Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Hylife: Ten Steps to Success

Peter Wynne, Catherine Edwards and Maureen Jackson, on some important aspects of running a Hybrid Library Project.

HyLiFe (The Hybrid Library of the Future), one of the five Hybrid Library Projects in eLib’s Phase 3 formally ended as a project at the end of 2000. Distinctive features of HyLiFe include its diverse consortium, its non technological approach and its emphasis throughout on evaluation. By drawing on evaluation findings in HyLiFe’s six partner sites, it has been possible to identify ten steps which need to be observed en route to successful Hybrid Library implementation. This summary of recommendations is intended as a practical guide for practitioners planning a hybrid service model, and is presented here in full. The “10 Steps to Success” were first presented at the HyLiFe Hybrid Library workshops (September to December 2000) and were first presented in the form reproduced here at the eLib Phase 3 conference The Future is Hybrid: Libraries in the 21st Century held at the British Library, 1 November 2000..

1. Secure the support of senior institutional managers and heads of departments (especially the Head of Library and Information Services).

The experience of the project at all of HyLiFe’s six implementation sites has demonstrated the crucial importance of securing senior management backing for the introduction of hybrid library services. The hybrid library brings with it the possibility (indeed, the likelihood) that all the library’s stakeholders experience of its services will be changed, as will interactions among groups of stakeholders. In the case of a project which will deliver such far-reaching change, it is simply unrealistic to believe that successful implementation is possible by, for example, a small project team acting in isolation. The hybrid library ‘brand’ needs to be seen to be endorsed by senior management within the library, and with other learning support departments, such as computing services, on which the library draws. This endorsement should be formalised by the establishment of a body – a working party or steering committee – to focus support on the hybrid library development. On this committee should be represented the managers of the departments already noted, as well as university management and faculty personnel. The committee will advise on strategy, set goals and monitor the progress of the implementation team.

Furthermore, there is much to be said for the project management technique common in the United States of having a ‘Project Champion’. The Project Champion acts a sort of figurehead for the project. He or she is a senior individual of high visibility, who regularly mixes with other opinion formers within the project’s host institution and beyond. In this capacity, the Project Champion can publicise the project in a wide range of fora and can by so doing ensure a continuing high level of familiarity with (and, it is hoped, acceptance of) the project’s objectives among affected stakeholders.

An appropriate Project Champion for a hybrid library venture would of course be the University Vice-Chancellor. For a Project Champion to offer the maximum benefit to a project, he or she should be someone who does not have a direct interest in the work and is seen by others as neutral.

2. Work collaboratively. Bringing different perspectives and experience together with a common purpose reaps dividends.

The need for close working between LIS, technical and academic staff, along with senior management support has been highlighted. The pressure for groups to collaborate is well recognised, having been made more acute by such factors as the growth in Information & Communications Technologies and the increase in resource-based learning methods1.

It has been noticeable over the three years that the project has been running, that Hybrid Library models such as HyLiFe are heavily dependent upon collaboration for their success. It seems that merely coining the term ‘Hybrid Library’, and thereby clarifying the concept in people’s minds, has focused attention on the role of the library in the educational process. There has been an increased awareness of the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) over the project’s lifetime. The VLE, like the Hybrid Library, draws on advances in Information & Communications Technologies to create an integrated package of educational tools accessible via a single web browser interface. The boundaries between the Hybrid Library and the VLE have become blurred and it is no longer possible to consider these in separate contexts. New Hybrid Library services are able to extend the remit of the ‘traditional’ library which was often perceived as peripheral to the educational process. Collaboration between groups such as teachers, learners, information specialists, web designers, technical and educational development staff will be a key to Higher Education in the future. Establishing a degree of convergent thinking between such groups and individuals is the first step.

3. Establish strong links with academic staff and get them involved. Students follow the recommendations of their tutors.

As noted above, acceptance of the aims of the hybrid library strategy will certainly be enhanced if senior faculty personnel are included on the working party or steering committee. However, it has been found even more important to secure the engagement of the research staff and the teaching staff who have regular contact with the students at whom the hybrid library will be aimed, as students tend to follow the advice of teaching staff as to which resources to use. It will be important to include course leaders, module leaders and year tutors.

