Web Magazine for Information Professionals

The International Institute for Electronic Library Research: A New Kid on the Block

Marilyn Deegan describes the International Institute for Electronic Library Research, a significant new centre of research based at De Montfort University.

De Montfort University is one of the largest universities in Britain, with 29,000 students based on 10 campuses in eastern and central England. Major city locations are Leicester, Lincoln, Bedford and Milton Keynes. Given the distributed nature of the University, much use has to be made of the latest information and communication technologies: video-conferencing is used extensively in teaching, and in enabling teachers and researchers to meet and talk without leaving their own campus. Development of an electronic library is a key component of the University's strategic plan, and the University is engaged on a substantial programme of research and development aimed at producing a teaching, learning and research environment which takes maximum advantage of electronic resources. These developments are being implemented in the infrastructure of the University.

Driven by its own urgent needs for the development of cross-campus electronic library services, the University has long been a major force in electronic library research in Britain and is now becoming well-known on the European stage, too. It is also developing links with nations outside Europe: the USA, Japan, and Australia in particular. The first major project, begun in 1992, was ELINOR (Electronic Library Information Online Retrieval). The partners and funders for this were the British Library Research and Development Department and IBM UK Scientific Centre, and the aim was to build a working electronic library for use by students, while addressing such issues as technical requirements, copyright, selection and acquisition of materials, and user aspects. Other projects supported by a variety of funding agencies soon followed: the EU-funded ELISE (Electronic Library Image Service for Europe) was completed at the beginning of 1995, and provided a proof-of-concept pilot for the interconnection of image banks across sites throughout Europe. A second phase of this, ELISEII, has just been agreed by the EU. De Montfort University has also been involved in a number of EU projects led by other partners, in particular in the area of management information statistics. The UKUs FIGIT programme provides funding for a copyright management project, ERCOMS, and for a major endeavour to deliver large image banks to the UK higher education sector: HELIX (Higher Education Image Exchange) with St Andrews University and the Hulton Getty Picture Library as partners.

Given this large investment in research in this area, in 1995 the University decided to set up an International Institute for Electronic Library Research. Formally established in 1996, the Institute is chaired by Professor Mel Collier, Head of the Division of Learning Development at De Montfort University, and is co-directed by Professor Marilyn Deegan and Professor Charles Oppenheim. Marilyn Deegan was formerly manager of the Centre for Humanities Computing at Oxford University, and has a particular interest in electronic library developments for students and academics in the humanities. Charles Oppenheim was formerly Professor of Information Science at Strathclyde University, and is well-known for his work on the legal issues around the electronic library. A team of researchers to work on projects within the Institute has also been appointed, and more funding is being actively sought from many sources to enable us to extend the range of projects in which we are engaged.

The Institute will carry out and promote research in many related areas, including: electronic library theory and systems; information delivery; information retrieval; textual analysis; information management; digitization; image processing and retrieval; human-computer interaction; collection development and preservation issues; electronic publishing; copyright and other legal aspects; standards monitoring and development; performance measurement; networking; implications for scholarship and authorship; implications for the learning process; human resource issues; use of electronic information. It will also, in partnership with commercial partners, be building a more extensive digital library for the University based to some extent on the ELINOR model. This will integrate the library OPAC with documents in all the possible electronic formats, images and image databases, and eventually sound and video, all to be accessed through a single search interface. This will hopefully also provide a model for other institutions wishing to build their own electronic libraries.

The Institute also sees as one of its major roles the promotion of knowledge and implementation of the electronic library throughout the world, and it intends to do this by carrying out the following activities:

An agreement has just been entered into with ASLIB to produce a major journal, Electronic Library Research, which will be provided in both print and electronic form. This should be available in 1997.

The Institute has an ambitious programme over the next few years, and the key to the successful fulfilling of its aims is to work actively in partnership with other institutions. The electronic library, as collaborative projects supported by the EU and FIGIT are showing, will not be built by any one institution or research team. The global issues are too important for localism to ignore any wider concerns. The Institute, therefore, is actively seeking partners in electronic library endeavours and anyone who wishes to work with us is encouraged to contact us.