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An interview with Lorraine Estelle

Interview by: Margaret Adolphus

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Photo: Lorraine EstelleLorraine Estelle talks to Margaret Adolphus about her work and predictions for the future of libraries. Lorraine is the chief executive officer of JISC Collections, for the UK Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC).

Lorraine has had many years of experience in publishing and, prior to her appointment as CEO, she led the JISC Collections team and its negotiations for national licensing agreements for a period of four years.


Can you describe the JISC Collections?

We have a really very wide collection of resources, everything from primary research data through to journals through our digital initiative, e-books, databases, any sort of quality controlled information that can be provided through the Internet, so we have a wide range. We break those down into four distinct subject areas [arts and humanities, science, engineering and technology, health and life sciences, social sciences] where we aim to provide a wide range of content.

Many of those resources are taken to the community on what we call our "opt in" model. That’s where we negotiate the framework agreement using the model licence and JISC banding, and then it’s up to each institution to decide whether they are going to opt in through subscription.

But we also have other strands of our collection building where we are able to put in some subsidy, not so much in the content itself but in the delivery platform. So at EDINA, we have our suite of geospatial information: Digimap – Ordnance Survey Collection, Historic Digimap which goes back to 1843, Geology Digimap and we will shortly be adding the UK Marine data. These subsidized collections really do form a world-class resource, there’s nothing else like it. All that type of primary research data together on one interoperable platform.

I should also mention our heritage collections, and this is where we have some capital funding and we are able to license content in perpetuity as static archives. For example: Early English Books Online, Eighteenth Century Collections online also journal back files, Royal Society of Chemistry Journals Archive, Institute of Physics. These are static archives which have enabled us to build up a wealth of material for the academic community which will always be there.

How else do you at JISC Collections help the scholarly community?

In a number of ways. What we do at JISC Collections primarily is to be the central point of negotiation for subscription content. So, whether it’s through NESLi, through our journals activity, or through what we call our JISC Collections, which is all content other than journals, we are first and foremost a central point of negotiation. So, rather than each publisher having to negotiate with all the different university libraries, they can negotiate once with us. We have a JISC banding system – all universities and colleges are banded in one of ten bands – which is accepted by the academic community, and by most publishers. That banding reflects the amount of public funding each university receives, and recognizes that Band A, the top band, institutions like Oxford or Cambridge, will have more money, more than likely, than a small college down at Band J, and therefore subscriptions fees need to be tailored accordingly.

The other thing that we do is to develop our model licence – we have the NESLi2 model licence and the JISC Collections model licence – for all types of content other than journals. (We have a slightly different one for journals with slightly different clauses about post cancellation access in the journals.) And that really has huge advantages for both publishers and libraries. It’s not a static licence, it’s something that we look at every year, that we evolve in terms of new emerging technologies. We do this firstly to protect the publishers’ intellectual property rights, for instance we’ve now got a clause about wireless network, but also to ask them to comply where possible with new and emerging standards, such as Open URL. The whole model licence is a trusted document and is seen as a gold standard around the world. And that’s where we bring huge value to publishers and to our academic community.

So to summarize, at JISC Collections, we negotiate with publishers, we acquire content, we make it available to the academic community for subscription or freely when we have the capital money. And in our model licence one of the things we are most proud of is that we insist on compliance with Athens or similar authentication systems, so that universities and their users really get more value from their subscriptions. Use of middleware systems means that whether I’m working on campus or whether I’m working remotely, whether I am a teacher or a student, I can access those resources that the library has paid for.

Can you briefly explain what JISC is?

JISC is the Joint Information Systems Committee, and it is a committee of the funding councils in the UK. In the UK money doesn’t go directly to universities and colleges from the Government, it goes through the funding councils and then to the actual educational institutions. And JISC is a committee of those funding councils. So it’s not a legal entity, it’s a committee. Its mission is all about supporting the use of ICT in research and in education. So really doing at a central level what is efficient to do at a central level in support of the academic community.

I think JISC gets about UK£60 million a year in funding, half of which goes on JANET, the Joint Academic NETwork. JANET is the backbone that connects academic institutions together, and facilitates high network connectivity and related services. We also have advisory services, like the plagiarism detection advisory service, and TECDIS, which advises institutions about ICT and makes sure that students in need can have access.

We have a development team who are looking at emerging technologies and information environment standards, my colleague, Stuart Dempster, is involved in our digitization project (we are actually digitizing a lot of content), and then down the bottom of the pile is JISC Collections. We were part of the JISC, but now the JISC has funded us to become a legal entity simply because it is more efficient for us to be a company rather than part of the JISC committee.

Can you say a bit about how you work with European partners?

At the JISC level, we have our Knowledge Exchange partners. But we have also done work on licensing: in Holland, Denmark, Germany and the UK, we started last summer to think about how we could work together on licensing, for the benefit of our four countries. And that’s quite a challenge because obviously each country has its own deals and its own arrangements, and some obviously do better in some things than in others.

What we didn’t want to do was to try and force a situation where we were having to say to publishers, please unpick what you’ve done and sew it up together again in a different way for the four of us. With each of the four countries, there’s a slightly different model and the funding works in a different way. But we did think that there was a great opportunity to work with publishers as the four countries together, having huge route to market in those four countries, to talk in a dynamic new way to publishers and say, you could make offers to all four of us, but let’s think about how we can do this in an innovative way, with innovative business models and so on. And that’s why we launched the Knowledge Exchange tender, which is a multinational licensing tender, which uses a process called competitive dialogue.

Unlike a traditional invitation to tender, you can’t really negotiate; you put out a tender and you have to take what you’ve got. It’s the first time any of us have ever used this method, so we are learning as we go along. So, you invite interested parties to do a bidding, and then you talk to them in a very open way, what are the wins we can give you, what are the wins you can give us, and then we do a second round where we actually tailor to the publishers who think it’s very exciting, we had over 20 bids to our first tender.

Where do you see research libraries going in the next five years?

I actually see research libraries being incredibly powerful. The amount of information that is available via the Web is actually not that great a proportion of the whole. I think there’s huge potential particularly in primary research data, if you think of those datasets that we’ve licensed to the academic community; we are putting together on an interoperable platform which really opens up amazing new types of research. Of course, without those services you can go and get some hydrographic data, you can go and get some marine data, you can go and get a bit of open source data and do your own mash-up but that is extraordinarily costly and time consuming whereas the thing we’re doing is putting all of that together on one platform and you can just, at your desk-top, do your mash-up. So the opportunities for new types of research are amazing.

And this is taking place not just in the sciences, but also in the humanities. We have licensed online collections of seventeenth and eighteenth century books, parliamentary papers, plus the stuff we are doing through our digitization programme. And you can imagine, for the researcher, it is not just the fact that it’s digitized, but also the functionality that goes around it, you can do in minutes research that would have taken you years to do in the physical world. So I think there’s a huge amount of potential.

For more information on model licences, see A Guide to the JISC Model Licences.