Before co-operation can be secured, interest in the hybrid library must first be awakened. The HyLiFe project has noted that the most effective way of engaging the initial interest of teaching staff is to show them a skeleton interface. This should include easily navigable links to a small range of resources relevant to courses or units on which they teach. The key point is that such a demonstration should not be of a finished, glossy and technically impressive interface to comprehensive resources: such an interface may well impress, but it will not engage the interest and involvement of the academics. An outline service is much more effective in this regard, as lecturers can be invited to suggest complementary or even alternative resources to those demonstrated, and may even volunteer them unprompted. In this way academic staff can be drawn into the project and can develop real ownership of the interface

4. Consider scalability from the beginning not at the end. This will save much time and effort.

Scalability is an important but often overlooked aspect of new information services design. It is altogether too easy, when designing an experimental service for a research project, to produce a finely-wrought and complex model which is simply impossible to extend into an operational service. Usually, the main factor which limits scalability of experimental services is staff resources, but other resource limitations may equally well be encountered. The danger is that service designers see the limited applicability of the experimental model as a safety net: as the model has only to serve a limited user base for a limited period, resource-intensive solutions are proposed which cannot be sustained on a larger scale. This concentration on the model itself can cause the research team to be heedless of the requirement that the best test of their experiment is not that it works in its own terms, but that it can be subsequently applied more broadly and with similarly successful results.

The problem of scalability arose at one of HyLiFe’s implementation sites, and the experience of the project team in this case also illustrates HyLiFe’s findings in respect of interface differentiation in the hybrid library. The partner in question opted to design an interface to hybrid resources for undergraduate Geographers. The main characteristics of this user group are that they tend to be full-time, on-site students of the traditional 18-21 undergraduate paradigm. This undergraduate Geography course is modular, with around 40 study modules. The project staff designed an interface which was itself modular, in response to the course structure: the student using the interface was prompted for details of the module he or she was currently studying, and resources proper to that module were presented to the user by the interface. This approach certainly maximised the chances of the user locating relevant information, and minimised the chance of time being wasted through exploring resources which were not relevant to their module, but it was found that the model simply was not scalable by virtue of being very time-consuming and labour intensive. The few modules completed were very well received but it rapidly became apparent that it would be impossible, in resources alone, to extend the interfaces to all the Geography modules for the three-year course, let alone to other disciplines.

There is, however, no need to fall back on the entirely opposite approach of “one size fits all” which is apparent in many university (and library) home pages. Other HyLiFe sites found that by identifying customer groups with broadly similar interests, and by constructing the interface from standard component pages which link dynamically to backing databases, it is possible economically to maintain a limited number of customer-group-specific interfaces which meet user needs.

5. Secure effective technical support from the start by making detailed agreements as to who, what, when, where and how often.

This point is closely connected to that of securing senior management support already discussed. Tasks such as interface design, access and authentication management and the networking of new services all require intensive input from personnel with highly developed ICT skills. In converged LIS environments, appropriately skilled personnel are likely to be already present, but their workloads will probably preclude the straightforward inclusion of the strategic redesign and lengthy testing of fundamental ICT services which the hybrid library frequently requires.

Where services are not converged, and the library manager needs to draw on a university-wide Computing Services department over which he has no de facto jurisdiction, the position is commensurately worse. Not only can the manager not allocate ICT development resources according to his or her own priorities, but a pan-institutional ICT department will generally have even greater pre-existing demands on its capabilities. In both cases, success will be far more likely if computing services managers are included in the university’s hybrid library development steering committee. Membership of this body by ICT personnel will facilitate a clear view early in the implementation of the other institutional demands with which the hybrid library must compete, and will give hybrid library development personnel a clear view of the issues and restrictions which may be imposed by institutional ICT policies and capabilities. In the case of a converged service this view will enable the information services director to re-order his or her priorities. In the case of a non-converged service, much can be achieved by mutually agreed collaborative working guidelines and service level agreements. Above all, informal ‘grace and favour’ arrangements, whether or not they enjoy the endorsement of senior management can certainly never be recommended.

6. Concentrate on resolving authentication and copyright issues

The twin issues of authentication and copyright are arguably the greatest barriers to exploiting the potential of hybrid or electronic libraries. Essentially, authentication procedures ensure that would-be users are who they say they are, and have a right to access at least some of the library’s services. Authorisation procedures are necessary to prevent individuals (authenticated or unauthenticated) from gaining access to information to which they are not entitled. Copyright regulations are designed to protect the property and moral rights of those who have created or who own the copyright of original works. These are more difficult to interpret and regulate in an electronic environment than in traditional environments, since copying is so much easier to undertake. Very often electronic information access is governed by contractual arrangements rather than by copyright law, since there is no effective provision in law for electrocopying.

