About the Libraries and Information Society Research Group
The significance of our work in the library sector has been increased by the revived public and political interest in public libraries. Much of this is now undertaken through the Centre for the Public Library and Information in Society (CPLIS). Over the past four years it has attracted consultancy work and undertaken contracts for funded research, both from Resource (now MLA) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). One area of particular interest has been research into the value and impact of library and information services and in particular the adaptation of social audit and other qualitative techniques to assess the delivery and impact of services against service providers' stated social objectives. These approaches have now been used to assess the value and impact of services to particular areas (New Measures for the New Library) and more recently a particular service, namely fiction lending services (Checking the Books: Social Impact Audit for the South West Museums Libraries and Archives Council, The Vital Link). Similarly, another study Low Achievers - Lifelong Learners considered public libraries' impact on educational disadvantage and exclusion.
Policy considerations have been studied through an extensive investigation of the extent and impact of reductions in opening hours and library closures. This has been complemented by a further project on the management decisions and processes involved in service reductions (People, Politics and Hard Decisions). Work in the management field includes a major study of the public library workforce. Such was the perceived importance of this work that the report from this Recruit Retain and Lead was distributed free to each public library. The group has recently completed a similar study of the Archives and Records Management Workforce. Two collaborative projects have been undertaken with our colleagues at Loughborough. One of these looked at the impact of the Investors in People scheme in libraries, while the other developed a self-assessment approach to quality in public libraries.
Research into the role of public libraries in encouraging IT use has led to a major three year research project, `IT for Me´ which aims to build the technical platform to deliver personalised quality information to meet individual needs and interests through home and Peoples Network computers. The project is working with people in four deprived South Yorkshire communities, seeking to tackle social exclusion and encouraging economic regeneration by improving access to web-based information and services.
Extensive work in the fields of reader development and adult literacy has continued after the completion of the national Vital Link initiative (2001-02). An investigation was conducted into the value and impact of a project led by one of the nine Vital Link library service partners, Essex Libraries´ groundbreaking Quick Reads. Essex Libraries, working in partnership with Adult Education, has developed a service for emergent adult readers which is being embedded into staff training, stock selection and procedures. Also in the lifelong learning/adult literacy area, our work with the Thanet Basic Skills Partnership has investigated the impact of the Back to Basics initiative on its participants, with particular reference to levels of enjoyment and personal benefit; confidence levels and attitudinal change.
The EMRALD (East Midlands Reader and Library Development) initiative investigated people´s reading choices and factors that may affect these choices. The evaluation provided a rare opportunity to obtain a picture of reading activity across the East Midlands region. More recently, members of the CPLIS team have developed a reader development evaluation framework, primarily intended for use by British Council staff, but more widely applicable in introducing practitioners to the theory and practice of evaluation research.
These extensive studies of public libraries are complemented by a continuing interest in academic library and information systems. Examples of work here include a user study of document delivery and current awareness services in academic and research libraries. We expect work in this area to develop considerably following the recent appointment of Professor Sheila Corrall, who has wide-ranging interests developed over a long career including senior management positions and project director roles at the British Library and three universities. Areas of particular interest include the development of information strategies and policies; organisational structures for library and information services, especially the convergence of IT, libraries and learning resources; the changing roles of library and information professionals and competency requirements; the development of leaders in the library and information profession; the management of change in library and information services, including the role of libraries as organisational change agents, and the positioning of academic and research libraries in the digital economy.