Library of the future debate: live now

From eLib to the Library of the future will present an overview of the long term changes that will lead to the library of the future by highlighting the emerging issues that face libraries and information services today and taking a view into the future. On the panel are:

  • Catherine Grout, Programme Director (e-Content), JISC – Session Chair
  • Jon Duke and Andy Jordan, Directors, Duke & Jordan Ltd
  • Jean Sykes, Librarian and Director of IT Services, LSE
  • Lorcan Dempsey, Vice President and Chief Strategist, OCLC
  • Ian Dolphin Programme Director (Information Environment), JISC

Read on for the debate…

Catherine Grout: aims of the session:

  • looking backward and forward
  • perspectives on the future of the academic library
  • encourage discussion and debate about what the future may be – please contribute your thoughts on the blog
  • launch the Library of the Future as a JISC theme
  • illustrate the nature of current work in the “digital library” area and what the challenges may be

Andy Jordan: What eLib achieved

About two years ago we undertook a study of eLib and what it had achieved and were asked to look not just HE sector but also at its impact internationally and nationally. It made for a fascinating study: Impact study of the JISC eLib programme

Derek Law said: “barely a single eLib project has survived or is remembered except in the fond memories of the good old days”

In a sense it is part of the past. Libraries have changed rapidly in the last 14 years and are still changing now. The changes are remarkable. Google and Wikipedia are ubiquitous now. Student clusters were a virtual unknown in 1992. Some senior librarians would have nothing to do with IT then.

eLib consisted of two phases. The first based on the Follett report, second arose from the outcomes of Phase One. Consisted of 15 strands, some continued across both phases, which contained about 60 different projects. Its biggest impact was around cultural change. Some examples of the strands:

Awareness and training
One of the key players was Edulib but Netskills still goes on

Electronic journals
Ahead of its time – got libraries up to speed at the right time

On-demand publishing and the electronic book
HERON came out of this strand

A number of things made eLib successful:

  • Effective governance and management
  • For institutions, it caught the mood
  • Brought libraries into synchrony
  • Produced savvy staff (project management, service and technology)
  • Levelled playing field (old and new universities)
  • Repositioned libraries in provision of learning materials

Continuation and change:

Libraries moved from being a set of buildings to set of services (“information rich but collection poor”) – we’re all hybrid libraries now. 60 projects were started and about 20 are still extant in some form – either still delivering services or maintaining some kind of presence in the academic community. It is a substantial legacy JISC should be proud of.

Jean Sykes: Libraries today

Legacy of eLib:

  • unprecedented collaboration
  • shared expertise led to shared services
  • new project climate for innovations (need space to innovate and eLib brought this)
  • skilled project workforce (in the early 90s we didn’t have a clue about normal project management but we do now)
  • competing now for other funds, not just JISC (such as Hefce, and bids are also collaborative)
  • projects give space for trying things out
  • successes can be turned into services such as heron
  • teaching support – hybrid library
  • Research support – union catalogues, electronic docdel
  • Archives – a place in the sun (very little funding going into discovery of archives previously – see a direct line from cataloguing of archives online to the mass digitisation of archives)
  • eLib put HE libraries on the map not just in the UK but internationally
  • JISC too gained a high reputation
  • JANET network always a winner but eLib showed how it could be used collaboratively

New drivers for change – in the environment

  • ubiquitous use of the web
  • simpler search techniques (Google)
  • “Information to go”
  • same data, different presentations
  • open access and new publishing models
  • social, personal and work activities blurred
  • information users as information providers
  • interactive do-it-yourself capability of the web is at odds with highly-wrought library systems
  • technical/licensing/copyright issues
  • a volatile landscape of rapid change

New drivers for change – students

  • integration of library with VLE
  • web 2 and social networking
  • Amazon/supermarket profiling approach
  • the digital native generation
  • students as paying customers
  • new drivers for change – research
  • access to deep web wanted
  • underlying data is important for research
  • re-use of data is possible
  • deposit in institutional repositories
  • mass digitisation (Google, MS, JISC)

JISC and the libraries: the future

  • usage/impact – needs better management data
  • identity management – connecting users to relevant content seamlessly (move to Shibboleth environment)
  • services – local or remote/outsourced? individual or shared?
  • linking more library services to course and research management systems
  • digital preservation – the librarians will have to make the running (publishers will not do it on their own, if we do not look after our digital heritage then nobody else will)
  • taking services into the users space: a highly personalised networked world

Lorcan Dempsey – Networks and libraries

The major thrust of what I want to say is that we haven’t really understood what it means to operate in a networked environment – the consumer behaviour of lots of people – we haven’t adapted to that. There is a temptation to interpret web 2.0 in a very democratic sort of way – social networking, warm and fuzzy relations and that is very important. However, it has happened alongside a massive concentration – a few services dominate our network so alongside the levelling activity there has been a huge concentration of activity on just a few sites, such as Google, Amazon. In terms of proportion of traffic these sites are central. So we have a concentration and a diffusion.

Concentration – scale matters
Diffusion – spread matters

Tim O’Reilly focuses on concentration and mass data aggregation driven by network effects – the rich get richer in the networked world and the world for our users has changed.

