A push to assemble a "critical mass" of electronic documents for the library of the future is underway at De Montfort University.
The International Institute for Electronic Library Research, which opens officially on March 19, will bring together the university's existing research and pursue new projects in the area of electronic libraries.
The dream is that students and academics should eventually have electronic access to everything they might currently find in a library, from mediaeval manuscripts to the latest journals and textbooks. But there are massive tasks to be undertaken first.
Marilyn Deegan, co-director of the new institute, said: "One of the big issues is copyright, of course. The other thing is producing a critical mass of material." De Montfort has led the international ELISE project to interconnect Europe's image banks. Professor Deegan said that in the Ecu 1.6 million (Pounds 1.28 million) second phase, thousands of images would be scanned into computer files during the next two years.
The institute is the brainchild of Mel Collier, head of the university's division of learning development, which includes library and computing services and a number of existing research projects.
It will also attempt to address special problems of a university that has four main city campuses and several smaller sites.
Professor Deegan is a mediaevalist from Oxford University where she ran the humanities computing service. Her co-director Charles Oppenheim was professor of library and information science at Strathclyde University. Both will be based at De Montfort's Milton Keynes campus. The institute will have eight to ten full-time staff with associated researchers.
Peter Robinson, another recruit from Oxford, is working with the Cambridge University Press on the presentation of complex critical editions which may collate up to 100 versions of a single document. The Cambridge CD-Rom of Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Prologue published next month contains two million hypertext links.
The institute will continue work on existing projects in partnership with other universities. Funding sources include the Electronic Libraries programme, the European Union, the British Library, and IBM.