library of the future - what do I say?

It's now 9 days since I started thinking about what I was going to say at the JISC LOTF09 meeting at Oxford next week. I've sent out 15 posts ion this blog. I've used the LOTF09 tag. I use twitter and FriendFeed where two ULibrarians (scilib and D0r0th34) have given me lots of useful comments. But I expected those two...

Otherwise essentially nothing.

OK, I only regenerated this blog 2 weeks ago and so not everyone may have picked it up, but enough of the old regulars have. And bloglinks don't shut down , they just don'r report anything. I got immediate comment on my Microsoft activities, for example.

But it's not just me - there is nothing on the web for LOTF09 except the announcement and my blog. This is a meeting at a prestigious university, a fun place to be in the spring, with a wide-ranging panel talking about the "Future of the Library". Why no discussion elsewhere? When I go to ICT/Informatics meetings there is often huge amounts of discussion before the event. People trying ideas out, making contacts, etc.

I don't blame the organizers (and I'm grateful to Dicky for sending the Ithaka report).  I'm left with the overwhelming impression that the community is now past caring about the future of the library. That's essentially what Ithaka said 2-3 years ago - that ULibraries had to be visible and rebrand themselves.  They're not and they aren't.

I thought I was going to have a useful debate where ULibrarians criticized and critiqued what I had written. Nothing. If ULibraries wish to survive (at least more than  book museums - which is important) they have to shout about it.

Without strong cogent input from ULibrarians on an innovative future, they have little. And that's some of what I shall say in Oxford.

If, indeed, anyone turns up.

8 thoughts on “library of the future - what do I say?

  1. Pingback: Science Library Pad

  2. Mita

    Hello Peter,

    I think there are a number of reasons why librarian response has been muted. Like the others, I think its because of the question you asked: "Who are the librarians of the future?" At the risk of over-generalizing, librarians tend to think of the progressions of their field as occurring through organizations as opposed to through individuals. There's no 'i' in library, so to speak.

    That being said, I know a number of "librarians for the future". One of them is Dan Chudnov, who - with others - developed the COinS convention to embed bibliographic metadata in HTML. He is also responsible for unAPI which I believe you are already familiar with. I particularly am fond of his credo: help people build their own libraries.

    Another reason perhaps why there hasn't been as much response as you had hoped is that libraries are grappling with their futures in their own constituencies. We are sadly feudal bunch in many ways. But that doesn't mean we are indifferent to our future. For my own library-territory (academic libraries in Ontario, Canada), I helped write a report on developing a better platform for research needs called Scholr 2.0

    Like William Gibson sort of said, the work towards the future library is here - its just not evenly distributed. Or, in this case, concentrated.

    Reply
  3. Jennifer

    Peter, I've been reading your posts on libraries/librarians of the future and want to thank you for shaking me out of a comfort zone which it's so easy to fall into. I understand your need to encourage debate among ULibrarians, but as an LIS student who is halfway through her program and interested in medical/science librarianship, I can't help but see your provocative statements as a call to students like me who need to be better aware of the profession we're walking into. I realize that may not have been your intended audience, but the "librarians of the future" who are being educated as we speak would do well to hear what you've been saying. I've tagged your blog for a class Twitter account and I'm hoping that others in my class are taking the time to read what you wrote and be shaken out of a comfort zone too. What I'm trying to get at is that I think having ULibrarians as your audience is limiting. Challenge the ones who are coming into the field and still starry-eyed enough to consider change that meets the needs of our clients/users/patrons.

    Reply
  4. Peter Morgan

    Hello Peter,

    While as your sometime peripatetic librarian I can share your disappointment at the resounding silence from librarians, I don't share your apparent surprise. I would interpret the silence, not as evidence that my fellow librarians don't care or have nothing useful to contribute, but more simply as an indication that most librarians' discussions of these issues - and the issues *are* discussed (maybe not enough, granted, but more than might be visible to you) - still typically take place outside the world of blogs and tweets, where only a minority of librarians are active in a medium that you use routinely. The trouble is that we tend to discuss them mainly with other librarians. Yes, it's certainly legitimate to criticise librarians for not sharing the medium to better effect; but it doesn't necessarily follow that we don't care.

