Web Magazine for Information Professionals

The eLib Hybrid Library Projects

Michael Breaks provides an overview of BUILDER, AGORA, MALIBU, HeadLine and HyLife

The five Hybrid Library projects – BUILDER [1], AGORA [2], MALIBU [3], HeadLine [4], and HyLife [5] - form part of the eLib Phase 3 developments and they build on the work of the first and second phases of eLib by investigating issues surrounding the integration of digital and traditional library resources. They are very different projects, but they all aim to provide some of the basic building blocks to create new models of library services, in which our users can create and sustain personal information spaces, and libraries can manage these spaces as part of their daily service delivery. The projects have been discussed fully in previous articles in Ariadne, but it is worth reminding ourselves of the essence of each of the projects.

  1. The BUILDER Hybrid Library, based at the University of Birmingham, has looked at the impact of the developing model of the hybrid library on a range of stakeholders in higher education including students, academic staff, senior institutional managers and library and information professionals. It has attempted to base itself fully in a service environment, by providing the enabling technical infrastructure for hybrid services and has built links into the Talis Library Management System. BUILDER’s development has coincided with the development of Managed Learning Environments, which aim to create personal learning spaces for students, and through common authentication could mesh together the information and the learning spaces.
  2. The core aim of AGORA, which is a consortium-based project led by the University of East Anglia, has been to develop a ‘proof of concept’ Hybrid Library Management System. This has been achieved by defining in detail the concepts ‘search, locate, request and deliver’ and then building a working system, in conjunction with Fretwell Downing Informatics. The hybridity lies in the integration through Z39.50 of these previously separate functions and their delivery to the user through the AGORA web interface. The intention of the project has been to allow the user to select from a wide range on information resources - both text and multimedia, and both local and remote - search across these resources and see not just the references to the content, but obtain the content itself via document delivery, if necessary.
  3. MALIBU, based at King’s College London, has created a number of models of hybrid libraries and has focussed on the humanities. Through the implementation of these models, the project has examined the management implications of how these new services might be supported, and the project has aimed to create a common understanding of the concepts of the hybrid library in a service environment. The process began with users, who helped to create a User Scenario which could be mapped onto both a Service Model and an Organisational and Management Model. In the latter, the implications for organisational change and staff development and training could be examined.
  4. The HeadLine Project, based at the London School of Economics, has developed the concept of the Personal Information Environment (PIE), which is aimed at providing a single interface to both print and electronic information resources and services through portal-type technology. The PIE can be customised by the user and can be shared with other users with common interests, such as a class or research group. Like AGORA, HeadLine also provides a delivery function to print-only resources and this is through the RLG Ariel software.
  5. HyLife, at the University of Northumbria, has focussed on the organisational, social and educational issues rather than technology, in order to understand the operating practices of the hybrid library. HyLife can be seen as being rooted in northern ‘common sense’ and one of the outputs has been the Hybrid Library Toolkit, which includes 10 Practical Steps to Implementation [6], which is all about embedding the library and its new hybrid services within an institutional context.

What then is the Hybrid Library – is it defined by the sum of the output of the projects or can we define it outside the projects as some sort of Weberian Ideal Type? One definition that I like is from HyLife “The Hybrid Library is one where 'new' electronic information resources and 'traditional' hardcopy resources co-exist and are brought together in an integrated information service, accessed via electronic gateways available both on-site, like a traditional library, and remotely via the Internet or local computer networks. The hybrid library is different from a typical library web-site in two ways. One is the permanent and equal inclusion of print information sources alongside the electronic. A second is the attempt to focus and interpret the whole service - subject-specific and generic elements - for a particular group of users in a scaleable fashion. The philosophical assumption underlying the hybrid library is that libraries are about organised access, rather than local collections - which become just a part of the means of delivery.”

However, there is a danger that we believe that somehow the Hybrid Library exists as the output of these five projects, and that by implementing most of what is in them we could have one in our institution. The term ‘hybrid library’ is only a label to help our thinking of how libraries are developing and our growing need to integrate print and electronic for the benefit of our users. The five eLib Phase 3 projects complement, rather than duplicate each other, and taken together they do point the way forward for libraries by identifying and addressing the big issues and showing how they might be tackled. For me, the important next step is how do we take forward the substantial investment that has been made in these projects and use the lessons, concepts and tools in working services? Equally important, how do we integrate (and not reinvent) the outcomes of these projects into the developing DNER, which has been itself described as a national hybrid library [7]?

We will also need to see how we might integrate these ideas and new service models into the local library management system (LMS), which is at the heart of a library’s daily operations. Is the LMS the initial entry point for the user, or is it the local hybrid library gateway, or is it the developing subject portals? There will be a struggle to be the first point of entry for the user, and certainly most institutions will not want to lose that battle. Some of the projects have worked with LMS suppliers or with commercial developers, and this could be one way in which the ideas could be encorporated into a working system.

For these projects, and in fact all library project developments, one of the key issues for their lasting success is first library staff buy-in, and then institutional buy-in. It is obvious that without library staff ‘buy-in’ to the output of all these projects, they will be seen as perhaps interesting but marginal to the daily routine of ‘getting the books to the chaps’ as one University Librarian defined the role of libraries. Librarians are always sensibly cautious of new ‘toys’ and are always concerned that any new inititative has to be capable of being supported, sustained and integrated into a service environment. With such a pragmatic approach, there has perhaps not been the scale of take-up of eLib outputs in terms of obvious service additions, but what has been achieved from the programme is a significant shift in thinking, imagination and above all confidence within higher education libraries. There has already been good dissemination of the outcomes of the projects - through publications (bring back the printed Ariadne!), web pages and roadshows, but often these are read and attended by the converted.

A final thought is that we are now in a ‘search-box culture’, where an often crude commercial search engine defines the information landscape for our students, or where ‘Amazon is now the Library’. They lack the appreciation of, or are too busy to listen to, the distinction between web content and quality refereed academic information, but the next phase of eLib (JISC 5/99 projects) are aiming to create an authenticated information space where students can be ‘captured’ and can roam and move seamlessly between references, full-text articles and other quality digital information resources. Unless we create this enclosed information space, the danger is that by having to explain it all, we overcomplicate the information-seeking lives of our users and so we cease to be of interest. This is the challenge for the National Hybrid Library – to integrate, but above all to simplify.

For a fuller overview of the whole of the eLib Phase 3 projects, I would recommend Stephen Pinfield’s review paper Lessons from Phase 3 of the Electronic Libraries Programme [8], in which he provides an ‘inside’ view of the programme, with recommendations for further work to embed the lessons learnt.


  1. BUILDER Project, Birmingham University at http://builder.bham.ac.uk/
  2. AGORA Project, University of East Anglia at http://hosted.ukoln.ac.uk/agora/
  3. MALIBU Project, King’s College London at http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/malibu/
  4. HeadLine Project, London School of Economics at http://www.headline.ac.uk/
  5. HyLife Project, University of Northumbria at http://hylife.unn.ac.uk/
  6. HyLife Project Toolkit, at http://hylife.unn.ac.uk/toolkit/
  7. The Distributed National Electronic Resource (DNER) and the hybrid library, Stephen Pinfield and Lorcan Dempsey, Ariadne Issue 26 at http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue26/dner/
  8. The Electronic Libraries Programme at http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/services/elib/

Author Details

Michael Breaks
University Librarian of Heriot-Watt University


Phone: (0131) 451 3570
Fax: (0131) 451 3164