Coalition for Networked
Institution Wide Information Strategies (IWIS)
California State University Case Study
California State University
Dr. Gordon Smith
Senior Associate, Information Technology Policy and Analysis
Office of the Chancellor
The libraries of the California State University produced in 1994 a comprehensive strategic plan designed to prepare for the educational and information environments anticipated for the 21st Century. That plan, titled Transforming CSU Libraries for the 21st Century, identified as its first and foremost strategy a system of linking and integrating for easy access the full range of information resources available in all the CSU and other libraries as well as resources of the Internet. CSU libraries were facing frozen or declining budgets combined with prodigious increases in the rate of publication and in access methods to the expanding information cosmos. A new and innovative use of technology was seen as necessary to leverage the size of the CSU and its existing information resources in order to continue to meet the information needs of students and faculty.
The Unified Information Access System (UIAS) initiative that arose from this strategic planning responds to a vision for the 21st Century that assumes that CSU students and faculty will interact with each other and with information using pervasive technology that will enable every student and every faculty member to access, retrieve, display, and manipulate a vast array of recorded knowledge and information. The barriers of space — physical location of student, faculty member, or information — are expected to disappear, as well as the barrier of time.
In this vision, the 21st Century CSU campus library will be the hub of a full-service information and instruction network designed to facilitate the delivery and use of recorded knowledge and information. This transformation is expected to change teaching, styles of learning, and modes of scholarly communication in response to a rapidly changing educational environment and an increasingly diverse student population. Using the services offered by the CSU libraries, every student will be able to take full advantage of the electronic information age without regard to background or economic status.
B. Problem Statement
With 340,000 students, more than 37,000 faculty, and two million alumni, the California State University is the largest system of senior higher education in the country. It is comprised of 23 campuses and six off campus centers throughout the state. As measured by several dimensions, it is one of the most diverse systems as well. Campuses range in size from 400 students at the California Maritime Academy to 30,000 students at San Diego State University. Campuses are both rural and urban, commuter and residential. Two campuses are polytechnics, and one, CSU Monterey Bay, recently opened as a converted army base.
Diversity also characterizes the student population. More than a third of CSU’s students are working adults who attend part time. The average age of undergraduates is 24.6 years. Ethnic diversity is high; students from non-white groups comprise roughly 50 percent of CSU’s enrollment. The latter trend is upwards as evidenced by comparison with the non-white enrollment of 28 percent in 1984.
The CSU is governed by a board of trustees and a systemwide administration in the Office of the Chancellor. Despite appearances, however, academic and fiscal decision making is highly decentralized. Presidents have been granted both authority and accountability for carrying out the mission of their institutions within the budget allocated by the trustees. In this climate of campus autonomy, systemwide cooperative initiatives must demonstrate clear benefits to each individual campus; participation, for the most part, is voluntary.
Despite campus autonomy and diversity in academic cultures, CSU libraries have a long tradition of cooperation. That tradition made possible the development of the 1994 strategic plan which set forth a common vision and specific strategies in five goal areas: information resources, instruction, human resources, infrastructure, administration and funding. The Unified Information Access System initiative is the principle strategy of the information resources goal area.
CSU libraries must increasingly rely on alternatives to traditional ownership of information resources to meet the needs of students and faculty. Limited acquisitions budgets combined with staggering price increases over the last several years have resulted in massive serial cancellation projects. By the mid-1990s, CSU libraries had been forced to cancel collectively over 15,000 periodical and serial subscriptions. Purchases of books dropped from 460,000 in 1987 to 320,000 in 1996, this despite a steady increase in titles published during that period.
The ever-increasing complexity of the information environment has exacerbated the pressure on library budgets as well. In addition to straining to retain essential subscriptions and acquire important books, CSU libraries have had to respond to demands for access to expensive bibliographic and full-text databases such as LEXIS-NEXIS. Rather than supplanting the older information formats, new and emerging resources must be added to the library’s array of existing resources; acquisition and access costs expand rather than shift.
The explosion in sources of information, dramatically illustrated by the World Wide Web in particular, has also strained the library’s educational and public service capabilities. Librarians struggle to help students make sense of the vast array of resources, an effort made more difficult by the increasing tendency of students to do their research online without ever setting foot in a library or asking for guidance from a librarian. Librarians are scrambling to develop programs of instruction in information competence to equip students with the skills to select, obtain, evaluate and use information.
