The Great Divide? Physical and Digital Resources in School Libraries

By Keith Grove

School libraries face an increasing challenge to meet the needs of their users for integrated access to all resources -physical and digital. This is not just an Australian or school-sector issue. Worldwide there is increasing use of the concept of 'hybrid libraries' to describe the integration of access to physical and digital resources. Several recent developments have encapsulated the importance of dealing with this issue.

At SCIS we are grappling with the issue of school libraries' need to include Internet resources in their library catalogue. In addition, Curriculum Corporation and (which manages EdNA Online) have identified as an issue the need for schools to be able to search easily both catalogues of physical resources (the traditional library catalogue) and directories of Internet resources such as EdNA Online.

The Victorian Association of Library Automation (VALA) 2000 Conference held in February had as its theme 'Books and bytes: technologies for the hybrid library'. Several conference speakers highlighted the issues involved in hybrid libraries.

Chris Rusbridge, a senior UK information specialist, said:

"... many 'digital library' projects ... were expressed in terms quite independent from real library environments .... Even for existing or legacy digital materials {CD-ROMsJ the interfaces which are offered are extremely varied, not to say idiosyncratic ... The result is a hodgepodge of different approaches which the would-be user of information must navigate."

Warwick Cathro from the National Library of Australia (NLA) quoted a report that claims there is 'a very strong continuity between traditional library roles and missions and the objectives of digital library systems'. He gives as an example work undertaken by the NLA to resolve integration issues 'to redefine itself in an emerging digital world'. The development of the NLA Integrated Research and Information Services (IRIS) is based on a model whereby integrated access to all resources (physical and digital) should be available through a common entry point, which should be the library catalogue: 'A true hybrid library service needs to break down the distinction between "Our Catalogue" and "Electronic Resources" ... electronic resources should appear in result sets when a user does a subject search of the library's catalogue'.

But just to show that solutions are not easy, Geoffrey Payne of Vision Australia Foundation, Victoria, raised questions about the very future of traditional library catalogues. Are MARC records just another document type? How can libraries be reinvented to build on what is useful while adding value in response to the opportunities in a digital world? Will availability of richer electronic descriptions of physical resources (such as tables of contents) alter how we conceive of the cataloguing process?

The need is clear: seamless access to resources of any kind. The solution is much less clear. Australian school libraries are fortunate to have access to an abundance of services that provide indexed descriptions of educational websites. EdNA Online is the primary Internet directory and website indexing and abstracting service for Australian education and training; State and Territory education departments also provide similar services, as do a plethora of commercial providers. With respect to catalogue records for physical and digital resources in their collections, schools have access to SCIS, which has provided catalogue records to school libraries for over a decade. SCIS is currently evaluating its trial of including catalogue records for educational websites in its database.

School libraries have limited resources to invest in library automation or information management systems. One possible technical solution for simultaneous access to several MARC-based catalogues of repositories of resources is the Z39.50 interoperability protocol (see < agency/> for an explanation), but very few school library automation systems currently have that capacity.

Reflecting these challenges, there is a range of strategies used by Teacher Librarians to manage physical and digital resources: some create catalogue records for Internet sites; others encourage users to search EdNA or State and Territory education department directories separately; others create 'controlled' bookmark files within the library automation system or on the school's network; others are developing more or less sophisticated lntranets and/or customised portals or computer front-ends with varying degrees of search capacity; and yet other strategies may well be used.

Recognising the importance of providing seamless access to all resources, and the difficulties of doing so in school libraries as outlined above, Curriculum Corporation and will undertake joint research into strategies for schools to manage educational resources in their hybrid formats.

The VALA 2000 conference proceedings are available on their website at <http://www.vala.>, and provide useful ideas on developments in this area.

Keith Grove

Manager, Information Services