Scope and purpose
This is a proposal submitted in response to JISC Circular 3/97 CEI Development Programme.
It outlines a hybrid library scenario and sketches steps towards its construction. Agora has a four-fold focus:
1) It provides an open, standards-based platform for distributed, mixed media information management. This is a necessary material base for routine service provision: libraries need tools for effective ë collectioní building. This will build on EDDIS, NewsAgent and the metadata work of UKOLN.
2) It provides a framework in which libraries, information providers and technical developers can collaboratively explore a generalisable framework for end-user-oriented services, while respecting their autonomy and individual development paths.
3) It has an innovative strategy for disseminating results and sharing experiences.
4) It positions itself as an exploratory enabling infrastructure in the construction of a viable National Distributed Electronic Resource.
Agora builds on significant international development, design and research work; on a well established set of relationships; and, above all, on the motivating commitments and enthusiasms of its partners. It is influenced by the architectures and approaches explored in the MODELS project. Agora is formed around a consortium of the University of East Anglia, University of Bath (UKOLN), University of Central Lancashire (CERLIM), and Fretwell Downing Informatics. It will also work through several partner groups. The library group are Heriot Watt University, University of East Anglia, University of Central Lancashire, University of Hull, and the Bath College of Higher Education. These will use the Hybrid Library Management System developed by Agora to deliver services which are adapted to their own circumstances. The service provider partners are BLCMP, Edina, COPAC, SilverPlatter, the Arts and Humanities Data Service, the British Library and LASER. These will work with Agora to ensure technical interworking and a consensus making platform. Agora is also in contact with several other bids to this call and has agreed to work towards smooth interworking. These include the Yorkshire and Humberside clumps bid, the Music Consortium and we also have the National Library of Canada as an associate partner tracking the project and providing feedback on project products. The project will also interwork with the new Norfolk Records Office and East Anglian Studies Centre which is collocated with the project at UEA.
Our title, Agora, reflects our belief that the library will continue to organise the assembly places where information users and information products are brought into fruitful contact. We welcome this Circular as we interpret the hybrid library as a wish to move to a service driven by user needs rather than by the constraints of location, mechanics of interaction, or media. We believe that the importance of the open systems approach suggested here is that it moves the focus of attention from the technical challenges to issues of collection development, user needs, and the policy and practice of new libraries.
What is a hybrid library?
A hybrid library is a library. Libraries are services which provide organised access to the intellectual record. The intellectual record is available in mixed media: it resides in many physical places and increasingly in scattered digital information spaces. The dominant user view of the library is of a physical place with a mixture of open-access services and human mediated services. The library of the future will combine a managed place with a managed digital space.
Libraries are exploring this transition, but it will take some time to evolve routine services and practices. This is because existing services and practices are oriented around the library as place. However, more importantly, it is because the environment is uncertain, information providers are undergoing similar transitions, and a mature technical and commercial infrastructure for networked information does not yet exist.
We adopt the term ëinformation landscapeí to refer to the view of resources the library will present. For the library, there need to be well-understood ways of making resources visible in this landscape. For the user, it needs to be created in such a way as to guide him or her to relevant resources. It must be possible to easily configure the landscape, so that new electronic services can be added to it with the ease with which print services are currently added to collections. This landscape includes a view of the library as place (the local catalogue, communication with staff, description of services available) with a view of the digital spaces which the library organises on behalf of users. It will be defined in terms of logical user services (e.g. reference services, current awareness, document requesting etc.), and is independent of the underlying physical implementation of those services (e.g. CDs, web indexes, catalogues etc.). A layer of software, or middleware, which hides underlying difference and which allows the transparent addition of services and resources will provide the basis for this landscape. It is the responsibility of the middleware to dynamically map user requests onto underlying system requests. (As suggested in the circular, the architecture of our approach is more fully described in an appendix.)
This project is not about a ëuser interfaceí; it is giving the library the ability to more easily present a uniform service within its own technical environment. How will a reader use the hybrid library? There are three summary steps:
The information landscape will describe the resources available, provide navigation and selection support, and will be configured by the local library to reflect their own style, policies and collections. A minimal landscape may have links to resources; Agora will work towards a richer landscape based on structured metadata, query routing, and protocol support. It is at this stage that initial integration of the components of the hybrid library will take place and is easiest to achieve.
