A hybrid library is not just a traditional library (which only contains paper resources) or just a virtual library (which only contains electronic resources), but it is halfway between the two. It is a library that brings together a series of different sources of information, printed and electronic, local and remote, in a fluid way.

So, since we’re all used to dealing with resources from various media, does this mean we’re already working on hybrid libraries? Well, in a sense, “yes.” We all already work in a hybrid information environment. But the term “hybrid library” is usually used to convey the idea of greater integration of different media, in addition to coexistence.

The hybrid library should be designed to bring together a number of technologies from different sources in the context of a work library, and also to start exploring systems and services integrated into both the electronic and print environment, This means that the development of the hybrid library is not working towards a single and easily definable technical goal, rather, it is an ongoing process to try to achieve greater integration.

It’s about encouraging users to find the best source of information for their needs, regardless of its format. Currently, people who want to use resources in different formats have to go to different places or use different equipment or switch between different proprietary interfaces. A lot of time is wasted doing this and many users are completely discouraged. But within the hybrid library, access to a number of resources should be seamless, so that people use the resources that best suit their needs and not the ones that are simply more readily available.


A cluster is a set of catalogs (or other databases). The goal of a cluster is to enable large-scale resource discovery, so that users can search for the resources they want in several different catalogs. Clusters fall into two categories: physical clusters and virtual clusters.

Physical Clusters

The first is a joining catalog that brings together data from several different sources and keeps it in one place. A well-known example of a physical cluster is the COPAC (Consortium of University Research Libraries) database, which is the joint catalog of CURL (Consortium of University Research Libraries). This database is maintained and managed by Manchester Computing. COPAC contains records from 11 institutions that it has uploaded to a single database available on the web. In July 2019, COPAC was replaced by the Library Hub Discover.

Virtual Clusters

Virtual clusters are not centrally managed databases. Rather, these are distributed databases that can be aggregated to perform a search. This aggregation can be “fixed”, so that users can always search a predetermined group of catalogs; or it can be “dynamic”, so that users themselves can form a group of specific catalogs (or parts of them) at a certain time. The latter is, in many respects, the ideal of grouping and would have great advantages for users.

The key technology for the formation of virtual groups is the Z39.50. Z39.50 is a network protocol that allows bibliographic databases to communicate with each other using a set of predefined rules. A user sends a query to a Z39.50 (“source”) client, which in turn can be forwarded to a Z39.50 server (“destination”). The target database is then searched and the results are returned via Z39.50 to the user. Several different databases can be searched simultaneously and a single set of results returned to the user. One of the main advantages of Z39.50 is that it allows the user to perform simultaneous searches on several target databases using a familiar and local user interface.

What do hybrid library projects do?

The activities of hybrid library projects are more difficult to pin down than those of groups. There are a number of important similarities between hybrid projects, but they all approach the problem of integration from slightly different angles and all have a number of distinct emphases. Some, for example, focus on technical issues, others on user issues.

The HyLiFe project studies the hybrid library from the user’s perspective. It focuses on the design of the interface for various groups of clients. MALIBU is investigating the needs of scholars of the humanities in particular. He is working on the creation of a series of prototypes of hybrid libraries specialized in specific thematic areas.

HeadLine works in economics and business to create a hybrid library environment that includes a wide range of different resources. BUILDER is studying similar issues, but from an institutional perspective, and is also considering digitalization management issues. Agora is developing a hybrid library management system that will provide access to a range of search, location, request and delivery services for users and facilitate effective hybrid library management for information professionals.


While it may be too early to talk about the specific technologies used by the various projects, it is clear that several key issues are emerging. First, there’s authentication. All projects address this issue to a greater or lesser extent. Just as many libraries only allow authorized users to enter their buildings, electronic libraries must control access to their virtual spaces. In the hybrid library, both are important. Several projects are investigating how to achieve more agile and less intrusive authentication processes that allow users to access various resources. Collaboration with services like ATHENS is obviously crucial in this regard.


Another key issue is interconnectivity. The projects investigate the technologies and tools that allow interconnecting access to different databases. The Z39.50 standard is important in this regard, as are other technologies. Ágora’s approach in this regard is based on the MODELS Information Architecture (MIA) developed as a result of the MODELS workshops. Other projects have been based on this approach. Most projects work with external data providers on this issue.

Environment Customization

Also important is the idea of improving the environment in which the user carries out the information search process. Progress is being made towards greater “personalization” of this environment. Several projects investigate how to show different views of the “informational landscape” (more buzzwords) to different users or groups of users. This involves managing metadata about sources and also user authorization data so that they can interact, so that users can be matched with the type of information sources they may need.

All projects are also concerned with cultural and skills issues, both from the point of view of users and information professionals. All of them are carrying out evaluation activities to know the opinions on the hybrid library and its different elements. It is hoped that these studies will contribute to a better understanding of the current position and how it is likely to change in the immediate future.

What will be the impact?

Hybrid and cluster library projects address issues that will have a real impact on libraries and information professionals in the near future (if they don’t already have ones). They will have an impact on the services libraries provide and also on the kind of skills that information professionals need to develop to manage these services.

They also involve the development of partnerships between higher education institutions, and also between higher education institutions and business partners, such as data providers. Library and information services should be actively involved in the development and implementation of these services; only then can we configure them in the way that best suits librarians and users.

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Hybrid Libraries

Hybrid Libraries. Photo: Unsplash. Credits: Thought Catalog @thoughtcatalog

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