Web Magazine for Information Professionals

The Future Is Hybrid: London

Kate Robinson reports on 'The Future is Hybrid' project day at the British Library in London.

This workshop had a very full programme and made an early start. The day began with an enthusiastic welcome to the British Library by Lynne Brindley, who spoke about whether in hindsight the British Library could have been re-designed as a building, or as a digital resource. She went on to describe the value of the physical presence of a building and its role as a showcase for the importance of libraries. The new British Library has a symbolic role, giving libraries a dominant profile. In addition, the British Library should be a launch pad for all things digital, and it is undertaking a major programme of digital activity. The British Library is also a ‘gateway library’, looking to both the documentary sources of the past and the electronic sources of the future. It has significant new skills to acquire: new ways of team working, a key role for copyright and Intellectual Property Rights, and also a role as a digital preservation co-ordinator. New partnerships are being developed, both in the public and private sectors, and with colleagues in technical areas. She ended by suggesting that Librarians should not be too proud to copy the best ideas. We should keep our minds bedded in the practical, but be aware of and open to new developments. Finally, we should stop using the term ‘Hybrid Library’, and instead recognise that this is now ‘the Library’.

Lynne’s enthusiasm for the British Library and her view of its future was inspiring. This was complemented by the next session which narrowed the focus of the workshop, looking specifically at the eLib 3 Programme and the Hybrid Library. Jean Stewart began by giving a clear overview of the projects and reflecting on the progress made so far. She looked back to when the work of eLib 3 began, and commented on how far the projects have come. It was interesting to consider that what was then a research project is now integrated into libraries and incorporated into working life. The impact of the project on some service areas will be massive, especially in areas such as inter-lending with hard-copy verses electronic full-text delivery. Library services are beginning to re-position as they move more toward centre stage and become more relevant to business interests, becoming involved with corporate data, intranets etc. Changes are also occurring in the skills base of librarians and of library users as we move further into the electronic environment. Jean stressed the need for the eLib 3 projects to be robust and generic enough to provide templates for the future, but flexible enough to accommodate our changing business processes and new learning agendas. The following sessions of the morning gave a more in-depth look at the eLib 3 projects themselves: MALIBU, BUILDER, HeadLine, Agora, and HyLiFe.

Valeda Dent’s message of “give ‘em what they want” reminded us that library provision begins and ends with the end user and the hybrid library must be managed for the end-users’ benefit. The MALIBU project has a strong user focus, and concentrates on the integration of resources, with particular reference to the humanities. As information provision is evolving in terms of IT we need to be proactive in managing services and processes. There is a shift in the culture of the way in which libraries do things, and we need to ensure that libraries can provide the support users need.

Ian Upton took us through a very practical session on BUILDER, looking at the nuts and bolts of the project and how its aim to make libraries more seamless with the use of similar interfaces has been achieved. BUILDER has developed very focussed products in response to users’ needs, such as electronic short-loan, exam papers, and online inductions. The emphasis has been on providing the material quickly, soliciting comments and feedback from users, and responding to these by adapting the products as appropriate. The presentation was very accessible, practical and straightforward.

John Paschoud then talked us through the HeadLine project. His focus was very much on the main end product, that of allowing users to develop their own personal library. With HeadLine, users can build collections and set up group information environments and chat rooms for shared collaborative work. They can also discover resources and collect them in a personalised portal, a ‘personal information environment’, matching appropriate resources to the user.

Greg Newton-Ingham described the Agora project and also explored what eLib has achieved. He described it as a safe, co-operative test bed, moving from the research to the product, dealing with the needs of librarians in terms of service delivery and helping to move the community forward. Hybrid libraries are dealing with the same issues, and developing different solutions. The key lessons we are learning are that these developments are reliant on supplier relationships, staff development, user identification/evaluation, and user expectation management. We need to provide a single interface to lots of different resources (integrating web resources, local collections, different media etc.), supporting the breadth of resources by bringing them all together.

The HyLiFe project managers, Peter Wynne and Catherine Edwards, were sure that the hybrid library changes the relationship that the library has with its parent institution, and their presentation gave us a framework for implementing such change. They included securing the support of senior managers; collaborative working with academics, technical support and others; considering scalability right from the start; “vigorous” and ongoing promotion; and a focus on content rather than design. They also highlighted the importance of training and support for staff and users.

Following a break for lunch, we had a choice of sessions in the afternoon where we could look in more depth at one of the projects. It was a difficult choice but a very useful option, giving us more of an opportunity to ask questions and to learn about a specific area. After tea, the majority of us held on for an interesting presentation from Stephen Pinfield looking at the hybrid library and the DNER. Stephen gave a personal view of some of the lessons emerging from eLib 3, and focused on the DNER and its strategy of joining up resources and structures, and adding a strategic direction. In the hybrid library context it is possible to see the DNER as a kind of national hybrid library. Although it does not replace institutional activity, it should help institutions turn eLib projects into deliverables. However, it needs to be marketed to seniors in institutions so they can see its applications. Libraries within HE need to re-position themselves, using technologies and ideas in a broader context than in traditional libraries, as part of a managed learning environment. Stephen ended with the message that it is important to capitalise on all the hybrid library work at this stage so we do not loose its value.

Each of the presentations has its own particular flavour, and it was especially interesting to hear the different approaches of each project to the move towards a hybrid environment. The focus in all cases was on accessibility and usability, with the end user as the focus. It was a lot to take in on one day, but an excellent opportunity to draw together the work of the eLib 3 projects, in an understandable and meaningful way.

Author Details

Kate Robinson
Head of Reader Services,
University of Bath Library & Learning Centre