Central Queensland University is a small university geographically isolated from the capital city of Brisbane by some 800 kilometres. It is a further 800 kilometres to the next closest University which is at Townsville. Most of the concentration of Universities occurs in the State capitals, almost all of which are south of this University
The introduction of online access to data a decade ago impacted on this library quite strongly as, at the time, the amount of research we were supporting was limited, and online access gave us an opportunity to be selective about access and information distribution to the focus areas of research which were occurring at our institution. In more recent years, the University has moved from a College of Advanced Education to a University Library and, as it is not a particularly well funded University, being dependent solely on public funding, we have found that access to information in electronic form has been a means of selectively focusing our research support on precise needs rather than putting our resources into a limited range of print material.
Although small, the University Library has been innovative in the use of computing, computers and electronic access. With four regional campuses, each of which are on an average of 300 kilometres away, centralization of information in digitalized form and electronic access to it is an issue of great importance to us. We are currently considering imaging some of our more heavily used material and making it electronically available to our regional campuses.
Australian Universities as a whole have, with the introduction of Australian Academic Research Network (AARNet), welcomed with open arms access to electronic information. Electronic newspapers and journals are in routine use in many Australian University Libraries as a substitute for print journals or as a new publication outlet. Electronic encyclopedias and other reference material are in routine use with many being networked across campuses and to off-campus students.
The Council of Australian University Librarians responded to a recent inquiry into broadband services in Australia, and reported that: "in a survey of members in the second quarter of 1993 to identify some of the requirements for increased demand for bandwidth for University Library purposes, six to eight times the current usage in this sector each year was predicted. The number of academic users of AARNet was expected to double by 1996. Student usage was expected to increase 15.6 times by 1996. Strong growth in electronic service offerings was anticipated. All respondents currently offer their catalogues across AARNet, 25% offer specialist databases which is expected to triple by 1996. Electronic journals offered amount to 5% in 1993 and is expected to increase by some 80% by 1996. 95% expect to offer text based gopher, CWIS, etc. services by 1996. 30% of University Libraries expect to use image and sound services this year and 70% by 1996. Major growth in document image transmission is expected".
Some University and State Libraries in Australia are currently imaging documents in order to maximize student access or, alternatively, for the protection of rare and valuable material. There is also a trend towards using this technique for access to archival copies of exam papers.
In my position at my own University, my responsibilities include not only the Library but also the Educational Media Services Section which is concerned, in particular, with production of broadcast videos and other media based teaching materials. We are one of a number of Australian Universities currently forming commercial consortia engaged in teaching programs offered via video which also pose interesting challenges relating to the delivery of library services to remote students.
In terms of supporting students at a distance, there are some interesting moves in Australia towards electronic library services for distance education students. A proposal to establish a national network for electronic access for distance students to selected universities is currently under consideration in Australia. Our own Library was engaged in a research project in 1993 to examine the effectiveness of allowing distance education students electronic access to material within the library in digital form.
As a member of the Australian Council of Library and Information Services, the peak body for the library industry in Australia, I am particularly aware of the concept of the Distributed National Collection in Australia as a basis for resource sharing. The next step in that area could be digitilization of key collections in order to maximize access and encourage rationalization of collection building.
It is fortunate that I will be in the States in the month of June and I believe that I would benefit greatly from attending this Symposium and would be able to contribute an Australian view on some discussions. I would also be able to take information back to the Australian Council of Library and Information Services and the Council of Australian University Librarians.