Category Archives: education

The Library of the Future?

During the closing keynote speech at LITA National Forum this year, Sara Houghton encouraged us to engage in a little thought exercise. She wanted us to imagine the ideal library of the future, without the limitations of what we believe is possible or what we’re currently doing. We should, she suggested, set aside some time to think about what we would like a library to be 20 or 30 or 40 years from now.

There are many different kinds of libraries, and what they’re going to be in the future will be vastly different from each other. My experience has been in academic libraries almost exclusively since I entered college at 18 years old. I’ve worked in academic libraries since 2007, and yeah, I have a lot of ideas about what the ideal academic library of the future should be. I work in technical service (metadata and systems), so I do tend to think about how the background systems will enable public facing services. But here, I don’t want to be limited by what I think the technology can do, so I’m focusing more on what we collectively will do, in the big picture.

To begin, I do believe that the library of the future will still inhabit a physical space. Our libraries will be beautiful, welcoming, well-lit spaces where students will come to work independently and in collaboration with other students. Library spaces will be flexible, to accommodate groups working together and students quietly reading and studying. Our library spaces will still hold physical collections, and patrons will still come into the library to access those collections, though they won’t be as large, or used in exactly the same ways. Our physical collections will likely be historical collections, special collections, and archives. Print collections may or may not circulate, and librarians will be on hand to help students new to primary source and historical collections access and interpret the materials they are working with (for example, historical government documents and maps, which won’t be searchable and manipulable in the same ways students are used to working). Physical collections will more likely than not be unique to a library, and will likely also have been digitized (or be in the process of being digitized).

Reference and Research Librarians will be an important part of the library services, though traditional reference desks may not. Students and researchers will have a relationship with their department’s librarian from the moment they enter the institution, and their librarian will be available in a variety of ways (email, text, chat, or whatever new communication mechanisms pop up) to assist with research, data organization and management, and as a liaison to other key services like writing centers and tutors. Librarians will frequently meet with students and researchers in their offices and in other locations on campus (computer labs, cafes, faculty offices). Librarians will teach information literacy embedded in the curriculum, from introductory composition classes to senior year thesis seminars. Rather than offering one-shot classes and hoping for the best, the information literacy curriculum will be built into the overall learning curriculum, and will expand over the course of a student’s time at the university, teaching the skills needed in a layered and integrated way. Librarians will also offer faculty workshops on data management and data and information literacy. Where possible, librarians will work collaboratively with faculty to enable faculty to teach information literacy to students, in a train the trainer model.

Most current resources will be accessed digitally, including monographs, fiction titles, journals, data sets, current government documents, and reference resources. All members of the university community will read on the digital device of their choice, and digital titles will be available in many formats to accommodate the technology used by the community.

Nearly all academic resources, like University Press monographs, journals, data sets, government documents, and reference sources, will be open access. The digital files themselves will rarely be hosted in the library itself or “owned” by the library, unless the library itself has digitized or published the resource. Users will be able to freely download these resources, read them on their device of choice, and annotate them however they wish. The library will serve as a curator of open access resources. Librarians who are familiar with the school’s fields of study and the resources required for teaching and research will build the library “collections” by curating links to resources hosted elsewhere, and providing access to resources hosted locally.

For titles that are not open access (contemporary fiction and non-academic titles), libraries will purchase (not lease) access to digital files, as well as a copy to be archived locally for preservation. Costs will largely be based on size of institution and download statistics, but cost models will be transparent and consistent. This will not be the bulk of future academic library collection development.

Funds that have previously been spent licensing access to academic journals will be spent instead on funding open access publication. Researchers at a library’s institution will apply for library grants to pay their own open access fees for publication. Libraries will also act as publishers, either in conjunction with a University press or on their own, if their institution doesn’t have an existing press. Libraries will host open access journals that are managed and edited by faculty, and will have publishing departments that acquire, edit, and provide access to journal and monograph titles in an open access model.

Libraries will also be the homes of subject repositories where feasible. Rather than merely collecting research, libraries will become the publishers of research in a global network of open access research publications and repositories. Libraries will also house institutional repositories, although these will focus almost entirely on preserving the administrative records of the institution, rather than the research outputs.

In addition to the Research Services and Publishing departments, libraries will have a Collection and Curation department. These librarians will be responsible for maintaining the physical collections, but also for curating links to appropriate resources. They will be responsible for ensuring access to external servers and managing relationships with other libraries and publishers. Additionally, they’ll be responsible for creating the metadata for locally hosted and published resources, digitizing local resources, and ensuring that access to local servers and digital collections is stable.