    And is the world of, say, chemistry so very different? I recall an RSC informatics meeting a year or two back - you were a speaker - at which the chemistry bloggers present agreed that they belonged to a very select bunch of maybe a hundred worldwide, and were not representative of the more conservative chemistry research community as a whole.

    Similarly, for every Peter Murray-Rust championing the cause of Open Access, Open Data, etc, we both know that there are many other chemists who appear reluctant to embrace such ideas but who have wish lists of their own. There are indeed librarians who venture out to explore scientists' needs; but while some of us will have the good fortune to meet a PM-R, others will encounter less enlightened researchers. You can - and do - articulate very clearly what you want from a library, and so can your colleagues in the same lab, but you and they may have radically different agendas. This makes it hard to discern a clear consensus emerging even from the single discipline of chemistry, let alone from scientists en masse. How far is it reasonable or feasible for the peripatetic librarian to engage with each researcher and then prioritise the wish lists that emerge? Isn't it at least as reasonable for the library to expect researchers to help the process along by trying to develop a consensus on what they require?

    I see this as a real problem. It's difficult for the library to justify the allocation of scarce resources to the development of a service customised to meet the needs of an articulate individual or small group (I'm thinking here of university libraries as I can't speak for the smaller special libraries of the sort found in, for example, the pharma sector), and even more difficult to see how this could easily scale up across a whole science faculty. If the library does go for the customised approach it risks accusations that it's ignoring the needs and wishes of a much larger community; and if instead it decides to develop more generic services for that wider community, then it may end up with a product that tries to be all things to all scientists and as result fails to satisfy anyone.

    Then there's the politics of university libraries. The library has to support a broad academic community across the whole university and can't ignore its other user constituencies. Any significant and sustainable development of services to scientists will have to be resourced. If the resources have to be found from the existing budget, then other services and facilities may suffer. The library will have to judge how best to balance the needs of its different user groups, and its decisions can be influenced by lobbying from interested parties. If historians mount a vigorous defence of "their" library services and nothing is heard from scientists, it's easy to see how the latter might suffer neglect as a result.

    You've pointed out that scientists won't approach the library and that the librarian has to make the approach. We have to break out of the vicious circle in which libraries don't deliver what scientists want because they remain unclear as to what that might be, while scientists don't see any point in telling the library what they want because they see themselves as victims of a history of neglect. I fully agree that librarians need to take a more proactive approach (and I know from personal experience how rewarding and stimulating the ensuing collaborations can be), but this alone is not enough. Part of the challenge facing librarians must be to reverse that situation, i.e. to create an environment in which scientists will instinctively and routinely make the initial approach when necessary, confident that the library will be receptive, able to supply librarians who can discuss and understand the scientists' needs (simply giving us a list of more journals to which we should subscribe is *not* the answer), and willing to find resources that enable solutions to be delivered.

    So my main, admittedly long-winded point, if you've managed to stick with me this far, is that the picture isn't black & white. Much more effort is required from librarians, and your wake-up call will eventually percolate through to a wider library audience; but scientists also need to move towards us if we're to bridge the gap. You made that move years ago, but you've left many of your fellow scientists a long way behind in your wake. How can we help them to catch up?

    Can't make it to Oxford on 2 April, I'm afraid - prior engagement - but I'll download the proceedings.

    Peter

    Reply
  5. Jana Richman

    Here are some thoughts on the future of libraries from the prospective of an administrator of a science library.
    1.Librarians will need to align themselves better with organizations such as ACS, IEEE and ACM. They need to become proactive rather than reactive and participate in developing new services rather than reluctantly adopting them. Accessibility to these organizations is not easy and recognition of our ability to direct research into useful channels has been slow in coming (think open source)
    2.The library brand “the book” works against us at this point.
    3.As the University library of the future will be everywhere, so will be its staff
    4.As the growth of multidisciplinary approach to scientific discovery increases so will the need for highly trained information professionals. Their skills will be valued too!!
    5.The University library should not be viewed as a whole but rather as many pieces. We have now the ability to create collections on the fly and we can become invaluable players by working with those faculty who are on the cutting edge of discovery.

    Reply
  6. Pingback: Unilever Centre for Molecular Informatics, Cambridge - library of the future - warming down « petermr’s blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>