Web Magazine for Information Professionals


David Larbey writes about EDDIS, one of eLib’s document delivery projects.

The eLib programme categorises EDDIS as a document delivery project, but the concept is broader. EDDIS is an acronym for electronic document delivery, the integrated solution meaning the integration of document discovery, location, request and receipt into a seamless operation for the end user. It also means integration with library mediation and management work flow in which requests may be supplied as electronic documents or hard copy either for retention or return.

The core partners in the EDDIS consortium are the University of East Anglia, BIDS, Lancaster University and the University of Stirling, each bringing special knowledge and expertise to the project. In particular, BIDS’ data services and Lancaster’s interlibrary loan system (ILLOS) are well known. The consortium has developed a contractual relationship with Fretwell-Downing Informatics Ltd, whose Olib/VDX software provides a substantial foundation. The consortium is also co-operating with the Australian-led project JEDDS which is upgrading RLG’s Ariel document transmission system. EDDIS and JEDDS are converging in their closing stages, to develop a close coupled system in which JEDDS can provide document transmission for EDDIS and EDDIS can provide request and document management capability for JEDDS.

Through these alliances EDDIS is implementing international networking standards wherever possible: HTTP/HTML for the graphical end user interface; ANSI/NISO Z39.50 for database search and retrieve; ISO 1016010161 for interlibrary loan; the GEDI Agreement for electronic document interchange; and SMTP/MIME email for ILL message and document transmission. The breadth of functionality, degree of integration and standards implementation combine to establish unique status for EDDIS. Not only does it provide the basis of a valuable service now, but positions itself strategically for further development in pace with the continuing evolution of networking standards and cultural shifts in the workplace.

Technology for electronic document delivery is, for the most part, mature. Yet in practice, it is barely outside the boundaries of experimentation. The mechanics of EDDIS work, but future success will depend on largely non-technical matters which seem to fall into five categories: connectivity, critical mass, copyright, cost and culture.

Connectivity is important because document delivery is a transaction. It requires an organisation at both ends and an organised connection between them. There must be agreement between the parties about the mechanism for giving and receiving otherwise it will not work. In conventional processes, the supplier provides the customer with instructions and the customer is happy to follow them. A similar thing happens where the supply business is supported by a proprietary computer system. The supplier bears the cost of the system and of telling the customer how to use it, but is rewarded by the customer ‘loyalty’ that the system enforces. Global connectivity, which provides choice and opportunity for supplier and customer alike, is achieved either by building ‘gateways’ between proprietary domains or by implementing global standards of connectivity. Generally, it is quicker and easier to develop proprietary systems. The surest way of achieving interoperability, which is developing and implementing standards, appears to be the more troublesome.

The idea of critical mass is associated with connectivity. A few pioneer implementers of say the ISO ILL protocol do little for creating opportunity and choice in the matter of borrowing and lending documents. This was the case in Canada for a number of years while the pioneering work was done. In the US only recently did two commercial organisations celebrate the transmission of an ILL request from one to the other; and in the UK there is currently only one organisation with ILL capability. In this context it is exciting to learn that BLDSC is starting work on ISO ILL implementation shortly. Mass appeal of standards as a strategic route to library resource sharing and their application really is critical.

Copyright is the biggest debate by far and probably the biggest constraint on the development and uptake of electronic document delivery systems. Commercial suppliers of electronic documents supply on a copyright paid basis, allowing them to deliver directly to the desktop computer, but most demand is for copy documents supplied under the fair dealing arrangement where desktop delivery is not acceptable to copyright owners. In EDDIS, the idea of a one-stop-shop, help yourself, seamless process for end users is much compromised by this because incoming documents must be intercepted by the local library, printed, deleted from the system, and the hard copy forwarded to the end user by conventional means. It is the law.

The cost of electronic document delivery has three major components: the once only cost of equipment; running costs; and the cost of documents supplied. In any situation one or more cost elements may be marginalised. Can the network take more traffic? Can staff be redeployed? Can a deal be struck with a supplier? Also, it is a question of cost to whom. What role is being costed, supplier, intermediary or end user? The analysis must be specific to the process. A library might analyse it as a cost and judge its acceptability entirely within the envelope of its own budget, perhaps an attempt at tactical cost saving. A more robust business case might be possible by making a value analysis and including strategic benefits of electronic delivery. Such benefits may map closely to the values and goals of the university. Instead of being something the library can not afford, it becomes something the university cannot afford to be without. Costs are important and generally limiting but it is not always appropriate to judge them by yesterday’s rules. Information strategies are about change. The opportunity cost of doing things differently, especially on the back of a pre-existing network infrastructure, can be an appealing proposition.

Cultural change, in this context, is about learning to use information technology effectively. Information technology does two things well: it removes barriers of time and distance and it makes information available to people who ordinarily would not have it. In business terms it means you can despecialise jobs, remove layers of management and provide a more effective relationship with the customer. Internet and the World Wide Web is already changing the way scholars, researchers, teachers and students work, affecting their relationship with the library. At the same time economic and political pressures on libraries are causing them to look closely at what they do and how they do it. The eLib programme is exploring possible routes to the future and the small initiatives in electronic document delivery such as EDDIS are a part.

The need for easier and faster access to information in some situations and the ability to provide it electronically does not argue against the inherent value of printed works, nor against their provision and use in printed form. But neither should requirements for traditional forms of study become a barrier to implementing new technologies and new ways of working. For some time yet, libraries will be required to support a variety of individual and group cultures as the slow (but perhaps quickening) process of change moves through higher education. Soon eLib’s new hybrid library projects will start to investigate models for how this might be achieved, by presenting services as a sort of ‘information landscape’ with navigational aids to resources in the combined, distributed physical environment and cyberspace. Electronic documents are part of the landscape. EDDIS and other products arising from eLib and similar programmes are not perfect, but are perhaps good enough to encourage library managers to tackle radical change in their uncertain world.

Author Details

David Larbey
EDDIS Project Manager
The Library
University of East Anglia