Information on the fly!

The virtual alias the invisible library
Access to electronic information will in future become an expressive demand from the user

Denmark’s Electronic Research Library (DEF) was launched in 1998 as a five-year development project in a co-operation between the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry for IT and Research with a budget of 200 mil. DKK. To begin with the project was intended to include the major research libraries only, but in time in has come to be extended to all types of libraries, the public libraries too. This is why the DEF portal is called www. = The electronic public and research library.

DEF’s aim it to ensure that researchers, students, trade and industry and other users of the research libraries gain quicker, easier and more effective access to topical and relevant research results of high quality via the virtual library, independent of time, place and where the information resources may actually be placed. The DEF vision is based on the following principles:

  • a single point of access
  • unified login (including one user ID)
  • one common user interface, i.e. one presentation structure
  • one uniform,user-friendly retrieval system
  • direct access to electronic media and a unified request service.

The Danish solution is unique in its ambition to create one common, electronic, national, coherent, electronic research library which in time will include every single research library in Denmark.DEF does therefore not only underline the financial, but also the cooperative and organisational frames for DEF as a network organisation for the project’s players,the participating research libraries which are each of them responsible for IT upgrading and implementation locally.

At the moment 31 research libraries are taking part in the work on – the DEF portal. 122 research libraries have already had or are in the process of getting their library systems upgraded via DEF, 96 libraries (sites) covering a further 194 institutes/institutions/ hospitals participate in the license work, 14 research libraries are co-operating on the retro-conversion of catalogue cards. Apart from this, 35 research libraries are participating in the 20 DEF development projects which i.a. include user training, competence development, user surveys/satisfaction, digitisation, technology-supported teaching and web archiving. The public libraries have one representative in the DEF Steering Committee as well and in the DEF license group and also participate in the DEF co-operation in two of the 20 DEF development projects.

The vision
The DEF-vision is based on the idea of a common platform which gives the individual library the possibility o f offering access to an extended mass of information resources, primarily electronic periodicals and databases through the signing of national licence agreements which are financially advantageous to the libraries. And – as we have seen – the chance to provide the users with access to a wider selection of information resources.

The vision also includes new services, based on individual user profiles and the development of intelligent agents and software which might for example be able to analyse user behaviour patterns on the basis of user profiles and similar parameters. A very important action line indeed, seen in the light of the change of paradigm in the role of the libraries; because of the increased volume of information made available to the individual user, the role of the libraries as mediators of knowledge takes on an increasing significance.

The establishment of DEF has in practice been based on four main action lines:

  • National infrastructure – building a common portal as single point access to the electronic resources, catalogues and subject gateways and to Danish research information as well as consensus on the use of standards, user administration etc.
  • Library infrastructure – upgrading of IT systems as well as standardisation of library systems, co-ordination and co-operation
  • Digital resources – license agreements at national level, digitisation of collections and retro-conversion of catalogue cards
  • User facilities – development projects, i.a. including user training, competence development, user surveys and user satisfaction, digitisation and technology-supported learning (e-learning),e-publishing.

The portal
The first version of the portal for Denmark’s Electronic Research Library ‘’ went on the air in autumn 2001. Up until the end of the project period in 2002, ‘’ will be currently developed with new functions, services and adjustments. At this moment the portal offers online access to:

  • About 400 electronic net resources (catalogues and information databases)
  • An overview of 7,000 journal titles and searches on titles in b road subject categories
  • Cross searches in the participating research libraries’ catalogues and webpages
  • Ordering from the public and the research libraries’ catalogues via
  • Five subject portals (within music, clinical information, energy, foodstuffs and nutrition, business economics)
  • Searching within 26 subject areas with links to Danish and foreign webpages, portals, databases etc.
  • A guided tour of the portal.

As a joint entrance to Denmark’s Electronic Research Library, offers access to a number of information resources, selected on the basis of demands for quality and relevance. sorts through knowledge and gives the user access to quality resources across the libraries, whatever the physical location of the collections. Denmark’s Electronic Research Library is an ‘open’ development project and the portal is constantly being developed and extended. In the spring of 2002 ‘the key’ will be implemented and the vision of the electronic research library will have been optimised with a 24- hour access to quality-assured information with up-to-date support facilities and tools.

Future perspectives
In January 2002 the DEF project entered its final phase, and plans for the future organisation of ‘DEF after DEF’ are still on the drawing board. The vision of Denmark’s Electronic Research Library is,however, already now a fact and has brought influence to bear on each and every research library in Denmark, on the service profile in relation to the users’ altered needs and demands, co-operative relations both within and across the library and research sector and not least on publishing structure, registration and marketing of research results.

Denmark’s Electronic Research Library helps to focus the attention on the number of changes of paradigm which take place in the digital library, the most important of these being related to the purchase of licenses for electronic information.

Acquisition of journals
– a change of paradigm in practice One of the DEF project’s most important action lines has to do with national license agreements for electronic journals.DEF co-operation on licenses is an example of a model for how Danish research libraries – in co-operation with public libraries and other institutions – handle the change of paradigm from traditional collection building to online access to resources in relation to journals.

Development of the information technology has been all-important, not only as regards the contents of the libraries’ collections, but also in terms of the actual building up of these. The considerable expansion of the Internet has now made it necessary to look at electronic publishing from a fresh point of view. Access to electronic information has for example become a marked requirement by the users, resulting in forcing suppliers and publishers/ agents to develop new publishing methods as well as new price structures. Consequently the libraries have entered into consortia in order to provide access to the considerable wealth of data in the most resource-saving way. The transition to electronic information dissemination has made it necessary for the libraries to change internal routines and work processes. One primary objective of Denmark’s Electronic Research Library has thus been to be instrumental in highlighting and developing the change which is going on in the libraries’ acquisition policy, economy and procedures in connection with this transition.