The ILS of the future will be almost unrecognizable from its current incarnations. They will integrate resources and metadata from the web, serve local metadata and resources back to the web, and act as workflow managers and statistics gathering tools.

Cataloging will be a very different activity, and will again consist of curating and collecting metadata from around the web to provide access, as well as creating local metadata for digital and print resources, and making it available on the web. Discovery will happen through locally-aware search engines. Users will set a library preference in their browsers or with their preferred search site that will prioritize the resources that have been curated by your library. But most library resources will largely be available freely, so discovery doesn’t necessarily have to happen through the library, and users can decide to prioritize a library entirely separate from their campus.

In the future, academic libraries won’t be stand-alone institutions, providing collections solely to their own patrons. The Library, instead, will be a global network of information, publications, and research, each library contributing to the whole by publishing, digitizing, and creating metadata. Our roles won’t be as gatekeepers, but as creators of scholarly resources and facilitators of scholarly communication. Our local services will consist of assistance to researchers, helping them gather the information they need to do research, and then helping them find the right place to publish it. Libraries, not for-profit publishers and journal aggregators, will power the scholarly communication engine. Our role will be not only to provide access, but to ensure preservation of the scholarly record, in all formats.

Of course there are details that I haven’t covered here. This is, after all, just a thought exercise. But if I were to use this vision as a source for strategic planning, I’d probably think seriously about how the library could become involved in scholarly communication and publishing at my institution. I’d put a lot of energy into re-modeling Research services. And I’d be actively engaged with the library community in building new models for metadata discovery and cataloging that are not based on local systems and local records. I’d apply for digitization grants to start digitizing local special collections. And I’d be actively engaged in global work to change the tenure model and reform copyright.

What is your ideal future library? Are there things in this vision of mine that make you cringe? That you absolutely can’t imagine happening? What do you think we should do now to create the library vision of your dreams?

LITA National Forum

Last week I attended the LITA National Forum in Columbus, Ohio. This was by far one of the best conferences I’ve attended. It reminded me of the regional library conferences in the Northwest area that I loved so much: small scale, and very practical. I love the smaller setting of events like this, because you start to recognize the same faces in events and it is much more comfortable to start talking to stranger. I met some people who I think are going to be long-term libraryland colleagues and friends, and that is awesome.

Columbus might seem an unexpected place for a conference, but it’s a lovely little city. The hotel where the LITA event was is connected to the convention center, and is in close walking distance to a good number of restaurants. Columbus is a very pleasant place. People are friendly, and the restaurants are clearly used to dealing with convention goers: No one batted an eye when complicated split checks were requested. We had a minor reservation snafu at one restaurant, but it was easier to forgive when we realized how majorly slammed they were that night.

The keynote talks given by Eric Hellman, Ben Schneiderman, and Sarah Houghton were all thought-provoking and good, in unique ways. Eric Hellman talked about how the book model is changing, and the publishing models must change and adapt in kind. I like his ideas about a public sector for books, and looking at crowd sourcing for  getting content out to people. I think there are a lot of different ways to explore this, and am personally interested in a crowd sourced model for publishing new content. I believe this is already happening in some areas. I recently contributed to a Kickstarter project to release a fourth edition of the seminal feminist studies text “Borderlands/La Frontera” by Gloria Anzaldua. I think we’re going to start seeing these kinds of things coming up more often. We don’t need editors to be gatekeepers anymore! (Although, we really still need people who can shape, develop, and improve manuscripts before they are released to the public.)

Ben Schneiderman talked about data visualization. He showed us all kinds of visualizations of different types of data, and talked a lot about collaborative data gathering, and looking at information in different ways to draw new conclusions. It made me think about how we might look at some of the bibliographic and holdings metadata we’re working with in new ways, and to wonder how visualizations of that data might help us answer some tricky questions.

Sarah Houghton talked about the future of libraries, and how we can continue to adapt and provide the best services possible. She is an inspiring speaker (and writer), and I like how fired up she is. If there was one thing I came away with, it’s an idea to spend some time brainstorming and visualizing what I think the ideal future library would be. I love thought exercises. I do, however, think that she has some ideas about the services patrons need and want that are very firmly based in the community in which she’s working (the Bay Area) that wouldn’t necessarily serve patrons in every community the same way. I felt that she generalized a lot based on her own community needs, but still had some worthwhile ideas and points to make about library ethics in general. As she usually does.