Then: resources scarce and attention abundant – if you wanted information you had to go to a library
Now: resources abundant and attention scarce – people have lots of things to do and library sits in the middle of a range of repositories of documents. The ways people can find things out are multiple and may be no less good than library resources. People value convenience and do not have strong incentives to use library resources.

Then: users built workflow around libraries
Now: libraries must build services around user workflow

These two issues mean that the effective library has to think about competitive environment and disclose resources to where people are.

Commercial companies spend a lot of time thinking about how they perform on Google and gaming the system is part of being effective in a networked environment. People do not start their search on a library website, they will start it somewhere else (Google, Facebook RSS feeds) – if discovery happens elsewhere you have to think about how you are represented elsewhere.

Gather, create, share: students and teachers gather, create and share digital content, they do not just want to sit there and absorb.

The BIG squeeze – websites are getting squeezed by the network on one side and workflow on the other but our focus still tends to be on the website and we imagine it is the sole focus of the user focus – we imagine that other people love our website as much as we do… But it is really a thin layer around complicated systems variety – it creates expense from the management side and confusion on the user side.

Four challenges:

  • specific local value
  • a presence on the web – concentration and diffusion
  • library logistics – should we be thinking of repositories, off-site storage, Google…
  • institutional asset management

Ian Dolphin – supporting the user of the future

I was recently seconded to the JISC for six months to look at the information environment.

The information environment originally conceived as a managed environment, not something that JISC would build alone and it is evolving. Repositories programme is a good example – it is a negotiated environment, and the SCA is another good example of how we engage with the larger content picture – it is a partnership unlocking the content that it is in the partner organisations.

Presentation and delivery – it’s not about handing something over to an end user. They expect increased levels of interaction with their resources
technical design and more policy than technical issues surround integration with web 2.0-like services.

The landscape is changing and while a portal based approach is still valid, it has to be accompanied by other means of delivery. Context of use drives choice of form of service and we’re seeing more component based, service oriented architecture.

We need to know more about the preferences of individuals and institutions using services – how do we ensure that the hypothesis of shared infrastructure is tested thoroughly and appropriately?

When we talk about service-oriented architecture we tend to pitch it in a way that emphasises that it will save money and effort. Rather, I think the move towards it will enable the kind of flexible systems that are closer to user need and users will be able to compose systems that are closer to their needs.

Question and answer session

Catherine Grout: is the library as an entity ready for all this? And what can we do about it?

Sheila Corral, University of Sheffield: there’s a tension in the pictures we’re seeing emerging – users want instant seamless access and that tends to suggest the library should not concentrate so much on raising the profile of its website etc but libraries do have to pay attention to their branding and have some profile as people have to realise what they are doing in order for them to have a case for funding. How can this tension be resolved?

JS:   I said to go to the web, Lorcan said don’t bother… surely it’s a question of using the web technology in the smartest way we can. I don’t think the web is finished as a delivery mechanism for libraries.

SC: I agree but I also think branding is interesting. One of Lorcan’s colleagues was drawing a distinction between virtual and physical library and saying that the branding is different and I think this is a challenging idea. University of Sheffield library makes sure that every resource is clearly branded which is effective  but very labour intensive.

LD: the dominant brand of libraries is books. There are all these users who are not coming to the library because they do not realise what it offers. Branding is a shortcut, a way of telling someone what to expect. I’m not sure people know what to expect from the library. Doesn’t tend to be offered under a coherent view. Libraries are asked to be invisible while asked to demonstrate their value more and that’s difficult. Libraries need to think about a compelling local story and that’s about how you support learning and research in various ways and align activities around that which touch people and remind them who they are. Spend more time on that and less time on infrastructure. Clearly people need to have a website and ideally it would give easy access to resources but in terms of the relative importantance in a user’s behaviour it needs to be accompanied by attention to the other places where they do things.

Debbie Swain, Imperial College: I’m very struck by the conflict between what was talked about in the keynote and us talking about delivering what students want – we have to be careful – if it’s not what our educated workforce wants then we’ve a problem.

LD: convenience trumps quality so libraries have to make high quality stuff convenient.

Question: we’ve been talking about brand but does the student differentiate between library, university, VLE brand etc – is it relevant to them?

Ian: valid point – I would reinforce the point that we need to know more about user desires and workflow but I suspect that for most of them it’s all “stuff on the web” and branding issues are not very significant for them

Jeff Peters, JANET UK and OU: subsidiarity – it’s the level of resolution of the library and the role of JISC and how the panel see libraries growing – what is it that happens at the level of the individual, department, institution, national – and how is that changing?

CG: will today’s solutions work for tomorrow’s challenges?

JS: many libraries are increasing their opening hours, many to 24 hour opening, more users are coming in…so I take a more relaxed view…maybe the branding isn’t such an enormous issue after all as they do want to physically sit somewhere – they have to sit somewhere even to use wifi, they’re not going to wander about in the rain! They need a space in which to do a whole load of things and they like sitting among a whole load of books even if they are not actually using them at that point.