I think “librarian” now means many different things in contemporary libraries and that outstanding future libraries will be full of a mix of professionally qualified people who bring an increasingly diverse range of skills to libraries. So, who are these additional or relatively new folk and what skills do they bring? Here are my thoughts.
- ICT programming & development skills* – needed to manage repositories of research outputs and data; data archives; discovery interfaces; many large systems peculiar to libraries (e.g. RFID, ASRS, library catalogues, search and discovery layers & so many vendors’ products – databases).
- Legal or para-legal skills** – to advise on the increasingly complex IP and Copyright environment and on the mixing/creation/reuse of licensed material by students and academics.
- UX* – to make sure we get user interfaces and services right and iterating in the right direction.
- New media skills** – to better understand its creation and to assist students and academics with its creation and this will become only more and more important, so that means people comfortable with the creation and editing of sound, film, images, games, online publications, social media, etc.
- New (online) publication skills** – for OERs, ebooks & texts, OA pubs, print-on-demand, etc.
- Design skills* – in-house as they help with all of the above; they also help with the development of a design mindset (as opposed to just plonking “good ideas” on unsuspecting punters).
- Marketing & Comms skills* – in-house as they also help market our services to our community.
- Curators & archivists* – to assist with “special” collection development, exhibitions and the very important cultural aspects of libraries.
- Conservators# – depending on scale and collection needs.
- Data Scientists (or the like) or Analysts, or “Wranglers”** (probably the most apt description) – as I think we will need a few librarians who really do understand this field and who can hold their own in environments with various data gatherers or generators like academics, students and researchers.
* Those we have already at UTS Library.
** Those we are growing or developing in-house.
# Those we don’t have or need here.
Anyone else I’ve missed or badly described?
Here are my thoughts on GLAM sector collaboration and conferences in Australia. Firstly, we should stop having so many library “conferences” every six months. There just isn’t enough interesting, new or relevant material to justify participation.
Maybe we should consider having one major library conference (run by either VALA or ALIA, or both) every second year and on the other years we get the whole GLAM sector together and ALIA, MA, ASA and anyone else (like CAUL, NSLA, etc.) cooperate to run the one Australian GLAM conference. I’ve said this for years and nobody listens. It would be a useful first step in learning from each other, collaborating and maybe even starting to have one united voice for the impact of culture in our society. Who knows, perhaps we could even make major progress on a digital strategy for the whole sector?
I gave a talk to the VALA AGM earlier this week on our Artist-in-Residence Program: the thinking behind it, who has been involved, what has been produced and why we think it is a good thing. Below are the slides I used (29 MB PDF) and in many of the images there are links that take you much deeper into the works created by those artists.
I think my talk was very well summarised in one tweet by @StevenPChang (who is a Senior Research Advisor from La Trobe University Library). He said that I was “lauding the value of intuition, ambiguity, and aesthetics in a world obsessed with metrics and efficiency.” That is exactly what I was trying to do.
These are the slides I used in a Skype presentation that I did recently for SCU Library. Just some random thoughts and observations about academic libraries from my perspective at UTS.
These are the slides I used for a talk I did for UTS undergraduate architecture students who were working on a public library project.
Public Library Design
In this second part, I feature the talk by Michelle Ha Tucker, from IDEO. She deals with Library Innovation By Design.
Michelle’s talk is very easy to understand and quite inspiring for those thinking of taking this path. It is the path we’ve been on for some five or six years in developing a design mind-set with the aid of several design mentors and guides from UTS and elsewhere around Sydney. I’d agree with her observations and recommendations.
She described user centred design or design thinking as more of an approach than a process and then runs through a few different ways to describe the various stages that you tend to work through such as Inspiration > Ideation > Iteration > Scale, or Explore & Understand > Synthesize > Prototype > Refine & Scale, or simply moving from Research through a Concept Prototyping phase into Design. What I liked most is that she also said the best way to learn about it is to actually start doing it. There are a number of guides and toolkits around that can help. For example Design Thinking for Libraries, the Design With Intent Toolkit, and the (Social) Innovator’s Toolkit.
Michelle sees three reasons libraries should try design thinking:
- Libraries are the last great living lab (for designers?): we have dedicated spaces, a steady stream of users who can be observed and questioned on a day-to-day basis. And you can prototype, experiment and co-create with a diverse range of people.
