Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Library Futures - A Surfeit of Future Scenarios

Earlier today, I came across an ACRLog post entitled Add Cyberwar Contingencies To Your Disaster Plan that includes a couple of links to reports on possible futures/scenarios that can help in planning future library needs and services:

- Futures Thinking for Academic Librarians, an announcement post for an ACRL report on “Futures Thinking for Academic Librarians: Higher Education in 2025”
- 2010 top ten trends in academic libraries, a "review of the current literature" by the ACRL Research, Planning and Review Committee.

These in turn reminded me of a couple of scenarios I'd heard that had been developed for JISC et al's Libraries of the Future project, and a quick dig around turned them up here: Libraries of the Future - Outline Scenarios and Backcasting

The Libraries of the Future project has identified three scenarios:

- Wild West, introduced as follows:
2050 is an era of instability. Governments and international organisations devote much of their time to environmental issues, aging populations and security of food and energy, although technology alleviates some of the problems by allowing ad hoc arrangements to handle resource shortages and trade. In this environment, some international alliances prosper but many are short term and tactical. The state no longer has the resources to tackle inequality, and is, in many cases, subservient to the power of international corporations and private enterprise.

The challenges of the 21st century have created major disruptions to academic institutions and institutional life. Much that we see as the role of the state in HE today has been taken over by the market and by new organisations and social enterprises, many of them regional.

- Beehive, introduced as follows:
The need for the old European Union countries to maintain their position in the world and their standard of living in the face of extensive competition from Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) has led to the creation of the European Federation (EF) under the treaty of Madrid in 2035. The strength of the EF has meant that values in the EF have remained open in the long tradition of western democracy and culture.

In the years leading up to 2050 the world became increasingly competitive; the continuing economic progress of the BRIC countries and their commitment to developing high quality HE systems means that even high-tech jobs are now moving from the West. On a worldwide scale, and in the US, UK and Europe especially, employer expectations now dictate that virtually all skilled or professional employment requires at least some post-18 education. In the UK these drivers have resulted in a state-sponsored system that retains elements of the traditional university experience for a select few institutions while the majority of young people enter a system where courses are so tightly focused on employability they are near-vocational.

- Walled Garden, introduced as follows:
Following the global recession of the early 21st century cuts in investment levels to help reduce the national deficit meant that internationally, the UK’s influence waned and it became ever more isolated. Indeed the UK drifted from the EU, particularly after the Euro collapsed in the century’s second global recession, and the UK itself fragmented as continued devolution turned to separation and independence. Fortunately, the home nations have achieved reasonable self-sufficiency.

Technological advances, whilst allowing some of the challenges faced earlier in the century to be overcome, has also brought its
problems. The ability for people to connect with like-minded individuals around the world has led to an entrenchment of firmly held beliefs, closed values and the loss of the sense of universal knowledge. This has resulted in a highly fragmented HE system, with a variety of funders, regulators, business models and organisations that are driven by their specific values and market specialisation. However, ‘grand challenges’ of national importance goes some way to galvanising the sector.

The ACRL 20205 report identifies 26 possible scenarios (?! - I thought the idea of scenario planning was to identify a few that covered the bases between them?!), with a range of probabilities of them occurring, their likely impact, and their "speed of unfolding" (immediate change, short term (1-3 years), medium term (3-10 years), long term (10-20 years)).

High impact, high probability scenarios include:

- Increasing threat of cyberwar, cybercrime, and cyberterrorism, introduced as:
College/university and library IT systems are the targets of hackers, criminals, and rogue states, disrupting operations for days and weeks at a time. Campus IT professionals seek to protect student records/financial data while at the same time divulging personal viewing habits in compliance with new government regulations. Librarians struggle to maintain patron privacy and face increasing scrutiny and criticism as they seek to preserve online intellectual freedom in this climate.

- Meet the new freshman class, introduced as:
With laptops in their hands since the age of 18-months old, students who are privileged socially and economically are completely fluent in digital media. For many others, the digital divide, parental unemployment, and the disruption of moving about during the foreclosure crisis of their formative years, means they never became tech savvy. “Remedial” computer and information literacy classes are now de rigueur.

- Scholarship stultifies, introduced as:
The systems that reward faculty members continue to favor conventionally published research. At the same time, standard dissemination channels – especially the university press – implode. While many academic libraries actively host and support online journals, monographs, and other digital scholarly products, their stature is not great; collegial culture continues to value tradition over anything perceived as risky.

- This class brought to you by…, introduced as:
At for profit institutions, education is disaggregated and very competitive. Students no longer graduate
from one school, but pick and choose like at a progressive dinner party. Schools increasingly specialize by offering online courses that cater to particular professional groups. Certificate courses explode and are sponsored by vendors of products to particular professions.