HyLiFe’s contact with users of the service has shown overwhelmingly that the concepts of authentication (and authorisation) and copyright are poorly understood and therefore resented. When licensing restrictions are added into the equation, it can appear that it is the library service itself which is causing problems. For off-campus learners (and teachers) the frustrations are even greater than for those on main sites and it is the remote learner who is potentially the greatest beneficiary of the Hybrid Library. When developing new hybrid services, local solutions need to be sought to enable easy access to electronic resources and also to raise the level of understanding of limitations to access.

7. Devise policies on the provision of services such as loans, photocopying, document delivery etc.

As in the case of authentication and copyright, local plans for supplying documents should be implemented, in order to support the new hybrid service. This is particularly pertinent in view of the increase in distance students currently engaging in Higher Education; these students have been shown in the past to be disadvantaged in terms of learning resources2. The ultimate aim of the Hybrid Library, because it can be accessed electronically, would be to provide equality of information support for all learners, regardless of location. Indeed, recent years have seen very many full-time students spending a lot of their time studying off-campus. They have been able to do so because Internet access is now so widespread. This equality of support raises questions of financial and staff resources which need to be addressed early at the strategic level, particularly as user expectations are likely to be increased by the promise of the Hybrid Library. At Northumbria, for example, a new service for distance and part-time learners has been developed using HyLiFe as its model3. The service includes a six week postal book loan period, a range of electronic request forms and an article photocopying service.

8. Promotion should be vigorous and ongoing. Face to face promotion is the most effective. Tell people what is in it for them.

The importance of promotion was underestimated in the early stages of HyLiFe. It is an area of LIS activity which has grown enormously as new services and systems have proliferated in libraries. In the bygone days of the print-based library, the ‘goods on offer’ were clear to see, their benefits relatively well understood. Nowadays, with so much change and innovation in both what is on offer and how it is offered, many library users may be forgiven for fighting shy - ‘I don’t need this;’ ‘It’s too difficult to work;’ ‘I’ll stick to what I know.’ The task for LIS staff in overcoming this reaction and indeed, in raising awareness of their services across the board, is immense but vitally important.

Maureen Jackson’s paper in Vine 4 explores some of the essentials of promotion highlighted by HyLiFe, starting with the quality of the product or service to be promoted, which must be high if it is to be worthy of attention. Next comes identifying the audience(s) to be targeted, for example institutional managers, departmental managers, academic staff, LIS staff, students, researchers. Our hardest task was to reach academic staff; here the best approach was to demonstrate ‘what was in it for them.’ This could include selling the Hybrid Library interface as a good way of disseminating reading lists or as evidence of good practice for QAA. Timing was crucial, the best time to promote being when the potential user had a definite need of the service. Methods of promotion included the usual posters, leaflets and newsletters but small business cards and e-mail had proved useful. No method was found to be as effective as face to face communication, whether with individuals or small groups. In addition, promotion needs to be an ongoing activity, a rolling process aimed at reaching the target population whenever possible.

9. Focus on content rather than design, ensuring that what is delivered is useful, not just attractive.

A set of well-designed Web pages is a must for a hybrid library and can be as pleasing to the eye as a well-produced book or journal. However, there is nothing more guaranteed to provoke strong and differing reactions among web-cognoscenti (e.g. computing and library staff) than the design and tools used in web sites. Individual responses to web design are extremely subjective, no doubt prone to multiple influences related to aesthetics and learning styles.

HyLiFe has preferred a user-centred rather than a highly technological approach and chose to test out its new Hybrid Library interfaces in the real world as speedily as possible. The interfaces themselves, therefore, are relatively simple in appearance and the content heavily influenced by the needs and wishes of their users as identified through user needs analysis. Evaluation by means of live observations, questionnaires and interviews shows that the naïve user (i.e. the majority of our target user groups) are less concerned with the appearance of the web site than with the resources available through it. They have little to say about colours, graphics or layout; their use of the site tends to be driven by need (my dissertation, my presentation). They are impressed by the range of resources the service presents; they want the service to be quick and easy to use.

