librarians of the future – part I

In collecting my thoughts for “the library of the future” (The JISC + The Bodleian) in Oxford on April 2 I’m thinking of those people or organizations that I look to for a combination of resources, philosophy, advocacy that support my scholarship (my current working definition of the “library of the future”). I’ve come up with about 15 entries, mostly people, with one/two organizations (and I may add 2 or 3 more as I thnk of them). They are in roughly alphabetical order and almost all have entries in Wikipedia (“…” indicates quotes). In some cases a person represents a larger organization in which many people deserve high credit – so it’s a bit arbitrary. However these really influence the way I work, and I don’t think I’m unique in looking to them. Most would own to supporting Openness in one way or another (Open Access, Open Data, Open Source, Open Knowledge).

  • Anurag Acharya. Google Scholar. What is important here is not just that Google has revolutionized our thinking about information, but that they have implicitly and explicitly broken the for-profit information culture. Google Scholar came out of the “20%” sparetime activity allowed at Google and it shows what can be done with modest resources. It highlights the bloatedness of formal fee-charging metric services.
  • Tim Berners-Lee. Remember that TBL developed his ideas while supporting the information need of scientists at CERN. No more comment needed.
  • Steve Coast Openstreemap. “OpenStreetMap (OSM) was founded in July 2004 by Steve Coast. In April 2006, a foundation was established with the aim of encouraging the growth, development and distribution of free geospatial data and providing geospatial data for anybody to use and share.This project is remarkable in that it has revolution in its bones – “The initial map data was all built from scratch by volunteers performing systematic ground surveys using a handheld GPS unit and a notebook or a voice recorder, data which was then entered into the OpenStreetMap database from a computer.” In the UK map most map data (and metadata) is strictly controlled by the Ordnance Survey – a government agency which is required to recover costs and which has an effective straglehold on the re-use of maps. OSM has challnged this monopoly, spread to other countries, and just announced its 100,000th participant. It’s an epitome of the many sites which have sprung up to free information.
  • Greg Crane. The Perseus project “is a digital library project of Tufts University that assembles digital collections of humanities resources. It is hosted by the Department of Classics“… “The editor-in-chief of the project is Gregory Crane, the Tufts Winnick Family Chair in Technology and Entrepreneurship. He has been editor-in-chief since the founding of the Perseus Project [1987].”. This project is remarkable for the early vision and the way that it has liberated classical scholarship from the restrictive practices arising from lack of access to critical scholarly objects (editions, etc.). Greg is a frequent collaborator in designing future cyberacademia.
  • Paul Ginsparg “The arXiv is an archive for electronic preprints of scientific papers in the fields of mathematics, physics, computer science, quantitative biology and statistics which can be accessed via the Internet. In many fields of mathematics and physics, almost all scientific papers are placed on the arXiv. As of 3 October 2008 (2008 -10-03)[update], passed the half-million article milestone, with roughly five thousand new e-prints added every month”. Another example of a pioneer who has worked outside the system to create something that is universally regarded as essential and outstanding.

So these are some of the librarians of the future. They build vital, communal, information resources. They invite collaboration, either directly or implicitly. They overthrow conventional wisdom and entrenched systems and interests.

More will follow tomorrow. These probably weren’t what you were expecting, but although you may disagree with individual choices and assessments, you will agree that all have a major impact on our scholarship.

The challenge is how formal academia should rise to meet this creative energy. Will it do this through Libraries? That is for Librarians to think about.

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