Finally, the demographic changes of the student population in California, and the CSU’s planned response to those changes, are an important component of the situation facing its libraries. Not only will libraries be required to serve students with increasingly diverse backgrounds and learning styles, they will be forced to accommodate a change in the basic means of delivery of higher education. By the year 2005, CSU is projected to enroll at least 70,000 more students than it does today. With no funding expected to build or expand campuses capable of handling such growth, the CSU will increasingly rely on educational and information technologies to create a “distributed” learning environment for its students. Libraries will face the challenge of delivering library services and instruction to students who may never visit a campus.
The situation described above, and CSU libraries’ response to it, presents a model for voluntary collaboration by a large number of campuses in applying information technology through strategic planning. In the process of crafting a strategy, library administrators and Chancellor’s Office staff worked through the natural tension between centralization and campus autonomy to find the right balance to permit development of a cohesive approach to responding to overwhelming change.
Another element of significance is the innovative nature of the approach sought by the libraries. Several pieces of the overall unified access system envisioned had been developed and implemented at other institutions, but none had yet achieved the full range of functionality seen as needed to respond to the CSU’s situation. This proved to be significant when approaching vendors as candidates for partnering, and it proved significant when seeking funding from the CSU system. Applications of technology seen as creative and “leading edge” are of considerably more interest to top administrators and to vendors seeking new products to market than are traditional solutions.
On a more fundamental level of strategic significance, the application of technology through the UIAS will leverage the combined information and professional staff resources of 22 libraries to provide a higher level of service than would be possible if each continued to function separately.
Objectives: Desired Outcomes
The Unified Information Access System project seeks to develop a dynamic and comprehensive tool for student access to information resources, for resource sharing among libraries, and for guidance and instruction in navigating the complexities of the expanding information environment. The UIAS is defined as a single, easy to use, integrated, and coherent computer-based user interface which provides direct online access to or delivery of:
print resources described in CSU Libraries’ Online Public Access Catalogs and described in catalogs of libraries beyond CSU;
print resources described in other bibliographic/abstract databases such as periodical indices;
digital resources, including text, image, video, and multi-media;
Internet-based resources including those on the World-Wide Web;
guidance in the use and evaluation of information resources including access to self-paced information competence instruction.
The UIAS will be dynamic both in its ability to respond to the rapidly changing information environment and in its ability to respond to the needs of the individual student. Students and faculty will access the UIAS via a standard Web browser such as Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer. The browser client software will be linked by the UIAS gateway server on each campus to the library’s patron datafile. This linkage will not only provide authorization for users accessing licensed databases, but will also permit librarians to customize the interface for different categories of users. A faculty member, for example, could be presented a sequence of screens entirely different from one designed for a lower division undergraduate.
In summary, the desired outcome of the UIAS project is the creation of a powerful information access and educational tool that can meet the academic information needs of CSU students and faculty, a tool that is available anytime and any place. A detailed description of the functionality and architecture of the UIAS, as well as its current status, can be found at the project Web site http://uias.calstate.edu/.
C. The Approach
Funding for the development and first year of operation of the UIAS is being allocated from a systemwide fund for strategic initiatives. The project has been accorded high priority as a key component of CSU’s overall effort in employing information technology to enhance educational quality and access; UIAS is critical to achieving the distributed learning environment described earlier.
Beginning with the fourth year of the project, campus libraries will be assessed to support ongoing operating costs for the UIAS. Hardware and software maintenance are the primary components of these costs. The UIAS thus reflects an overall CSU approach to funding information technology projects which restricts systemwide funding to “seeding” or start up only. Ongoing control and support of projects, even those of a systemwide nature, becomes decentralized and the responsibility of campuses rather than the system’s central office.
The human resources devoted to the UIAS consist of a mix of systemwide and campus personnel. General oversight and decision making is provided by a management team drawn from campus library directors and systemwide staff. A temporary, full-time position of project manager was created for the project’s development phase.
The project manager’s responsibilities include serving as the point of contact between the CSU and the library automation firm retained to provide the hardware and software of the UIAS. This area of responsibility is particularly critical to the success of the project given the nature of the contractual relationship with the vendor. CSU and the vendor have established a collaborative or partnering relationship to enable development of an altogether new approach to information access.
