The sixth conference on Libraries Without Walls marked the 10th anniversary of a series that began when the delivery of library services to distant users was in its infancy. Over the intervening period, not only has such a concept entered the mainstream of library practice but it has become the dominant service paradigm. What is more, a library operating in complex networked environments is simply one player among many. This is not to say that libraries are losing their role: the evidence seems to suggest that their networked services are in great demand, alongside a continued requirement for services based on the traditional media.
However, this observation itself raises the question as to just how robust the evidence base is for the continued relevance of the ‘library without walls’. Previous conferences in the series (Irving and Butters, 1996; Brophy et al., 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004) had documented the achievements of many researchers and practitioners worldwide, but we felt it appropriate to step back and examine the evidence base. For the first time, therefore, this became the dominant theme of the conference.
Our keynote speaker, Sue McKnight, set the scene by providing a user (or customer) focus and challenging us to allow users to have direct input into library decision making. The user focus continued with a paper from Bo Öhrström showing how customer satisfaction needs to be considered alongside customer loyalty, and presenting a novel model for achieving this. A third paper focused on users from the perspective of accessibility, as Jenny Craven demonstrated critical issues for people with disabilities once services become distributed.
We then moved on to look at how libraries are evaluating the new generation of online services. Emmanouel Garoufallou and Rania Siatri examined this issue from the perspective of a Greek university, and Claudine Xenidou-Dervou showed the effects of a national initiative on another university in Greece. Richard J. Hartley reported on research into user behaviour when using large-scale union catalogues for resource discovery, while Ken Eason, Ross MacIntyre and Ann Apps examined user attitudes and behaviour in the context of electronic journal services. Dawn McLoughlin and Ruth Wilson then returned to a classic Libraries Without Walls theme with a paper on supporting distance learners.