library of the future – warming down

I’m winding down on the library of the future theme – I am impatient to tell you about Chem4Word, whether and how we can rescue Cheminformatics from its current position as a pseudoscience, how to do language processing and textmining properly, and so on. But I owe my hosts at “The JISC” and Bodley thanks and the wider blogosphere some wind-down.

It’s been valuable to me and to some others I have spoken to. The event itself was great and brilliantly staged and Dicky, Helen and many others deserve great credit. (I will pass over the late night session with Dicky and Rachel, other than to say that after retiring at 0200 getting the 0651 back to London was a major effort of will.)

I loved the Twitter feed and SecondLife. The feed was instantaneous and had comments all round the world – search for #LOTF09 and PMR ( and you get lots of tweets – most of these while I was speaking and answering questions. It’s a new experience and I think it’s great (perhaps it was a good thing I couldn’t see the feeds during my talk – one was “Classic PMR”) . Here’s a few from the first pageL

kevingashley: “The archivist of the future will not come from the archives of the past; they will be a revolutionary” #digccurr (~from PMR #lotf09)
about 15 hours ago from web · Reply · View Tweet
adrianstevenson: PMR “Google, Amazon etc will nick the business of education if we’re not careful” #lotf09
briankelly: @adrianstevenson You’re right. I came across ‘Critical Friend’ concept from JISC, but used it wrt PMR‘s #lotf09 blog posts.
tomroper: #LOTF09 Q: role of university presses in battle for scientific information? A PMR: publishing and learned organisations poor bedfellows

The SL was an experiment and it worked, within limits. The display was on except during talks, which I think was a pity and which should – in retrospect – be tried. I could see Jennifer/broniba/Akua_Inkpen but I couldn’t talk to her. Also any messages from SL were relayed through a human. But the streaming video in SL looked great from where I sat – the avatars were watching a live screen and we were watching live avatars. (I have an avatar but I haven’t worked out how to dress it – I need a lesson).

I need to clear up a misunderstanding which arose from my blogging – the library blogosphere felt I was attacking them. I was deliberately not, but I was giving them very . So I will briefly reply to a comment on John Dupuis’ blog

John Dupuis said…

I found it refreshing that although [PMR] started with the assumption that we’re all useless and dead, he did seem willing to at least listen and learn. Hopefully, we can listen and learn from him as well and see where we can improve.

At the end of the day, there’s a lot of mutual misunderstanding between scientists and librarians. It’s hard to know which is more of an issue: them not understanding us or us not understanding them.

PMR: If you read my earliest posts on this you will see that I did NOT assume librarians were “useless and dead” and I have never said that. I blogged #LOTF09 on the assumption I would get input from the library community. I know it was being read but even after nine days I got effectively no feedback. In bioscience, chemistry, information science, semantic web, open access, replies come within hours. I went into the FriendFeed and Twittersphere and picked up things like (paraphrased)  “we’ve written this report, why doesn’t PMR read it”, “why does PMR think that he can blog in our territory and expect a response”, “it’s PMR’s responsibility to approach us properly”, “he should apologize for criticizing us”.

So, getting no feedback, I turned up the outrage knob a bit and said

“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.”

By community I meant the academic community as a whole, and I stand by what I said. I have tried to act as a messenger between  scientists and librarians. I have, I believe, been factually accurate. When JohnD says:

“It’s hard to know which is more of an issue: them not understanding us (ULibrarians)  or us not understanding them (scientists).”

I feel I am acting as a Cassandra or Jeremiah by saying that the issue is deadly clear. I am sorry to say the following, but it’s true.

Most scientists don’t care about (science) librarians. I talked last week with a very senior bioscientist – dean of science – editor of prestigious journal (which does its own data reposition, without help from libraries). I will not repeat what he said in detail becuase it will hurt too much, but a simple version is that libraries are a costly irrelevance and should be got rid of. I have no doubt that’s  a very widespread view in science.

There is no compulsion for the scientist to come to or understand the library. Scientists are already finding ways (Pubmed, EBI, Wikipedia, Nature Precedings, Wellcome Trust, etc.) to manage information without libraries. Scientific research manages hundreds of billions of dollars annually. ULibraries are topsliced, at least in part, from that.Topslicing is always an unpopular tax.

So I am trying to help libraries, rather than attacking them when I say that  it is up to them to approach scientists – and very rapidly – because that is where the money and the power is.

That’s the simple truth. It may be too late to do anything – I don’t know.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to library of the future – warming down

  1. bill says:

    Scientists are already finding ways (Pubmed…
    You know, of course, that PubMed is brought to us by the US National Library of Medicine…

  2. Peter your points are well-taken and the JISC live web stream + Twitter was a good way to be able to participate remotely in this event. I agree the Twitter backchannel can be both enlightening but (as a presenter) challenging. I do have to take issue with one of your examples though: PubMed is out of the US National Library of Medicine, as is PubMed Central. As far as international versions of PMC, in the UK it is funders and British Library together doing UKPMC, and in Canada it’s our health granting council and my organisation, NRC-CISTI, doing PMC Canada. Similarly ArXiV is attached to Cornell University Library. So while I agree that search + digital access directly to the literature has put libraries very much in the background for many scientists, I think libraries are still playing important roles in some areas. As a scientist, and not a librarian, I can certainly agree with you that libraries often do a very poor job these days of communicating their value to scientists, and of working with scientists to build shared value together. There are communication gaps with the information technology professionals as well. As I said in one of the discussion threads on FriendFeed: scientists and IT aren’t going away any time soon (and publishers probably aren’t in the near term either) but if libraries aren’t careful, research libraries as a centralized, well-funded function ARE going away. (This applies primarily to libraries who provide licensed access as their main function, not to public libraries or even to some extent to campus libraries that provide a common neutral physical space for students and faculty.)

  3. pm286 says:

    @bill @richard yes, of course.
    I differentiate between University libraries (ULibraries) and national/international/domain libraries for which there is an important future as long as they are divorced from the money of publishing

  4. Just in response to the Oxford event and to some of PMR’s opinions of the library. I feel that we should be much more subtle in our understanding of libraries and the library profession. One of the difficulties posed by PMR’s position is that it is critically a personal view. As a University Librarian, managing a staff of hundreds in the UK, China and Malaysia and printed collections of over 5 million it is important to note that ‘the library’ in PMR’s world is only one manifestation of our work. We are also delivering leading-edge physical environments to 36,000 students 24/7 from 150 countries with all the detailed cultural understanding required to do that. We are responsible for the information envrionment used by hundreds of our science faculty. Whether they see that as ‘the library’ or not is irrelevant. We are managing elearning, both virtually in SL and other environments and physically in new teaching environments – both the 300-400 teaching spaces at Nottingham and in managing new content from video capture. We deliver the Universities’ website, intranet, authentication, purchased content (£3million of journals), wikis, blogs, SL campus, and VLE. We send 650,000 ebooks to desktops and deliver new integrated access to catalogues internationally. Finally, I found it wonderful (!) to hear a scientist lecture us on open access. As Co-Director of SHERPA at Nottingham I am aware of the ten years of work that it has taken to hear an academic tell us of the importance of retaining copyright in the face of the publishing industry 🙂 So, have we lost our energy and passion for libraries, education and technology? – no, absolutely not. The debate on the library of the future needs to observe those of us who get up every morning and create that future.

Leave a Reply

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