Next Thursday, more than 50 pioneering projects funded under the £30 million Research Support Libraries Programme will demonstrate their progress at an event in London.
Online demonstrations will prove that the United Kingdom is as advanced as any country in its library information. The projects include CartoonHub, which involves scanning 43,000 cartoon images covering 150 years of British cartoons and caricatures.
The University of Kent at Canterbury is leading the project, which also includes the British Library of Political and Economic Science, John Rylands University Library of Manchester and the National Library of Wales.
A hallmark of the RSLP is collaboration with university libraries working with one another as well as with key players including the British Library.
The RSLP is a four-year initiative, supported by higher education funding bodies, to benefit researchers and postgraduates by improving access to information.
The majority of the projects are tackling traditional library material, but the output of virtually all of them is electronic. More than a million items will be available for the first time on the net.
Michael Anderson, chair of the RSLP steering group and the 1996 Anderson review whose report along with the Follett review was the catalyst for the current developments, said the RSLP has been unashamedly interventionist. "We've identified things that need doing, and this has been a managed programme that sought to bring people together," he said.
Areas where the RSLP is expected to have a particularly significant impact include archaeology, art history, art and design, business studies, geography, history, non-European languages and church history.
Ronald Milne, RSLP director, said: "We tried to get all libraries with strengths in particular disciplines to come in... It has encouraged people to talk to each other."
The RSLP was arguably both necessary and timely. "No library can now provide adequate services for all its readers (on its own). They can't afford the acquisitions," Professor Anderson said.
Mr Milne said high-quality digitised access would mean many researchers would no longer have to travel to study the original material. Those who do would now be able to find out quickly where the material is held.
A key strand of the RSLP is access. While the various projects have attracted some £11.5 million, a further £15 million is going to 48 higher education libraries to compensate them for the increased costs they face in coping with an influx of researchers from other institutions.
To attend the event, contact Tracy Rickard at the RSLP office: firstname.lastname@example.org
or telephone 0131 651 1494