Economics and Usage of Digital Libraries: Byting the BulletSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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20.2 The BT Library
Until the mid-1990s, BT's library had a large collection to meet the needs of these researchers, with more than 800 titles, 23 staff, and accommodation totalling 450 square meters. The library provided a full range of services including document delivery from its own collection, inter-library lending, and carrying out online searches for its users.
The pressures on BT have fed through to the library. Costs were increasing at a time when pressure to reduce overheads was insurmountable. The library's user community was changing as BT shifted its research efforts away from pure science into more directed research. As they moved into these new areas, users became much less inclined to visit the physical library, preferring the information they needed to be delivered to them.
In 1994, the library's management team realised it could no longer pursue the path of looking for incremental budget cuts and savings. Radical change was needed. Benefiting from an extensive study of the usage of library material and building on increasing confidence in the in-house enhancements to library automation systems, the library chose to fundamentally rethink the way it provided services to its users.
The library collection was cut to a core 250 journals that were heavily used by people visiting the library in person. Accommodation and staff have been trimmed by 67%, with library staff being redeployed elsewhere in the company. Attention was focussed on establishing a digital library that provided users with access to content over the network through online journals backed up by commercial document delivery.
The provision of loans and photocopies was outsourcedwith the development of the BLADES system. BLADES accepts and validates user requests, tracks the progress of requests and provides status reports for users and input for billing systems for those users who pay for requests (Broadmeadow, 1997). User requests are transmitted semi-automtically to the British Library for fulfilment, with the BL delivering photocopies and loans directly to the user. The substantial savings in journal subscriptions more than offset the cost of commercial document delivery. Part of the savings were due to a communications campaign that highlighted the real cost to BT of requesting a photocopy, thus reducing demand.
The BT Library provides over 800 online journals to its users, either loading them onto its own server or linking through to the publishers' or aggregators' server.The Inspec and ABI/Inform databases act as gateways to these journals, using software developed by BT's knowledge management research team for searching, current awareness and collaboration features. The databases are used to provide end-user searching and browsing, with the provision for users to save searches for selective dissemination of information (SDI) as the databases are updated each week. A table of contents service is also provided.
In the physical library, the librarian could readily see users when they were floundering in their search for information and discretely offer assistance. In the digital library, users are relatively invisible to the librarian. The Digital Library is developing methods for understanding its users, behavior more effectively. Studies of user behavior are intended to highlight the server's problem areas, which then can be redesigned to make them easier to use, and to develop ways of automatically profiling users' interests and work areas. The unspoken purpose of this analysis is also to develop a compelling case showing how effectively the library supports BT's business processes.