching materials. In addition, there were clear indications of a general reluctance to insist on retention of copyright ownership on materials that were being submitted for publication, although a considerable majority of those surveyed did express a willingness to at least ask to retain rights if not insist.

Full details of the survey results covering all of the above issues can be found on the CATRIONA II Web server.

The demonstrator

screen shot of the demonstrator service as described below Introductory page of the demonstrator service

A demonstrator service providing users with a search and browse interface to catalogued resources has recently been developed and implemented at Strathclyde University. The demonstrator allows users to either, (i) access resources at participating institutions by using a Boolean keyword search facility of an index of various catalogued fields including: title, abstract and author, or (ii) browse through Dewey Decimal Classifications to locate individual campus resources. The resources included in the demonstrator were identified during manual trawls of institutional and departmental Web servers.

The Strathclyde demonstrator service incorporates links to other Web resources of potential value to students, researchers, librarians and information scientists. Working in conjunction with the Clyde Virtual University project at Strathclyde University, the demonstrator has now been incorporated into the CVU site as the library of this innovative virtual institution. The demonstrator is still very much under development at this stage and ways to extend and enhance the service are currently being investigated.

A second demonstrator is currently being designed for the CATRIONA II project at Napier University in Edinburgh. This demonstrator is proceeding according to a different institutional approach to the management of electronic resources than at Strathclyde University: at Napier the model revolves around the library taking a more central role in the management of resources, whereas at Strathclyde the model assumes the library participates as an equal, but expert, partner with other departments. The Napier demonstrator will allow users to access materials via Napier’s WebPAC, which will include MARC records for each resource.

Future developments

The main objective of the CATRIONA II project in its second stage will be to research and evaluate the institutional implications for universities developing services to create and manage electronic resources and investigate university intentions in this regard. A detailed questionnaire aimed at assessing the current situation at Scottish institutions is being prepared and will shortly be circulated to information policy and strategy groups at all Scottish universities. The questionnaire will be followed up later in the year by a series of videoconferences inviting institutional representatives to participate in discussions of the issues raised in the surveys.

A feedback and dissemination plan has been established to help raise awareness of the project with academics, researchers and administrators at universities throughout the UK. The project team very much welcome feedback on any aspect of the project, in particular, comments and suggestions regarding the development of the demonstrators from the point of view of users is most appreciated. It is also intended to incorporate Dublin Core metadata elements into all main documents of the demonstrators and of the main project Web site, to aid with discovery and description of pages. The project also intends to look at the Instructional Management Systems (IMS) metadata specification with regard to teaching resources.

The project will also continue with its other ongoing work, including:

The full survey report covering all six universities will be published on the project’s Web site by the end of March.



Strathclyde Demonstrator:

Clyde Virtual Library:

Dublin Core Metadata:

IMS Metadata:

Author Details

Dennis Nicholson
Head of Library Systems
Strathclyde University Library
101 St. James Road
Tel: 0141 5484529
Fax: 0141 5523304
Email: d.m.nicholson@strath.ac.uk

Mr Martin Smith
CATRIONA II Research Assistant
Strathclyde University Library
101 St. James Road
Tel: 0141 5484618

Fax: 0141 5523304

Email: martin.smith.100@strath.ac.uk