I saw some great practical presentations on harvesting metadata for institutional repositories, participating in collaborative distributed research projects, building interfaces that can help researchers and students do their work more effectively, and transforming metadata to work in a variety of different systems (which I feel is my bread and butter these days). The best part of all of these presentations was hearing about people problem solving, implementing new tools, being unafraid to try new things, and pushing boundaries to provide better service, whatever that means in their own environments. I came away with a few new tools to research, some ideas for thought exercises, and best of all, a renewed sense of enthusiasm for librarianship, and for the kinds of things we can do if we are determined enough.

I’m eager to mess around with Drupal 7 and the new modules that support linked data. I learned some things that will expand and improve the book I’m working on right now. And I’ve met some people that I hope to collaborate with on some big library metadata problems and areas of interest. All great things, and I’m so glad I went! I’m especially grateful to CDL for making it possible for me to attend such a great conference.

Supporting Librarians

In a re-cap of a Libraries Rebound event put on by OCLC Research Library Partnership, Jim Michalko briefly mentions that the phrase “embedded librarian” might not be a very good one. He argues that the phrase “enshrines ‘other-ness,'” reinforcing that the librarian is somehow separate. He suggest the phrase liaison librarian instead, but I’m not sure that phrase is any better. I think there is still a separateness implied: the librarian isn’t a key partner, but instead is a middle-man between a researcher and information.

I starting thinking about the role that we want to take on with faculty and with students, and I started to really like the title of Supporting Librarian. Our role is to provide support, both to students who are just beginning to learn about the research process, and to faculty who rely on our collections and our expertise. A Supporting Librarian might work to support a department, a particular course, a particular research project…there are all kinds of ways something like this could be organized. But I think this phrase really highlights the kind of partnerships we are trying to build on our campuses.

What do you think? Do you like being considered an Embedded Librarian or a Liaison? Is there another title that would work to convey the relationships we’re building?

My long and winding road to the library

I’m guest blogging over at The Desk Set this month, and I’m pretty excited to have the chance to write about my work. My first post is up this morning, in which I recount the long and winding professional path that brought me eventually to the library. Throughout the rest of September, I’ll be talking about my work at the California Digital library, the awesomeness that is Harvard’s Schlesinger Library, and my advice for newly matriculated library school students. Go check it out, and if you’ve got some time, read some of their archives. They’ve had some very interesting guest bloggers in the past who really demonstrate the variety of work that we librarians do.

Institutional Repositories and Gardening

I love it when my varied interests collide, as they just did when I found these great For the Gardener papers in the University of California’s institutional repository, eScholarship.

These papers were created by the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at UC Santa Cruz, my alma mater. They produce a ton of great research around sustainability, agriculture, and eating, a topic that has been of near all-consuming interest to me lately. And this research is available for free through the UC’s institutional repository.

eScholarship is one of the most developed IRs I’ve seen yet, and I often look to it as a model when I’m thinking about IR development. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you should. Not only is it a great example of something that I believe is going to be a major part of the future of libraries, but you’re almost guaranteed to find something of interest to read, no matter what you’re interests are.

Innovative Education

When funding for education is being cut mercilessly and learning seems to be more about testing than anything else, it’s great to read about a school that’s doing something unique, and achieving real results. High Tech High is a charter school system in San Diego, and a recent article in Voice of San Diego highlights just a few of their innovative practices.

Charter schools offer a lot of potential for reforming education locally, though the history of Charter schools in America isn’t without its share of corruption and failure. Reading about schools that are trying to make real improvements, to be inventive in engaging students, and who base their goals for learning on real knowledge acquisition rather than compulsory adherence to “standards” are so inspiring. It almost makes me want to teach high school.

Find out more about High Tech High.

(Disclaimer: My cousin is a student at High Tech High. I’m not sure I need a disclaimer for that, but I thought I’d point it out anyway.)

ASIST08: Evaluating E-Reference: Transforming Digital Reference through Research and Evaluation

There are a lot of sessions at ASIS&T (and probably most conferences) with fairly impregnable titles. I’ve found myself sitting in sessions which were about something very different than I thought. But this session title is pretty straightforward: It was all about evaluating virtual reference services.