There is, of course, no tension between ‘content’ and ‘design’ unless, that is, the design in some way acts as a barrier to locating and retrieving resources; indeed, the purpose of good design is to facilitate those activities. Our policy has been, therefore, to ‘keep it simple and give users the best resources possible for their purposes.’ At Northumbria, for example, this approach has been fruitful. A simple template was first developed for Health Studies students (HyLiFe for Health) then adapted for Geography undergraduates (HyLiFe for Geographers). By next Easter, this broad subject approach will be adopted by 35 subject areas across the University; library subject specialists undertaking this task do not find it arduous.

10. Plan training and support for users and ensure that they have the confidence to use information technology.

This is a seemingly obvious pre-requisite for success but one which, in HyLiFe’s experience, is frequently neglected. It is also an issue which will reap ample dividends if properly addressed, as HyLiFe’s evaluation data contains ample evidence that students follow their tutors’ recommendations as to effective information services. Indeed, undergraduate students are far more likely to act on a tutor’s suggestion of a suitable information service than a librarian’s endorsement of the same service. Hence, it will be readily seen that if students are being recommended to use hybrid library services by their lecturers, but are hampered from doing so by lack of confidence or by poor or insufficient training, a valuable stimulus to prompt take-up of the hybrid service may be lost. Worse still, its loss may not be readily apparent, as HyLiFe’s evaluation also shows that, although students will heed their tutors in seeking out relevant information services, they do not feed back their obstructions and frustrations to the lecturers in attempting to do so. For example, some tutors interviewed at one HyLiFe evaluation site stated that they encouraged use of BIDS services by their students, and assumed that these services were being used. In reality, barriers such as login procedures and unfamiliarity with the interface were proving enough to deter many students from using the services. This experience, and others like it during the project, have led the HyLiFe team to conclude that a properly implemented evaluation can substantially change LIS professionals’ views of how effective their services really are.

The planning of training and support should be responsive not only to their existing level of expertise, but also to their circumstances. HyLiFe has amassed a considerable body of experience in extending services to user who, for various reasons, find it difficult to get access to the library on a main campus site during normal teaching hours. These students may be on franchised courses at off-campus sites; they may be on work placement away from the university or they may be part-time students whose on-campus attendance is wholly taken up by taught session, leaving no time for library visits. Appropriate training and support under these circumstances may entail sessions scheduled out of hours (including the availability of ‘drop-in’ and ‘one-to-one’ sessions, as well as group training), sessions delivered at off-campus sites, and the inclusion of training sessions in teaching time. Where users are on a part-time course, which is coupled with career and domestic commitments, and where teaching time is at premium, outstanding relations between faculty and LIS are indispensable if this last technique is to be successful utilised.


The HyLiFe project’s “10 Steps to Success” were derived from the experience of developing hybrid library services in a wide variety of often challenging environments. But it would not have been possible to reach these conclusions without an intensive programme of evaluation, which placed each development under the microscope and subjected it to scrutiny. The Evaluation Officer monitored and evaluated the progress of the project, the performance of the interfaces, and the impact of the services. While funding within eLib required the team to engage in such activities, they were of immense value to out learning. It is recommended that when such developments are undertaken as part of service development in institutions, a similar programme of evaluation – if possible undertaken by staff outside the immediate project team – be undertaken. Feedback from successes and failures then enables services to be tuned to meet real needs in realistic ways.


  1. Edwards, C., Day, J. M. and Walton, G. (eds.). Monitoring organisational and cultural change: the impact on people of electronic libraries: report of the IMPEL2 Project. London; Library Information Technology Centre, April 1998.
  2. Wynne, P. M., Butters, G. and Brophy, P. ‘Delivering the library to its users: from the BIBDEL Project to the Virtual Academic Library of the North-West’. Interlending and document supply, 25 (4), 1997, pp. 166-174.
  3. http://unn.ac.uk/central/isd/subj/distl.htm
  4. Jackson, M. ‘Promoting your website: some findings from HyLiFe’. Vine 113 part 1, 1999, pp. 32-37.

Author Details

Peter Wynne, HyLiFe Project Manager
Catherine Edwards, HyLiFe Assistant Project Manager
Maureen Jackson, HyLiFe Evaluation Officer

HyLiFe URL: http://hylife.unn.ac.uk