The 2010 top trends from the literature review are given in no priotised order as:

- Academic library collection growth is driven by patron demand and will include new resource types.
- Budget challenges will continue and libraries will evolve as a result.
- Changes in higher education will require that librarians possess diverse skill sets.
- Demands for accountability and assessment will increase.
- Digitization of unique library collections will increase and require a larger share of resources.
- Explosive growth of mobile devices and applications will drive new services.
- Increased collaboration will expand the role of the library within the institution and beyond.
- Libraries will continue to lead efforts to develop scholarly communication and intellectual property services.
- Technology will continue to change services and required skills.
- The definition of the library will change as physical space is repurposed and virtual space expands.

What strikes me about all these possible scenarios is that there don't seem to be any helpful tools that let you easily identify and track indicators relating to the emergence of particular aspects of the scenarios, which I think is the last step in the process of scenario development espoused in Peter Schwartz's "The Art of the Long View"?

So for example, OCLC recently released a report called A Slice of Research Life: Information Support for Research in the United States, which reports on a series of interviews with research and research related staff on "how they use information in the course of their research, what tools and services are most critical and beneficial to them, where they continue to experience unmet needs, and how they prioritize use of their limited time." And towards the end of last year, the RIN published a report on Patterns of information use and exchange: case studies of researchers in the life sciences (a report on information use by researchers in the humanities is due out later this year(?), and one for the physical sciences next year(?)...) A report on researchers' use of "web 2.0" tools is also due out any time now...

So, are any of the trends/indicators that play a role in the 2025 scenarios (which are way too fine grained to be useful?) signaled by typical responses in the OCLC interviews or the Research Information Network report(s)?

PS As if all that's not enough, it seems there's a book out too - Imagine Your Library's Future: Scenario Planning for Information Organizations by Steve O'Connor and Peter Sidorko. (If the publishers would like to send me a copy...?! Heh heh ;-)

Friday, 25 June 2010

I've Got Google, Why Do I Need You?

An excellent presentation on how a modern student percieves the way a library works. Its a great reminder on the gap between the web native student experience and the traditional library service. It also has my favourite quote of the week: "The librarian's logic is just as alien to me as the programmers' logic" ...

By way of Angela Fitzpatricks' shiny new blog!

Saturday, 19 June 2010

a wealth of reference management

There's a lot going on in the field of reference management tools - especially here in Cambridge.

Reference management tools include all kinds of systems which help you organise references you have found, store the papers they refer to and perhaps annotate them, share the citations with others, cite papers in your own works, and so on.  There are some big players in this area - the first two which spring to mind for me are Zotero and Mendeley. Zotero is a Firefox plugin, so it sits within your browsing experience; Mendeley is a website and a downloadable tool, and makes a big effort to connect you to others and recommend other works - the "Last.fm of scholarly work". Both are popular with researchers at the University of Cambridge.

I realised this week that I now know of at least four reference management tools just originating here in Cambridge:

  • Papers. This is Mac software from Mekentosj, and has recently won an award
  • iCite. Like Zotero, this is another Firefox plugin
  • PaperPile, an open source system (GPL) from the EBI, which was first written for Linux
  • qiqqa, a somewhat unpronouncable name for a Windows application. 
It's great to see the local entrepreneurial spirit coming into play in the academic sphere!
    These are a tiny fraction of the world of reference management. It's interesting to note that the market can support so many tools. Each has special features which will appeal more to some users than others; some are particularly well suited to one discipline, with better support for their paper types and bibliographic databases. Of course, it's possible to combine two or more tools as part of your scholarly workflows, to get the best bits of each...

    Friday, 11 June 2010

    The hidden costs of peer review

    My OU colleague Martin Weller has done some calculations of the cost of the academic peer-review process.

    Peer-review is one of the great unseen tasks performed by academics. Most of us do some, for no particular reward, but out of a sense of duty towards the overall quality of research. It is probably a community norm also, as you become enculturated in the community of your discipline, there are a number of tasks you perform to achieve, and to demonstrate, this, a number of which are allied to publishing: Writing conference papers, writing journal articles, reviewing.

    So it's something we all do, isn't really recognised and is often performed on the edges of time. It's not entirely altruistic though - it is a good way of staying in touch with your subject (like a sort of reading club), it helps with networking (though we have better ways of doing this now don't we?) and we also hope people will review our own work when the time comes. But generally it is performed for the good of the community (the Peer Review Survey 2009 states that the reason 90% reviewers gave for conducting peer review was "because they believe they are playing an active role in the community")

    It's a labour that is unaccounted for. The Peer Review Survey doesn't give a cost estimate (as far as I can see), but we can do some back of the envelope calculations. It says there are 1.3 million peer-reviewed journals published every year, and the average (modal) time for review is 4 hours. Most articles are at least double-reviewed, so that gives us:

    Time spent on peer review = 1,300,000 x 2 x 4 = 10.4 million hours

    This doesn't take into account editor's time in compiling reviews or chasing them up, we'll just stick with the 'donated' time of academics for now. In terms of cost, we'd need an average salary, which is difficult globally. I'll take the average academic salary in the UK, which is probably a touch on the high side. The Times Higher gives this as £42,000 per annum, before tax, which equates to £20.19 per hour. So the cost with these figures is:

    20.19 x 10,400,000 = £209,976,000

    (Some people think the sum involved is much greater than this, btw.)