Equally important to the project is the involvement of the librarians and support staff of the twenty-two CSU libraries. Their participation in the development of the UIAS is important both to ensure a smooth and successful implementation in each library, and to ensure that the project benefits from their collective talent and experience. To that end, five systemwide task forces have been established to focus on particular aspects of the UIAS. Each task force is comprised of six to eight library staff selected for their expertise. These task forces combine to form a “virtual organization” for staffing the UIAS project; avoided is the necessity of creating and funding a large number of system-level positions.
Finally, recognizing the complexity of the UIAS and the size of the CSU library community, the project management team has established means of communication and involvement for library personnel not formally assigned to a task force. These include several reflector lists and opportunities for “affiliate” involvement with task forces.
Policies and Practices
A central principle underlying the development of systemwide information technology projects in the CSU– including the UIAS– is that campus participation is a matter of choice rather than a dictate of policy from the central administration. That is to say, unless the case can be made that it is to the benefit of every campus to participate, every individual campus cannot be expected to join. That principle has resulted in a mix of both “multi-campus” projects as well as all-inclusive systemwide projects. Some projects, moreover, may shift from multi-campus to systemwide as satisfactory results are demonstrated.
In the case of UIAS, because it originated from a strategic planning process designed to capitalize on the collective resources of all the CSU libraries, it was seen as systemwide from the outset. Individual libraries will, however, be accorded considerable flexibility in how the UIAS is actually integrated into their existing information systems and interlibrary loan operations. The extent to which a library permits unmediated patron-initiated intercampus borrowing, for example, will be a local decision. Another local decision will involve how the UIAS interface will be integrated into the existing online public access catalog. Some campuses may offer UIAS as the primary interface into information resources, while other may choose to make it a second-level option.
The important point to be made regarding policies and practices is that the UIAS has the potential for dramatically changing the way students, faculty and staff access information resources and how resources are shared among libraries. A carefully designed process of systemwide consultation, pilot testing, and staff training is necessary if local library practices are to be successfully adjusted to accommodate the UIAS. Each CSU library possesses its own unique culture and blend of human and information resources; to succeed, the project must be guided with a sensitivity to that uniqueness.
The Unified Information Access System is built on an infrastructure of standards: international, national, industry, de facto and emerging. Integrating software and hardware from companies, often competing in similar markets, provides an unprecedented level of interoperability that will benefit the UIAS user. At its heart the UIAS utilizes distributed databases for authentication, authorization and the discovery and delivery of information tailored to the needs of CSU faculty, staff and students. To the users, the UIAS is an application that rides on TCP/IP, HTTP/HTML, Z39.50, Z39.81, ISO 10161, SQL , US MARC ODBC, LDAP, UNIX, NT and, potentially, 3M’s SIP2.
Being a distributed system, the UIAS depends on robust and continuously available networks. CSUNet, CSU’s high speed dedicated network links its 22 campuses and serves as CSU’s Internet Service Provider. This ATM and router-based telecommunications network is upgraded regularly to meet the growing demand for access to high speed networking services for a full range of digital and analog instructional and administrative applications.
CSU will be integrating software using some of the newest protocols, such as ISO 10161, with software using standards and protocols that became widely implemented during the early and mid 1990s. Providing interoperability with legacy systems has facilitated the rapid prototyping of the UIAS.
The development of the UIAS has been and will continue to be on the edge of trends in the library automation marketplace, the digital library initiatives, the World Wide Web, and the database market. Selecting the software and standards available in these sometimes parallel, sometimes intersecting development arenas is what defines, while continually reinvigorating, the UIAS vision and model. The UIAS aspires to integrate the best practices in the information technology domain and apply them to the problem of information discovery and retrieval in a large scale distributed learning context.
Mix and Balance of Resources
Implementing the UIAS project requires a mix of both campus and systemwide resources, in both the human and technology categories. Startup funding and project management is provided by the system; project oversight and technical guidance is provided by campus library staff. The union catalog and campus gateway servers and the intercampus networking infrastructure are provided from systemwide funds; workstations to access the UIAS are provided from campus funds.
This mix of resources reflects the overall approach of the CSU system to implementing technology projects alluded to earlier. Systemwide resources are used for facilitation and support of collaborative projects which originate from the decision of individual campuses to join forces. “Ownership” of such projects resides with the campuses who are thus disposed to contributing staff and funding to ensure their success.
The collaborative process of developing a comprehensive strategic plan for CSU libraries was the key to achieving the appropriate mix and balance of resources for the UIAS. Every campus library participated in the planning process, and consensus was reached on each goal and objective. The process was facilitated, but not directed, by the systemwide office. As a general observation, any complex institution seeking to build on the collective strength of its organizational components to develop an information strategy would be well advised to first pursue a formal process of strategic planning.
