“… to engage or not engage…” the choice for libraries.

A couple of weeks ago I attended the RLUK conference, their first conference and one that everyone there seemed to enjoy. Unfortunately I only made it for the last day for a slot where a panel of funders, policy bodies and service providers, including JISC, said a few words about priorities and partnership with others.

I did get to hear Lynne Brindley speak. She covered a lot of ground and most of what she said chimed with JISC priorities; albeit coming from a different set of organisational boundaries. Anyway I thought I’d just jot down what Lynne said as I think the issues she raised are well worth recounting here. I might’ve misinterpreted some things, especially since it was a while ago now but on the whole I think I’ve captured the main points.

In general she was referring to the fact that in the complex digital environment offering services that remain relevant and take advantage of what Lynne called “mass creativity” can be difficult. But she said the choice for libraries is “ to engage or not engage”. Unsurprisingly the message was to engage.

A summary of issues she raised:

• Developing digital information services does incur a cost. A lot of innovative projects have been developed but we have not yet fully tackled sustainability.

• Libraries should support innovative scholarship. We’re now in a complex world where the web is a platform of “mass creativity” but offers real opportunities for innovative scholarship. She referred to some examples where digitisation and making digital resources available have led to new knowledge.

• Libraries need to move well beyond the critical role they play in licensing and recognise that things like document supply are not as relevant as they once were.

• “life beyond the document” how should libraries respond to this?

• The research data question and the skills gap – we have data librarians but not enough of them; traditionally libraries are more orientated towards humanities.

• Masses of information of different types – blogs, email etc are all important to scholarship they are the ephemeral information of today; what are we doing about versions of works or notes and annotations? Think of authorship and how notes are kept of authors that enhance research.

• Many people use information in different ways, skim reading etc, therefore should delivery be different, does it matter that people use information differently? Information literacy does that matter? Should libraries be helping to equip people with the skills to make the right judgments?

• The researchers of the future (and quite a few researching now) come from the born digital age and will use information differently, so what is information literacy?

• Web archiving: the web is a huge resource that must be accessible into the future for research; the legal issues are a problem but hopefully legal deposit will make a difference.

• The value of the library can sometimes be summarised as: authenticity, authority and long-term use – what about authority v amateur?

• Digital preservation is very important – this has been seen as important at policy and government levels but now it is getting into the public conscience – this is when libraries start to have real success with these issues. Just tell someone that all those photos will not be accessible and they can relate to it.

• She ended on intellectual property (IP) and referred to the EU Green Paper on Copyright and how IP deserved attention and organisations, such as academic libraries, needed to take action so any risk of locking information down further was mitigated. She emphasised that without reasonable copyright exceptions there is a risk to democratic society.

A lot of these issues are being addressed by libraries and organisations like the British Library and JISC, for example we’re responding to the EU Green Paper on Copyright in the Knowledge Economy. But despite that all of the issues require further debate and change.

JISC is about to launch a collaborative initiative with SCONUL, RLUK, The British Library and RIN that builds on our Libraries of the Future campaign and that will seek to further understand and shape the position of libraries into the future. Watch this space…it should be announced shortly.