- Librarians are great service designers. They really know their users best and the challenge is empowering front-line staff to create better solutions.
- Libraries are networked community infrastructure. We are at the centre of the communities strength and resilience connecting education and learning systems, public safety, economic development and civic engagement. MIchelle believes the best solutions are systemic, complex and cross institutional, so with libraries at the centre of all of this, we’re well positioned to connect and make those partnerships deliver. The partnerships must be activated.
Michelle also recognised some tensions or barriers such as moving from:
- just reflecting on data (historical benchmarking) to imagining a future or possibilities;
- research answers questions to (design) research opens up new questions (be comfortable with ambiguity);
- organisation structured around operational teams to an organisation driven by strategic teams; and
- failure is avoided (at all costs!) to failure is invited.
Some resolutions or thought starters: hiring T-shaped people with one depth but a broad affinity with others and also X-shaped people who have developed expertise in two different areas (like art and science). Those people will lead changes in libraries.
On Innovation, Michelle said it was a verb (not a noun), both process and outcome, something that can be taught and about thinking big and starting small. It is not always new and she encourages taking something you see and contextualising it for your needs.
Finally she said that change happens at a large scale not top-down, but by empowering people on your front-line to act.
Over the last two days I’ve watched and noted a couple of great videos from a recent event in Aspen on Library Innovation. The two speakers were Michelle Ha Tucker from IDEO on Library Innovation By Design and John Seely Brown on Re-imagining Libraries for the C21st. I think they are both great talks and very relevant to what we are engaged in at UTS – designing a future library, its services and our future organisation. I recommend watching both videos, but for those too lazy to take notes, I’ve done that for you below, with a few of my own observations thrown in for good measure. So here we go, mind the step …
John Seely Brown (hereafter known as JSB) is talking about re-imagining public libraries in the C21st, but most of what he says can equally be applied within a university community.
He begins by saying that the challenge is not developing new ideas, but escaping old ideas. He says we face exponential advances in computational technologies that rapidly become almost irrelevant on what is now as short as an 18 month cycle. So how do we keep pace with that and plan a future library that can adapt quickly and transform as the eco-system changes?
I like the quote he uses from David Weinberger who says we live in a time of “Too big to know”. Knowledge is now in networks; topics have no boundaries and nobody agrees on anything. We must learn to deal with ambiguity in our daily lives and in learning.
We are moving from “stocks” (protected and fixed) to “flows” (tacit, created knowledge that flows and moves and this makes it much harder to capture).
Everyone now is embedded in vast networks with libraries already in or approaching a state of flux (certainly, we will be if we cannot adapt!).
So JSB sees libraries as:
- becoming hubs of communities
- making the most of digital technologies and creative media
- mentoring, connecting, guiding and curating
These are all the things we are saying about our role here in the UTS community.
We must move from “knowing” to creating and making. And the building of CONTEXT is now more important than CONTENT (collections). He says the basic architecting of context can result in amazing things. Learning how to read context is now as important as reading content. I think it comes with the environment of almost everything now being instantly available. The context helps you to navigate to what is most relevant and authentic. It also gives meaning.
He also talks about “reverse mentorship” – learning from the young(er) and I think we’ve done a fair bit of that over the last several years here, by empowering relatively junior staff and by hiring current or recently graduated students. They helped those of us who are not so young and who were trained and qualified well before this networked world understand the potential of new technologies and how these networks work best.
The importance of play is also stressed as this helps us to push boundaries and with the invention of things within spaces of rules. Play also helps us to unlearn and this too is critical.
He talks of the critical nature of IMAGINATION | CURIOSITY | AGENCY (or having some effect in the world). These are very important for libraries to understand. I’ve been saying for some time now that libraries need to understand discovery as well as search (they are quite different) and now I am suggesting that a major role for all libraries is in encouraging curiosity. Agency is something we’ve only just started to understand, but I’ve seen enough hints and mentions to realise that it too is important for us.
Now there is also networked imagination and JSB cites the example of communities playing WoW in which teams from across the world share their actions and plans in imagined connections. He also cites the example of Harry Potter fans doing amazing things with civic imagination behind the stories and achieving results in the less developed world accordingly.
Henry Jenkins talks of a global collective that students are used to creating (in their networks) that is intertwined within a networked imagination and asks us whether we are prepared for this? If not, we risk becoming irrelevant. Transmedia is very important in all of this.