    Martin points out one important implication of this -- that academics are donating over £200 million a year of their time to the peer review process.

    "This isn't a large sum when set against things like the budget deficit", he continues,

    but it's not inconsiderable. And it's fine if one views it as generating public good - this is what researchers need to do in order to conduct proper research. But an alternative view is that academics (and ultimately taxpayers) are subsidising the academic publishing to the tune of £200 million a year. That's a lot of unpaid labour.

    Now that efficiency and return on investment are the new drivers for research, the question should be asked whether this is the best way to 'spend' this money? I'd suggest that if we are continuing with peer review (and its efficacy is a separate argument), then the least we should expect is that the outputs of this tax-payer funded activity should be freely available to all.

    And so, my small step in this was to reply to the requests for reviews stating that I have a policy of only reviewing for open access journals. I'm sure a lot of people do this as a matter of course, but it's worth logging every blow in the revolution. If we all did it....


    Wednesday, 2 June 2010

    Death and the Web

    Daithí Mac Síthigh of the Law School at UEA came to Lilian Edwards's seminar last night and has posted a really useful account on his blog.

    Tuesday, 1 June 2010

    Libraries and Games

    At the start of the year, the NB column in the Times Literary Supplement ran a "Literary Anniversaries" series "for the benefit of aspiring scribes in search of a subject to tempt a literary editor". Noting the trend for biographies covering connections between apparently unconnected subjects, two notable anniversaries were picked out each week and explored for their combo-blockbuster-biog potential.

    There is a real value to the chance juxtaposition of subjects. Collegiate systems such as Cambridge's have long been lauded for encouraging cross-fertilisation. Browsing in a library can be similarly productive - books are pulled from shelves, connections are made, inspiration strikes and great ideas are born (new books sections are particularly fruitful for the browser - the only thing the items have in common being their "newness").

    Online library catalogues (or OPACs) are often accused of ironing serendipity out of the system. You approach an OPAC search with a specific need (I want a copy of this book which appears on my reading list/is cited in an article). That need is either fulfilled or not fulfilled. Few OPAC searches are made in expectation that the item will not be held, so the best outcome is that your expectation is met. And the worst is that you are disappointed. But you are seldom surprised or delighted.

    One of the topics of conversation at Mashed Libraries Liverpool (as well as the subject of a lightning talk I have since lost my notes to!) was libraries and games. Or, loosely, how to apply techniques from the computer gaming industry in library interfaces. Musing on the subject with Tony Hirst, I was reminded of an interesting and entertaining debate - "Is Google making us Stupid?" - held at Wolfson College last September. At one point conversation slipped from search engines to video games (are they making us evil? are they making our children evil? and stupid?).

    Ian Goodyer, Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychology and a member of the panel, pointed out that the really dangerous aspect of computer games is not violent or sexual content but a phenomenon called partial reinforcement, which means doing the same thing again and again and sometimes being rewarded for it - a bit like reverse Russian Roulette. If the action/reward pattern is (or seems) random - as in a fruit machine - the strength of the reinforcement is increased.

    What can libraries learn from all this? We certainly don't want our users to become addicted to OPACs (do we?). But a little slice of serendipity and surprise might change the way people use both library catalogues and library collections.

    Amazon already provides a kind of semi-serendipity with its "Other people who bought X bought Y" section. So you get what you searched for, and then a little extra which is relevant but might be unexpected. This section intrigues us because sometimes it contains something of real interest, and sometimes it doesn't. Rather than the main search result which is only, rather boringly, what we were looking for. A couple of months ago Dave Patten of Huddersfield gave an Arcadia Seminar on doing this kind of thing with library catalogues, and it's something we're looking to pursue when we get access to CAMSiS course data.

    Another angle is to incorporate some kind of complete "randomness" into library searches - along the lines of "hit the search button and sometimes you'll get something really interesting". I'm currently working on the JISC funded CULwidgets project in collaboration with CARET. As well as working on the provision of core services, we said we wanted to do some fun things which illustrated important points about libraries. A while ago I wrote a little web service which provides random results from the UL database. You can try it here:


    (it's in completely raw XML form at the moment so you'll just see the data - but it could form the basis of something more polished with finding instructions, book covers etc.)

    Hit refresh to get a new, random result. Then hit it again. And again.

    A little serendipity in searching works particularly well with a collection as huge and diverse as the UL's. Try refreshing the service until you come across something unexpected, intriguing or downright odd - it might not take as long as you think. And it's surprisingly addictive.

    I'm not suggesting that a completely random search is likely to be used in anger by students and academics (though if you were writing a column in the TLS you could run an interesting line in "take three random results from the UL and write an essay on them").

    But it does illustrate that the way library catalogues are searched could influence the way collections are used, and how a touch of the unexpected could help to spark ideas and open up the wealth and depth of Cambridge's library collections.