E. The Results
Benefits / Successes
The most notable accomplishment of the UIAS project has been the creation and refinement of a vision for greatly improving access to information resources within a large and complex institution. From its inception, the UIAS was recognized as ambitiously pushing the boundaries of existing technology; its success within the proposed timeline was by no means guaranteed. Despite that level of uncertainty and risk, the vision of creating a unified system of information access customized to the individual user has been compelling enough to bring together for a common purpose a large and diverse population of library faculty and administrators.
The UIAS vision was also compelling enough to garner a significant funding commitment from the CSU system, and to attract virtually every major library automation vendor to participate in a request for proposal process completed in the spring of 1997. The culmination of that process was the execution of a contract with Ameritech Library Services for a developmental partnership with the CSU to achieve the full range of UIAS features.
As of this writing, seven months into the contract with Ameritech Library Services, progress toward achieving the objectives of the project has been mixed. The CSU and Ameritech have succeeded in working through several critical technical issues underlying the operation of the UIAS, and the basic functionality is still scheduled for systemwide implementation in fall 1998.
Progress toward development of some key software elements has however been slower than anticipated, the result of which is delay in implementing the UIAS pilot installations originally scheduled for winter 1997.
The single greatest failure of the project to date has involved the nature of the relationship between the CSU project team and the contractor, Ameritech Library Services. The complexity of the UIAS project, particularly the number of innovative functional elements requiring design, development and testing, has posed challenges in communication and coordination between the CSU and Ameritech. The vision of the UIAS has been difficult to translate within a corporate organization accustomed to thinking in terms of existing product lines and software modules. The result of the failure to anticipate this difficulty has been unforeseen delays in contract deliverables and the need to adjust expectations within the CSU libraries.
A significant, and very positive, unintended consequence of pursuing UIAS as a systemwide information strategy has been its evolution from primarily an information access tool to a conception of it as a foundation upon which CSU libraries can collaborate to build new models of cooperative acquisitions, management of access to resources, and personalized interactive guidance in the use of ever-expanding information resources. An outline describing this broader conception can be found under “Dimensions” on the project home page cited earlier.
As the UIAS is implemented around the CSU, it is anticipated that this creative process will continue as library staff explore the potential of a gateway to the information environment that can be customized to the needs and circumstances of the individual user.
F. Lessons Learned
Advice to Others
Institutions pursuing a comprehensive information strategy would be advised to involve as much of their organizations as possible in “thinking big,” allowing creativity to flow within a structured process of strategic planning tailored to the institution. Once the organization is unified behind a vision, issues of resource limitations and policies and practices are much more easily resolved. This approach is especially important in an organization the size of the CSU, where the potential benefits of collaboration are enormous, but where the potential for fractiousness is enormous as well.
Employing an outside vendor to assist in achieving that unified vision, as the CSU has, creates it own set of issues. Every effort must be made to ensure that the key players in the vendor’s organization fully understand and share that vision, and that the terms and conditions of any contract spell out a realistic path toward achieving it. The vision needs constant reinforcement as the project moves ahead and the players change within both organizations.
Finally, in the case of a developmental partnership with a vendor, the risk of failure must be shared by both parties, and the benefits of success to each should be clearly understood. The potential benefits of thinking beyond existing approaches in both organizations must be continually reinforced at all levels, executive as well as staff.
Advice to Self — Plans for Change
There are two aspects of the UIAS project which, in retrospect, should have been handled differently, and which CSU intends to change as the project progresses. One is the way the project team has communicated with the vendor/partner; the other is way the team has dealt with the expectations of the CSU library community.
Organizational changes within Ameritech Library Services during the first several months of the UIAS contract created difficulties for the project team; progress has been slowed by the inevitable discontinuities such changes produce. The project team is now working more closely with both the executive and development level personnel at Ameritech to set realistic timelines for deliverables focused on implementing UIAS on schedule.
Expectation management within the CSU libraries is another area requiring more careful attention by the project team. The project team intends to more clearly convey to the library community specifics of what UIAS will do at start up, and when additional features are likely to be available. The potential of UIAS has generated a great deal of enthusiasm among CSU library staff, but that enthusiasm must be tempered with the realities of UIAS as an evolving educational resource, not a system that will at once turn on the full range of functionality envisioned for it.