Virtual Library Strategy

The Library has taken a three-phase approach towards the development and improvement of its virtual offering. The developments are underpinned by the strategic IT principles detailed in Newcastle University's IT Strategy, namely:

  • IT that enables innovation and collaboration for Research and Teaching and Learning:
  • Customer-orientated technology focused on staff and student needs
  • Common, University wide services that are professionally delivered, dependable and secure
  • Working with other IT professionals across the University

The application of these principles has focused our developments on the goal of meeting staff and student needs by delivering excellent virtual services which improve the discoverability of our resources and remove as many technological barriers as possible.

The Virtual Library programme consists of three phases:

Phase One – Discovery Tools (2012-13)

Library Search

This was launched in September 2012 to replace the traditional online library catalogue. Library Search has a more intuitive interface with initial searches performed in a Google-type search box. Library Search also brings together the majority of the library's licensed databases into a single searchable index; instead of searching a number of databases separately, only one search is needed allowing users to get quick initial results before going on to perform more detailed investigation. The system is configured to maximise the speed of the user going from search, to results, to directly accessing the desired resource.

Subject Guides

A plethora of subject guides have been created in a consistent style within a hosted product used by many institutions globally. This has allowed our subject librarians to create a guide to particular subject areas including helpful resources and a guide to their use. Users can access the guides via the Library website but also via scanning QR codes positioned on the physical library shelves.

Mobile access

Both Library Search and Subject Guides have mobile interfaces. Library system developers have tailored the products and Library Search is included in the University's iPhone and Android apps.

Desktop Delivery Service

This service allows users to request articles from print journals held in the Library's Research Reserve. Within 24 hours of making the request, the user is sent a link via e-mail which allows them to download a digitised copy of the article.

bX recommender

When users access full-text journal articles, the bX service generates a list of the three most popular other articles that were also accessed by the readers of the article. This draws on a database of usage statistics generated by global users of the system.


This is a service integrated with Library Search and our Reading List system. It provides book covers, contents pages, reviews and many other types of added value material that enrich the search interfaces and improve usefulness and usability.

Phase Two – Enhancing the Virtual Library Environment (2013-14)

New Library Website

The new website was launched in September 2013 following a long period of consultation with students and members of staff, and an extensive collaboration between Library Systems Development staff and the Corporate Web Development team. The new website has a cleaner, less cluttered and more visually appealing home page with priority given to those "top tasks" that people have told us they require when accessing the site.

The site includes more dynamic and timely content such as PC availability, urgent announcements and other news items, and in time the different externally purchased components of the site such as Library Search, Find It, Reading Lists and Subject Guides will be rebranded so they blend more seamlessly with the new offering.

Library Help

This is a single point of contact for all Library questions and support queries that was launched in the summer of 2013. As well as an ever-increasing list of FAQs, there are live chat options, and through a partnership with overseas libraries, support is available 24/7.

Exposure of Digital Assets

In 2013 the Library developed a digitisation and preservation strategy for its Special Collections. A selection of the local collections has been made available through the Collections Captured service and a number of funded projects, including the Bloodaxe publishing archive and Sid Chaplin papers will be partially digitised. The increased number of our digital assets will be carefully managed and made discoverable through a combination of services including Library Search, Collections Captured and the national Archive Hub.

Newcastle University Research Publications (currently Eprints)

Both the MyImpact and MyProject systems which provide the current infrastructure for the management of funded projects and the REF will be developed or replaced this year. The Library will be involved in the evolution of these systems, and as a consequence will oversee the corresponding changes, currently unspecified, to the existing ePrints repository which acts as a discovery interface to all Newcastle research output.

The Library's developing Open Access service will be underpinned by these new systems, and alongside them, the Open Access microsite will provide a wealth of support to our academic colleagues.

Research Data Management

The new RDM service will begin to emerge this year, and the systems underpinning the service will include the new iterations of MyImpact, MyProjects and the E-print repository. An exploration of the best ways of making research data sets discoverable within the Virtual Library will continue throughout 2013-2014.

Reading Lists Online

The existing service will be enhanced.

Links with other University systems

All new and ongoing service developments are considered in terms of their interactions with other University systems. In 2013-14 links between Library Search and Blackboard will be developed so that users can access loan information and renew items within either system, i.e. at point of need. This continues the development path from existing system interactions between Reading Lists Online, the Module Outline Forms System (MOFS) and Blackboard, as well as the shared portfolio of services available through the University iPhone app.

Library Search Enhancements

We will work with users of this service (and others) to provide a continuous improvement of service. This will include the assessment of management information concerning the usage of services included within the Virtual Library.

Use and Development of Digital Learning Objects

The library will develop a portfolio of reusable digital learning objects to help us build capacity to meet demands of different schools' curriculums and diversification of the University's portfolio. Digital learning objects such as screencasts, videos, open education resources will be used to promote and explain the library's different resources and services, as well support the development of digital literacy and research skills.

Phase Three – Resource Management and Access (2013-15)

ALMA library management system

The existing Aleph Library Management System (LMS) was designed when print was still the dominant material type processed by the Library. The upgrade to the ALMA next-generation LSM will provide the following benefits:

  • improved management of electronic resources
  • potential integration with the University's financial systems
  • flexible workflows that will allow us to respond with agility to changes in the information landscape
  • reduced total cost of ownership and rationalisation of existing LMS-related applications
Knowledge Base

The management of the licences for our electronic resources is a significant overhead. In order to improve efficiencies in this area we will be introducing Knowledge Base+ - one of JISCs Shared Services initiatives.

Identity Management

Following some infrastructural work by the IT Service in 2013-2014 the Library will be able to offer tailored services to customers that have affiliations to the University but are not full members. This will include the delivery of appropriately licenced resources to alumni, external users and participants in the University's engagement initiatives.

Review of Discovery Services

Review Library Search, bX recommender and Syndetics in terms of usage and value for money.

Conclusion - Project Management and the Virtual Library (2012-2015)

Any development that involves significant overlap with existing University systems, or requires significant extra funding from the University will go to the Digital Campus Steering Group for approval, and then will be subject to the normal project management and risk assessment associated with the DCSG.

Of the initiatives mentioned in this paper, the Identity Management and the ALMA projects will require DCSG investment and oversight.