Marie Radford (Rutgers University) and Lynn Connaway (OCLC) spoke about a long-term research project currently underway in which they’re evaluating users, non-users, and librarians about their positive and negative e-reference (and non-e-reference, in the case of non-users) experiences. Some key points:

  • Librarians considered relational and attitudinal aspects of the reference transaction as much more important than users did; for users, answers (content) were key.
  • Librarians want to teach and users don’t always want to be taught. It seems, though, that users are more open to instruction face-to-face than virtually.
  • A great suggestion to work through the “don’t teach me” barrier: Provide the requested information, and then ask, “Would you like to know how I found it?” I think this is a GREAT idea, because it sounds almost like you’re offering a secret or something.
  • Oh, earlier, when I noted that relational aspects of the transaction matter less to patrons: That’s not entirely true. They just THINK they matter less, but customer services is still important. It’s just that good customer service can be invisible to users, because they’re able to focus on the answer part.
  • People are willing to wait longer for a subject-specialist.

And of course, all I could think of was my Reference course, in which we pretty much entirely focused on customer service and the theoretical implications of the reference transaction, but in which I didn’t really learn to do what users actually want: provide information. Sigh.

Jeffrey Pomerantz (UNC Chapel Hill—These UNC folks are everywhere!) talked about librarians participating in online answer boards like Yahoo! Answers. He was specifically talking about this Slam the Boards project, which involves, on the 10th of every month, librarians going onto these sites and answering questions. I’m not entirely sure why we’re only supposed to do this one day each month, but it’s an interesting idea. Jeffrey tried to evaluate whether librarians’ answers were better, or more specifically, whether they were rated more highly by question askers.

His conclusion was essentially that it’s really hard to evaluate librarian participation in online answer boards. There are approximately 100,000 questions posted to Yahoo! Answers everyday, their API for culling data doesn’t allow you to pull information for more than 5,000 questions, and as a researcher, one has to rely on users self-identifying as librarians. But his research raised some great questions and thoughts:

  • Are these boards places where libraries should be? Most of the questions are kind of silly, and it doesn’t really seem librarians are making a huge impact
  • In the midst of all these silly questions, there are some serious questions: How do we get the askers of these serious questions to remember their local library (or its online services) as a resource?

Lorri Mon of Florida State University and the Internet Public Library talked about blogging as a reference service, and about users’ needs and use in her area. She mentioned an article I’m going to try to read on the plane tonight: Pomerantz and Stutzman’s “Collaborative reference work in the blogosphere” (2006), and she primarily talked about how students in an online course used blogs and their comment sections to post questions, answer each other, and provide a sense of community.

She pointed out that most libraries are still not using social networking sites, and that of those they are, most of them are using MySpace (ugh). Her research shows that blogs are the most widely used technology tool in libraries, followed by wikis (which are mostly used as behind-the-scenes staff tools, as they are in my library). She talked a bit about the blurring of boundaries between different types of tools (chat embedded in blogs and facebook, chat reference in Second Life). Finally, she raised an interesting question: How is eReference being taught in library schools? Well, I can answer that from my own experience: barely. Sure, I read an article or two on it. But as she noted, there was no hands on experience, or even role playing, and that probably would have been easy to set up and helpful. But I think I already mentioned that I didn’t learn a ton in my reference course.

To close up the session, Joseph Janes responded to all three presenters and brought up some really excellent points. He largely talked about the differences between Yahoo and Google: Yahoo is about community, and Google is about answers. And in that way, Google Reference services makes more sense than Yahoo reference services. He argued that we need some hook into the mass of people with information needs, whether that’s a local hook, a subject-oriented hook, a site-based hook, or something else entirely (though I lean toward a subject-oriented hook and already have started thinking about how that might work. And I think it’s all about search engine optimization.).

Lorri Mon made the comment that “people are looking for their personal librarian,” and I jumped on this one. I’ve talked before about embedded librarianship in the academic community, and I think we need to set each student up from day one of their college careers with a personal librarian. What if we assigned a librarian to students the way we assign them advisors? Subject-specialist librarians could be personal librarians for people in specific departments (for example, when you declare your major, you’re assigned a reference librarian affiliated with that department). I think just the personalization of that, the introduction to a librarian, would make it less intimidating, and would make people think about going to the library for their information needs more readily than they otherwise might.

This was one of the most inspiring sessions I attended, in that I came out of it with ideas, papers to read, things I wanted to experiment with and research. So, thanks to all these great presenters! As though they will ever see my lonely little bloggity blog. 🙂