The key challenges for us:
- Expanding the notion of literacy to include the visual, musical, procedural and cinematic
- Understanding that yesterday’s cutting edge is today’s dustbin – this is a big challenge for CAPEX and OPEX investment and also for staffing. He thinks we need a VISION that transforms and an evolving tool set.
- How to get our institutions on board with all of that? This is perhaps the biggest challenge, so he offers the following advice:
- “leverage the edge and let it pull you to the core” (don’t ask permission, take some risks & show results)
- show what you can do by “spiral” (as opposed to perfect) development
- gather metrics for you and others
- show rapid learning & results
- leverage open source and open
- engage a wide collection of beta-participants (especially skeptics)
- exploit cloud computing and social media
- THINK LIBRARY AS PLATFORM and a network of our patrons within an ecosystem (this I think becomes infrastructure)
I’ll cover Michelle’s talk in the next Part.
Recently I posted about the plight of Diego Gomez who is facing trial for the crime of sharing knowledge. Gomez, of course, is not the first victim of heavy-handed attempts to stifle the sharing of knowledge through the misuse of copyright law and licence agreements, as the case of Aaron Swartz tragically illustrated. The Open Access movement, at heart, is an attempt to find new ways to share knowledge – ways which remove the current legal and economic barriers which make information a commodity affordable only by the privileged.
Earlier this week, Ginny Barbour the Executive officer of the Australian Open Access Support Group (AOASG), noted in some tweets (and if you’ve read this far you should follow her), that we are in a bit of a rut with Open Access advances and we need to start thinking about what is needed next. I agree. She went on to suggest that we need to develop Open Access as an ecosystem, with different models for different specialities and countries and then agree some priorities. I also agree with most of that but global agreement and ecosystems take time to develop; it will only come slowly and with lots of compromise. Facing large challenges can sometimes lead to entropy, but we should not be daunted by the task ahead, and the size of the challenge should not prevent us trying some new approaches, learning and moving on. I think that initiatives like OpenAIRE are very good (almost) global scale examples of this.
With that in mind I’d like to map out what I think we can do now and locally to support OA and build the ecosystems needed to make it sustainable, at least as far as I can tell from my perspective in an academic library. I do not think all of these elements are that well understood, but I do think that they all depend very much on each other and I am trying to make these things a focus for all of my colleagues at UTS Library:
- advocating, shepherding, implementing and managing University Open Access policy. We have an OA policy at UTS, like many institutional OA mandates, it was originated and sponsored by the Library who now have the responsibility to implement it.
- improving and managing our Open Access research repository. Ours is now called OPUS. With an OA policy in place we hope to significantly increase the proportion of works in the IR which are open and we’ve set in place some work flow process improvements that link to our research publications management systems that will help us regarding the OA policy implementation by making it easier for academics to deposit copies of their publications. We’re also busy making it all more findable.
- providing and managing an Open Access press. UTS ePRESS is mostly a journal publisher, but we have started experimenting with monographs of late. We’re learning heaps by doing, improving its quality, meeting various standards (DOAJ, COPE, etc.) and promoting it widely. We are keeping an open mind on publishing and how we do it. I read an article just this week that questioned the need for journals and even articles in the age of the internet. It may not be feasible within the current academic system, but who knows in the future?
- we’re involved in related system and infrastructure projects. Libraries have a role to play in creating the infrastructure which will support changes in scholarly publishing. For UTS Library these have included our recent Symplectic implementation, a move to ORCID identity management for our researchers, and a pilot project for the payment of certain article processing charges (APC).
- education. We help to educate researchers in things like rights management (e.g. how to use the SPARC author’s addendum), data management, where to publish, Copyright, etc. There’s no better way to understand something than to teach it. We’re also learning more about the complex OA ecosystem ourselves through involvement in things like SPARC and COAR programs and a newly launched PKP project, The Open Access Publishing Cooperative Study that is looking towards a sustainable global OA model for research and scholarship (I’m on their advisory board).
- advocacy. Here we do what we can with limited resources, by promoting the OA elements listed above, through regular events during OA week and by trying to model our belief in OA however we can.