Interaction with services
Various services require different modes of interaction. The hybrid library management system (HLMS) will abstract the mechanics of these interactions. A reader may request an item to be delivered; the system will decide whether this needs an HTTP get, an ILL request, or a note saying to go to the reference collection. A reader may wish to locate some items; the system will present some options for searching, will open up a Z39.50 connection, or a web browser, or whatever is required. The system will deal appropriately with delivered items.
Control of access
The library as a place has certain controls built in. Open distributed control in the digital information space is still a research and development challenge. There are several aspects. The first is that clients need to be able to prove who they are when challenged. This requires an authentication service. The second is that authorisation information ñ what services does the client have access rights to ñ needs to be exchanged. The third is to do with the integrity and privacy of exchanged data. The usefulness of an information landscape will be severely mitigated without distributed authentication services which mean that the client need only ëproveí themselves once. Multiple challenges (passwords) erect fences in the landscape which inhibit use. Agora cannot solve this problem alone but will put in place an interim solution and will work with others on longer term solutions. NewsAgent and Eddis will be exploring the use of Athens for authentication services within UK HE and the results of this investigation will be taken forward within Agora. All Agora consortium members are in the EU Pride project which will be developing distributed authentication services and the results of that project will be available to Agora in due course.
A range of issues will be explored by the library group. These issues will not be technically driven, but will benefit from a robust managed technical platform for working towards routine practice and policy.
The impact of a managed technical support environment on selection procedures.
What is a collection? Policy with regard to different categories of material (free, licensed, etc.).
Organise and make available for access
The construction of the information landscape; the creation of metadata; the ëplugging iní of services.
A critical issue. This is outside the scope of Agora but we suggest that the experiences gained here will provide valuable input into wider discussions.
Users of the libraries will benefit from a managed information environment which presents services to them in an integrated and helpful way. They will be able to move seamlessly between services without having to transcribe details, negotiate different interfaces, or necessarily needing to know in advance what is available to them. They will save time and make better use of available information resources.
The libraries will benefit from a platform which allows more routine management of resources. They will also benefit from a collaborative framework for tackling emerging technological and service issues. Library staff will gain experience and knowledge across a range of issues.
The service provider and technical group will benefit from a wider framework in which deployment, product development and interworking issues can be addressed.
The HE community will benefit from a valuable basis of experience as Agora works through issues of general interest.
Project participants will benefit from communications with a range of partners, none of whom individually can design and develop future services. Agora works across service, technical and research domains. This experience will in turn feed into the general communities of which the partners are a part.
There is only one main objective:
"The projects objective is to provide an open standards-based platform for distributed, mixed-media information management. This objective includes developing the scaleability, enabling infrastructure and change-management tools for successful widespread dissemination and implementation throughout the community."
To achieve this primary objective there are a number of lesser objectives for the project in a number of areas:
The HLMS will be a server based software solution to form a nexus gathering for standards-based resources. This is the fundamental piece of technology required as the hub of the system.
Provide an on-line collaborative environment for all project partners. This collaborative environment is needed to allow all partners to participate fully in the project.
Human resource development
The project sees HR related products as important as the technical products. The project will develop training and staff development resources for managing the change from traditional to hybrid library. These products include resources covering the migration, management and maintenance of a Hybrid Library Management System. It is critical that the transition to the hybrid library should be as natural as possible. To this end there will also be a range of resources to show the reality of the transition and show best practice in this area.
Evaluation and Dissemination
The objectives in this category are about informing all the stakeholders of both the project objectives and the progress to date. Additionally the evaluation by the users and project board will include all small medium and large product developments.
Regular evaluation reports from a neutral third party view will help inform both the project management and sponsors of progress to date and the perspectives of the user community on the products produced. This remit will be discharged in AGORA by CERLIM which is well-suited to co-ordinate evaluation of the project in all the test sites. At the University of Central Lancashire, CERLIM is an academic research centre in its own right based within, but not involved in, the operations of the Universityís Library and Learning Resource Services (LLRS). It is thus ideally equipped to be an impartial scrutineer.
Dissemination will attempt to make all stakeholders aware of all products and make potential stakeholders aware of the benefits of using the projects products. This will be done through a variety of media and will form a key component of the communications strategy which will produced after the appointment of the person in charge of project communications.
