Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Down Your Way

Alison Kilgour takes a look at the networking facilities inside Glasgow University Library.

The library at Glasgow University literally towers over the campus, standing high on a hill above the round reading room, its stark geometry contrasting powerfully with the neo-Gothic main University building opposite. The University is the second oldest in Scotland and the fourth oldest in the UK. Its library, built in the 1960s, was pioneering for its time in stock arrangement, each level of the building devoted to a subject area.

This ‘forward looking’ ethos is still very much in evidence today. Glasgow University is one of the UK’s major research institutions, and is currently at the forefront of developments in teaching and learning support. It produced the Teaching and Learning Technology Programme (TILT) packages, generic courseware for self-instruction in various subject areas. The library had major input into the design of these courseware packages and has produced five packages for teaching and learning in the library environment. These are available to students and staff throughout the campus, mounted on the various network clusters and from all of the 59 networked PCs in the library itself.

Following ‘supermarket’ display practices, one PC per subject floor (a quarter of the total) offers the students the ‘basic fare’ direct access to the catalogue. All others provide MERLIN, the library’s information service, which has an eye-catching array offering the choice of access to the CD-ROM service, the TILT packages, the OPAC and the library’s Web service. The Web service is a relatively new addition to the library service provision, launched late last year. A Library Web Working Group has been set up to develop the pages, which are seen as a window to the library collection as well as to resources held locally within the University and beyond. The service will also be used to promote the treasures of the library’s special collections. Access is provided from the home page to the library’s Innopac catalogue and to external information sources available online at the University (BIDS and OCLC First Search).

The design of the home page makes for efficient use. The most heavily used services are all available immediately. Interestingly, on the day I visited, only a few workstations were being used to give access to anything other than the catalogue; perhaps evidence that students are conservative shoppers.

The menu bar at the bottom of all screens is useful, providing access to previous screens, back to the library home pages or to GLANCE, the university’s Web service. I particularly liked the handy link to the catalogue provided at the bottom of the page. The only graphic in evidence is the banner on the home page, put there primarily to mark the change from the gopher service previously in use. Indeed most of the subject-based information is still in gopher format. The intention is to have subject resources linked from the various subject librarians’ individual pages, thus linking the face with the subject. Information will be grouped first by subject and then by form - databases, journals, mailing lists etc.

The library is involved in the Clyde Virtual University project. Linda Creanor, who worked on the TILT programme, has been seconded to this project. It aims to provide courseware to the HE community in the Clyde area. Building on the courseware produced by TILT and using ClydeNET (the local MAN), the materials will be able to reach a much wider audience than the TILT packages do at present. One of the criticisms of the TILT packages was that setting up the software was often problematic. The use of the Net eliminates this problem, since the software is loaded centrally.

Within the University the library is also very active in a campus-wide approach to teaching and learning on the Internet. There has been a positive response from users to the new service - although students have been observed to be as interested in pursuing entertainment via the Web as they are in searching for resources in support of their studies.

Students can enrol on courses, given by library staff, which are accredited as part of the modular scheme. These are aimed at first year students at present, but it is intended that they should eventually be offered to students at all levels. Library staff also run courses for new academics, providing them with information and hands-on experience in accessing subject gateways and the use of search tools. These seminars to both staff and students have proved very popular. Library Web Editor William Nixon remarks “Lecturers can actually get away from their desks and practice for a couple of hours - guilt-free!” Netscape is used, but the emphasis is on searching rather than the technology itself.

Feedback from all courses is very important to the editorial team, as the information and suggestions are used in the design decisions for the library’s own pages. With the help of its users, library staff at Glasgow are now building a new library, still organised by subject, whose architecture is of the virtual variety.