Libraries of the Future – session 3, plenary question and answer

Question Time – chaired by Professor Vincent Gillespie, JRR Tolkien Professor of English Literature and Language, University of Oxford

Q: How can students currently in LIS and i-school programmes ensure that they are positioning themselves to be librarians of the future?

Peter Murray-Rust: You are the librarian of the future, and so are your colleagues, but you must take in the fundamentals from your course – the structure and history of information – but look to the future through what’s happening in the future.  You know more about Twitter and Facebook than your teachers do.  They must be brave enough to accept the judgement of younger people.  It won’t be easy, but hopefully some people will help you.  You must also develop collaboration.

Q: The words “library school” is begging a question. Are library schools the right way to do it?

Q: Library schools are different in the States.  Skills can only really be achieved on the job.

Q: Students should go to classes and retain their passion once they’re doing the job.  Just do it and don’t listen to the greyhairs who tell you that you can’t.

Chris Batt: Attitudes are taught by the people who are teaching.  If they’re not thinking about the future, they won’t stand a chance.  In the future, it can’t be about simply training a person to do all the things that are necessary.  They need to put together a team with different skills.

Heather Haskins, JISC: Considering the pressure on academics to put their work in open-access and publishers’ restrictions, is increased availability of free versions affecting paid subscriptions to full versions?

Sarah Thomas: Thinking about my experience at Cornell, we had an institutional and a disciplinary repository.  I said I thought the archive belonged in the library; it’s something we wanted to invest funds in to make it successful.  I saw it as a building-block for open-access.  There must be some new way of certification, some kind of authority that the academy can broker. Universities would have to change the way they fund projects and departments.  The whole nature of the periodical or the monograph is changing – it’s much more dynamic now.

Robert Darnton: Last year, Harvard mandated open-access for every scholarly article published in each faculty.  Every article produced by these scholars is automatically giving a licence to the president and fellows to make it available to the world.  Every faculty member can opt out of it.  A lot of professors think it’s just more hassle – the compliance rate was less than four per cent, which is trivial.  We are finding we are populating the repository and it will go public soon.

Q: Part of that question was about maintaining quality after things go free. Quality and trust have nothing to do with whether or not you pay for it.  Peer-review has to happen in trusted ways.

Heather Haskins: Thank you for your responses. It does solve some of the problems I had with that.  I am curious if there is much difference between the author’s final version and the published version.

Robert Darnton: We do require the author’s final version. I believe that editors add value. Peer-review is crucial. The problem is where the professionals insist that the thing come out in print in a prestigious journal because that has to do with a career structure. That can’t hold out forever.  If we can collectively make open-access work, the whole system will come tumbling down.

Q: Do libraries have to let go of books and buildings and help a new outsourced digital infrastructure develop?

Malcolm Read: No. The librarian’s experience is becoming richer. They have more engagement with their user community. We have spent so much time talking about the scholarly communication issue, but there is so much more to the future of libraries.

Sally Brown, Leeds Metropolitan University: We need librarians to be inspirational and engaging.  The library brings people together, engages people, and helps to develop skills.

Q: Why shouldn’t the web interface for libraries look very much like Amazon or eBay, with the ability to build lists and comment and so on?

Santiago de la Mora: We have taken that idea on board with the creation of My Library, allowing people to engage by writing reviews and building virtual libraries.  That should be something to explore for physical libraries.

Q: Libraries don’t aggregate. Google and Amazon are huge aggregators.  Why aren’t libraries sharing data?  Because then all their services would start to happen.

Peter: The danger is that education will be managed by Amazon, eBay and Google.  It’s a large market and saleable commodity. How do we make sure we are in control?

Chris: The world won’t end if we share data. People become engaged because they want to, and it will create new communities of users.

Q: This is an important issue. It’s the question about libraries developing when resources were scarce, and now it’s very different. There is lots of discussion but we are lacking leadership and a sense of what the new economic model will be for the library of the future.

Q: Amazon and eBay work by aggregating a large amount of information.  How relevant is that for us?  By the time you’re a PhD student, my colleague next to me doesn’t care about what I read.

Q: We need to take a “publish and be damned” approach and get the meta-data out.

David Pearson, University of London: The Google digitisation programme means the custodianship of knowledge is passing into commercial hands. How worried should we be?

Robert: I am worried. I admire Google tremendously, and it is a fabulous success.  The digital databank is spectacular.  They are digitising 1,000 books a day.  This is going to be the greatest digital library ever seen.  But is commercial ownership a good thing?  Yes and no.  Yes in the sense that it’s wonderful that it exists and books have a new life and it’s bringing research within our research. No, concerning orphaned books.  There are millions of books in that zone.  I think it’s unjust, and the revenue should go to a public cause.  Google is a monopoly.  Many monopolies deliver excellent services.  In Google’s case, there is one tremendous power coupled with enormous enterprise and audacity, and there is no serious competition.  Isn’t there a contradiction between private property, where Google own the content, and the public good, where libraries offer?  If Google want to organise knowledge and make it accessible and useful, it should compromise and monitor so that the public good is represented.  Google must come up with a proposal to make this happen, otherwise a court action is likely to succeed in the US.

Q: Google did it. What is it about business models that stopped us doing it? Why are we trapped?

Robert: There was no action. Google did do it, and they did a great job of it.

Q: Advertising, marketing, commercialisation is an area we have not gone into.  Philosophically, that may be a big tipping point for libraries in the future if we want to compare ourselves with organisations like Google.

David Pearson: At the JISC Digitisation conference, Chris put up a slide that said “Rupert Murdoch and the Russians buy Google.”

Q: Burning the library accidentally doesn’t worry me half as much as burning it on purpose.  Once one side starts editing the database, the original information needs to be preserved somewhere else.

Vincent Gillespie: Thank you to all delegates and the panel of speakers.