Strategy for delivery
The strategy for delivery can be considered in a number of ways. First you must have something to deliver, secondly you must have a way of delivering it, you must have someone to deliver it to and finally you must get it actually used. The communications strategy below will deal with identifying who we are delivering to. The involvement and interactions will deal with the issues of ownership and the quality assurance/product evaluation will deal with delivering the best product specified by the users.
To deliver the numerous products of the project there needs to be a substantive communications strategy from the first. The communications strategy is designed to allow the effective communication of all partners in relevant and effective ways. The communications can be both mediated and free with write as well as read access. The first deliverable after the appointments of staff will be the in-depth communications strategy. This will outline a number of media and deliverables that will be used to inform the stakeholders and the wider community. As a constant thread for the communications of the project a web based conferencing system will also be used. The conferencing system will also be an essential support for managing this kind of distributed project.
Specific deliverables throughout the project are designed specifically to help the customers evolve at the same pace as the project. This is essential to guarantee that partners are prepared for the introduction of the hybrid library concept in their institution. Involvement also means that they are more likely to use the final product when released and co-operate in the pilot stages.
Successful delivery is also supported by extensive interaction of partners. Quality assurance teams will be composed of a members of all the partner groups from a number of institutions. This interaction is necessary to foster community ownership of the project this is to help overcome some of the not invented here barriers and allow partners to share resources and experiences. This interaction will also equalise any bias within the project team.
Quality Assurance / Product Evaluation
Quality assurance is also a major factor in successful delivery. In critical environments where nobody has the time to waste on poor quality systems quality assurance will make all the difference between successful project take up and rejection at the final delivery stage.
Quality assurance is a formal procedure which is a fundamental part of the PRINCE 2 project management methodology. Quality assurance procedures have formal signing-off points for partners to accept deliverables. This involves the customers directly in the product development and acceptance process. This is to ensure a fitness for purpose from all project deliverables.
At the top level evaluation will provide the project with a neutral third party perspective on the project. Evaluation also provides a second forum of communication when dealing with all partners. Both these aspects enhance the PRINCE project management methodology.
Quality assurance in AGORA will be undertaken by CERLIM, in accordance with the requirements of the PRINCE project management methodology. Particular attention will be paid to:
- maintenance of liaison between the Service Provider Group and the Library Group.
- ensuring that the needs of any emergent specialist interests are observed.
- ensuring that the scope of the project is not increasing unnoticed.
- the correct application of the appropriate technical standards.
Furthermore, a Quality Assurance Group will be set up within the project to solicit and respond to usersí experiences. As noted above, CERLIM will co-ordinate evaluation input from all test sites. In this context, CERLIM already holds a distinguished track record in quality assurance and product evaluation. In 1994 to 1995 CERLIM undertook a British Library research project which, among other objectives, sought to provide a conceptual framework for the adoption of quality management by library and information services. This work led to CERLIMís input to the University of Central Lancashireís Library and Learning Resource Services in its successful application for ISO 9000 accreditation (the first UK academic library to be thus accredited) and to the publication of a now standard work in this field.
CERLIMís experience in product evaluation can be illustrated by reference to evaluation work undertaken during the European Commission Project EQLIPSE (Evaluation and Quality in Library Performance: System for Europe). This project, which ran from 1995 to 1997, resulted in a prototype software application to measure a libraryís performance, and to link any shortfall in performance to the appropriate section of the libraryís quality documentation. The application combined an existing, industry-standard, package with performance measurement software authored by the project consortium. A two-phase evaluation of the prototype was conducted in eight libraries of contrasting types and throughout Europe, co-ordinated by CERLIM.,
The fundamental success of the project is dependent on good management at all levels. It is worth noting that:
- All consortium partners have extensive experience of project management.
- AGORA will use the PRINCE 2 project management methodology supported by the CCTA and in use in many large projects.
- All project workers and the project board will receive PRINCE 2 training. This is to provide a common management approach and culture.
- The project will extend and enhance the PRINCE methodology by adding the dimension of the use of the web for distributed project management. This will allow faster, more accurate assessment of the project from any partner and provide better support for project workers distributed at the partner sites.