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Information Scotland

The Journal of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland

ISSN 1743-5471

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April 2008 Volume 6(2)

Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland

Aiming Higher

SHEDL for Scotland

SCURL is involved in a number of collaborative activities and one of the most exciting and challenging is the Scottish Higher Education Digital Library (SHEDL). The Steering Group is convened by Tony Kidd, an Assistant Director at Glasgow University Library whose knowledge and expertise of the periodical and journal world is of immeasurable value to SCURL members. Other members of the Steering Group are Gillian Anderson (UHI) Sheila Cannell (Edinburgh University Library) Peter Kemp (Stirling University Library) and myself. Discussions at the meetings inspire radical thinking. We have investigated financial and business planning scenarios, and the understanding that SHEDL could have a significant impact on the knowledge economy for our users.
Jill Evans, SCURL.

For a number of years, university libraries in Scotland have been looking for ways to obtain access to electronic information resources as widely and economically as possible over the whole sector. This search has grown more pressing since the establishment of ‘research pools’, groupings of researchers from different institutions which the Scottish Funding Council for colleges and universities has brought together, in order to form a critical mass to compete for research funding in an increasingly competitive environment. A vital part of working together is access to the same information, the same journals and databases, but this is not the current situation. As might be expected, staff at the larger longer-established institutions have access to a greater proportion of the research literature than at some other universities, and this inhibits co-operative research.
Last year, SCURL, the Scottish Confederation of University and Research Libraries, commissioned an Investigative Study, funded by the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, towards establishing a Scottish Higher Education Digital Library, carried out by the consultant John Cox of John Cox Associates. The final report and the executive summary are on the SCURL website. The study recommended that, provided there is broad-based support from Scottish higher education institutions, SCURL should take advantage of the co-operative characteristics of Scottish research to ‘create a common research information environment for Scotland’.

The SHEDL concept is that there should be immediate online availability across the whole of Scottish higher education for research journals from the major publishers, instead of the present patchy provision (the plan is to extend access in due course to e-books, databases, and other information resources). Similar schemes are in place in some of the Scandinavian countries and in Ireland – although it is true that the Irish equivalent, IReL Irish Research eLibrary has benefited from substantial central government funding which is unlikely to be forthcoming in Scotland. However, it should be possible for a similar sized country like Scotland to achieve this level playing field. The concept is supported by the Scottish Funding Council and by Universities Scotland.

John Cox’s report raised issues concerning structure, governance, funding, consultative mechanisms, content acquisition strategy and, not least, participation beyond higher education institutions. All these issues are still under consideration, but a SCURL Library Directors meeting agreed in January this year “in principle support” for the initiative. The National Library of Scotland, an integral member of SCURL, is also keen to move forward with SHEDL, and broaden availability for its readers. A SHEDL Steering Group under SCURL auspices is working towards next steps and will report back to the SCURL members this summer.

There are particular questions on the financial implications of SHEDL. Will the sector as a whole save money via this initiative? We believe that any extra costs of widening access should be more than offset by passing on publishers’ administrative savings arising from simplified authorisation, single invoicing, etc. Perhaps even more important in practice, will my institution pay more or less under SHEDL? This depends on funding, or charging, allocation models which are still being worked on, but for practical reasons if nothing else it is unlikely that there will be major changes from the current distribution. There are also concerns over institutional autonomy, but the aim is that basic information underpinning for all Scottish higher education institutions will allow each library and information service to concentrate on the individual resources that will still undoubtedly be required for its particular researchers and students.

Scottish higher education institutions, alongside their counterparts elsewhere in the UK, have benefited greatly from the electronic content negotiating activities of JISC, the Joint Information Systems Committee, and its offshoot JISC Collections. SCURL has absolutely no desire to override existing agreements, or to inhibit further negotiation on content at the UK level, but rather wishes to complement JISC Collections activities to provide universal higher education access within Scotland. JISC Collections are very interested in the possibilities of SHEDL, and see it as a possible exemplar for the rest of the UK. Discussions have taken place with JISC Collections on the best way forward, and on the recently-established Advanced Procurement for Universities and Colleges, set up following the McClelland Report to take forward best practice procurement endeavours within the sector.

The higher education sector is aware of existing collaborative achievements in Scotland, for example, the Scottish Library and Information Council’s (SLIC) negotiations on resources for public libraries, and the success of the NHS Scotland e-Library – last year’s investigative study included interviews with both SLIC and the NHS, and with the National Library of Scotland, already mentioned earlier. There is also the vital question of further education inclusion, especially given the growing level of interaction and articulation between further and higher education. If SHEDL is successful, then no doubt we shall all be looking at ways to extend access to encompass truly national availability: the Investigative Study warned against initial “dilution of the focus” on higher education, but this does not preclude the possibility of broader agreements in some instances.
SCURL libraries are excited about the possibilities of SHEDL, and we hope to be able to report further progress in the near future.

Tony Kidd, SHEDL Steering Group Convenor.

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Information Scotland Vol. 6(2) April 2008

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Last updated: 16-Jul-2008