The last point above brings brings me to my final point about librarians as researchers and advocates. As researchers ourselves, librarians, at least in Australia, continue to publish in journals behind pay-per-view walls (and I’ve been guilty of this myself in the past). Our flagship professional journals are published by commercial publishers. I’ve heard the many complex reasons for this, but I disagree with those reasons. When we choose to publish somewhere behind an expensive paywall, or after paying a massive APC for Gold OA, or after signing a publishing agreement which will allow Green OA only after lengthy embargo periods we are acting directly in opposition to our role as advocates for freedom of access to information and knowledge.
I think that I have learned over time that one size is not going to fit all for OA, but we still need to work towards a global ecosystem that is inclusive of those who need our help. I don’t have all the answers and I’m sure we could improve and continue to learn more. What are you doing in your library?
PS: I must add my thanks to my colleagues at work who make all of this happen and who also encouraged me to post this and provided advice on how to make it much better than my early draft! MMB
This week I was quite upset by reading about the case of Diego Gomez, a Colombian graduate student who is standing trial, and possibly facing years in prison, for sharing an academic paper on Scribd, with his graduate school peers, some years ago. You can read more about his case and support him via EFF: Diego Gomez trial – EFF support.
This really got me quite angry thinking about how low on the totem pole the sharing of knowledge actually is in academia. The reality is that, because of the system we have, it falls well below the pursuit of individual careers and institutional reputations in a pretty bizarre, competitive and largely unfair game of rankings, ratings and impact factors that all works to reinforce an unsustainable market for academic publishing. (Remember here, that these are just my personal views, not those of my institution and also that I am actually part of that system, so I’m at least partially at fault.)
Governments and funding institutions need some metrics for research performance and output but the current measures for impact seem quite inadequate from a number of perspectives. Currently, they do not, and maybe they cannot, measure effectively and fairly “societal benefit”. As a vendor said to me earlier this week, sometimes the benefit from published research comes to fruition years down the track, so how can we account for that? The economic benefit of research to industry and the commercial sector can take ages to be realised and the links back to the original research may not be clear or comprehensive, so how much of this kind of impact should be directly attributable? The real impact of research is even harder to measure with less tangible outcomes like policy improvements or advances in areas such as public health.
Academics too need some agreed measures for career progression, but many are now openly questioning the value of the current publish or perish driver. It is especially debatable when it encourages and leads to situations in which the published research is locked away from those who might desperately need it by licenses that are unaffordable to all but elite and wealthy Western institutions that can afford the ridiculous fees charged by academic publishers; publishers who rely on academia for their content and then sell it back to them at prices that, as someone once noted, make Rupert Murdoch look like a socialist. Of course, this is news to nobody, but it does make Diego Gomez’ plight seem grossly unfair and unjust. It is an opportunity for us all, researchers, librarians, policy makers, to consider the limitations and inequities of the current system, and how we as individuals and institutions will address them.
As I was busy writing this post I noted with some interest that in an effort to make all publications by Dutch scientists available through Open Access by 2024, Dutch universities plan to boycott one of the big four academic publishers, Elsevier (from 2 July 2015). Apparently they were not able to even come close to an agreement with Elsevier.
Elisa Lee and Adam Hinshaw partnered as the UTS Library Artist-in-Residence for 2014. Works from this Residency are now prominently displayed in the UTS Blake Library in Haymarket, Sydney.
Their brief was to provide an artistic interpretation of the UTS Library Retrieval System (LRS). Their resulting major work 11-808 is a live data visualisation that interprets the use of the LRS in real time. The purpose of the entirely underground system needed to be communicated to a wide audience, illustrating how the system was being used and demonstrating its value to the UTS community. The brief was extremely challenging, with a tight budget and deadline, but Elisa and Adam’s work has exceeded expectations.
The result is an elegant and poetic display of data that shows how this system is being used and, via the catalogue of library metadata, the dynamic movement of collections around the Library ecosystem. Through their artists’ perspective, beauty and the interaction of colour, Elisa and Adam have conveyed meaning and understanding to an extent that I think Joseph Albers* would have approved.
They also provided a playful sound installation, Conversations, that explores the random nature of the ways books are stored within the 11,808 steel bins of the LRS, arranged only by spine height. Here they have provided audible “conversations” between the books in selected bins.
Their work is artistically beautiful, superbly designed and technically very clever. Both works are eloquent in conveying meaning as well as exploring and highlighting the nature of this system. In doing so they have provided attractive and engaging works that appeal to the curiosity of Library users and that speak to them in very contemporary language.