Traditional collection building Over the years the libraries have spent many resources on choosing and making available printed journals. Suggestions for the purchase of various titles would as a rule come from researchers, users and research librarians, a sample copy might then be ordered and subsequently the decision was made. Price, subject area and estimated use would all be factors to be taken into consideration. Following a purchase, the journals would be catalogued, single copies registered in cardex, paid for, claimed etc. At regular intervals they would go through their collections to identify the journals which were not being used and then possibly cancel them. Articles from journals which were not held by the library in question, could be acquired via interlibrary loan/document delivery.

The journals crisis
At the beginning of the 90s the price of journals, especially foreign journals, absolutely exploded. Annual price increases were close to 20% per year. In order to keep within their budgets, the libraries had to cancel a large number of their journals. And apart from this currencies fluctuated. From 1990-1995, 40% of the libraries had to cancel their journals subscriptions.Within the same period, the number of scientific journals rose considerably, and researchers’ demands for access to scientific literature did in no way subside.

The need for a reorganisation of the libraries was imminent, and when at this point the first journals started to appear in online versions, the way was paved for electronic information. To begin with electronic access was free,if the library subscribed to the printed version. This meant that the lib raries did not immediately gain access to new material (i.e. other than they already had access to).

The forming of consortia slowly began to take shape in order to provide access to more journals. The first consortium for licensing journals evolved in 1997/ 98 in the very early stages of the DEF project. The first agreement was on Chemical Abstracts and the second was with Academic Press. This initial consortium consisted of the State and University Library, Aalborg University Library, the Technical Knowledge Centre of Denmark and Lund University Library in Sweden. The participating libraries gained access to all journals (175) published by Academic Press, and the price for this access was calculated on the basis of what each library possessed in the way of printed editions in the year of acquisition. You not only gained electronic access to the library’s printed editions, but also to journals which has been cancelled during the early 1990s. The participants also gained access to a number of journals which they would never themselves have bought.

The electronic journals were catalogued, and sometimes individual copies were registered in cardex. The libraries worked out alphabetical lists on the web pages which would point the users in the direction of the journal’s homepage.

At first both the p rinted and the electronic version was made available to the end users, but eventually the libra- ries found it necessary to cut down on expenses, choosing to cancel the printed edition and making only the electronic version available. Many questions did of course present themselves prior to such cancellations – when to give up the printed edition – questions which are still being debated at the moment for example in relation to when the electronic edition would be available (before/after or at the same time as the printed version), whether the content was the same, whether you could be sure that the journal was always available, whether the library would be allowed to say no to access to titles which it was not interested in and how the library could make the end users aware of the fact that the journal was available in electronic form?

The transition of a library service from printed to electronic information is a lengthy process. It is not enough to get access to the electronic information,it also has to be made available to the end users and in a way which is satisfactory to everyone. The Technical Knowledge Centre of Denmark, with financial support from Denmark’s Electronic Research Library, developed an interface which could be used for searching in journals, across titles and across publishers. At the same time, the publishers also realised the necessity of creating interfaces, and by degrees the market has experienced a vast number of gateways which are very different in content as well as principle of operation.

The libraries are not alone in seeing the transition as a lengthy process, the same applies to the publishers. To begin with it was the big journals publishers – Academic Press, Elsevier, Kluwer – who brought forward the consortia models. Smaller publishers were to follow and gradually societies have joined in. The critical mass has been reached, but there is still a large number of journals only available in printed form.

The consortia models have from the word go been a package deal. If enough libraries wanted to join, everyone gained access. The accession policy disappeared from the libraries and day-today work in the library consequently changed. There is no registration of journal issues with ele ctronic access anymore, on the other hand staff for teaching and marketing of these new resources is in great demand.

Electronic journals have also altered the way in which to search on the net. Today researchers use a much greater variety of journals than before, because of the opportunities open to them – and the number of journals published is forever increasing. Last, but not least, the form of publishing is changing. The number of scientific journals is still rising, but researchers are aware of the new possibilities of publishing which the net offers, so more changes are in the offing.

The change of paradigm from collection building to online access has meant that libraries are still facing many unanswered questions. Questions which they must find the answers to in cooperation with DEF. As to access, one can nevertheless say that electronic information is available 365 days a year, round the clock, and from the researcher’s own writing desk as well. It is also up the user her/himself which journals they want to apply their searches to.

The libraries worry about the rapidly changing situation and about how they are going to solve the problems which crop up. In order to secure the information for their users, they will therefore continue to build consortia. They try to solve the problems of accession and archiving and are looking out for new opportunities.

The role of the libraries has changed, but there is no doubt that they are still playing a decisive role in the dissemination of knowledge and the development/ building up of Danish knowledge infrastructure and research.

Denmark’s Electronic Research Library helps to highlight the dimensions and consequences which the expansion of the Internet has meant to the new behaviour pattern of the user and the application of electronic information.

Access to electronic information will in future become an expressive demand from the user with the result that publishers and information agents, like the libraries, will have to develop their electronic services and mediation in a way which will continue to contribute towards the free and democratic access to information, wherever it is to be found all over the world or whichever server it might be available on. The virtual library consortia will remove or dissolve borders on many levels – also those between public and research libraries.

Translated by Vibeke Cranfield

Library advisory officer, Danish National Library Authority.
Library advisory officer, Danish National Library Authority.