Skip to main content

International Conference on Future Libraries: 21

peneldis1

Panel Discussion 1
Future of Academic and Research Libraries


Date: 26th February 2019                                                             Time: 05.30 PM - 07.00 PM                                                                                  Duration: 1hr 30 mins


Moderator
Mr. N V Sathyanarayana
Chairman & Managing Director
Informatics India Ltd. Bangalore


Panelist
Dr. Nishtha Anilkumar
Head, Library and Information Services
Physical Research Laboratory

Panelist
Dr. B M Meera
Librarian
Raman Research Institute

Panelist
Dr. Shalini R Urs
Founder Chairperson & Professor of Digital Media
and Analytics MYRA School of Business, Mysore

Panelist
Dr. Marshall Breeding
Creator & Editor
Library Technology Guides

Panelist
Mr. Naveen Bharthi
FPM Scholar
Indian Institute of Management Bangalore

Concept Note for the Panel Debate


1. The Mission of Academic & Research Libraries (ARL):

The broad mission of academic and research libraries — to support education, research and scholarship — continues to remain unchanged. However, transformations in technology, media and culture are driving fundamental changes in the production and consumption of information and the practice of learning and scholarship1.  These changes are radically re-shaping libraries in their form and function. There are both anxieties and excitements about the impact of these changes on the future of the library and the profession of librarianship which has evolved in the past few decades as the library and Information Science (LIS), a discipline specializing in curating and managing information that is largely knowledge-centric.     A fundamental question in this context is: What should be the strategies to meet the challenges of the fast-changing digital world and the demands of the born-digital generation?  This question forms the basis for the panel discussion at this conference on Future of libraries with a focus on the challenges faced by academic and research libraries.

2. Challenges:

2.1. Digital Shift:

Technological changes, both disruptive and supportive, have been unsettling traditional library management models and practices which are scholarship-centric. This paradigm is bound to continue, as the library, though a social institution, is inherently a product of technology in its primary resource base, be it the print collection of yesterday or the digital collection of today and tomorrow. Unlike with physical objects, the informational object is media-centric in its entire life-cycle from generation to its curation, usage, and management.  Digital  being the default medium of the day, the future story of the library completely revolves around this medium. The libraries of tomorrow are visibly evolving as digital edifices with physical space as an adjunct. While the libraries of the day are hybrid (print + electronic), the digital shift is irreversible. The first challenge is the preparedness of libraries and librarians to quickly adapt to this shift by constantly acquiring new skill sets required for the digital age.

2.2 Competitive Challenges:

The traditional library systems and their management have evolved into a disciplinary framework as library & Information Science (LIS) over the last century. The tents of this framework have evolved through its proximity to learning and scholarship through ages.  This disciplinary framework, which is the institutional strength of libraries in their current structure of professional management, is disturbed at its roots by the emerging digital media.  The new media is evolving its own disciplinary framework which is information-technology (IT) centric. This has resulted in new competitive service models for the traditional libraries as they are offering more convenient and economic models.  Two questions emerge in this context:

  1. Are these new models capable of emerging as new institutional models subsuming libraries which are well established institutional models with their own distinct professional framework? Or,
  2. Will the academic libraries as well-established institutions with their distinct mission, be able to transform themselves by responding to the challenges of technology by absorbing them and yet maintaining their identity?

While the current mission of ARLs is unlikely to undergo any fundamental change, their engagement model with this mission will have to change.  The traditional methods and practices of the library’s support to education, research and scholarship are passive and less pro-active.   A more active model requires the library to engage directly with users’ learning and research process.  This will be a radical re-alignment or re-positioning challenge for the libraries.

2.3  Re-Positioning:

A recent and extensive survey on mapping the future of academic libraries by SCOUNL (Society of College National and University Libraries) resonates the feeling of library professionals as overwhelmingly optimistic about the future and positive about the value of their skills2.  The report is a perception study of librarians, users, and institutional managers. This optimism is also countered by the concerns that there may be fewer jobs in the future and the skills required would change.  But, the optimism of the libraries was not always shared by the user community. With such dichotomous views, it appears that LIS professionals are either over-optimistic about the future of libraries,  or there is an understanding-gap among the user community and the institutional managers on the roles libraries can play in the future.  For the library to align its goals and functions for direct engagement with its users’ learning and research process, user community and the managers of the library’s parent institution need to strongly perceive and accept that library can play those roles.  The current perceptional-gap may prove to be a serious hindrance in this much-desired re-positioning. Bridging the gap requires the libraries to demonstrate their leadership in the potential new roles and will call for re-branding the library’s roles and functions.  The encouraging news is, re-imagining and re-positioning is happening on a noticeable scale all over.3

2.4  Re-branding the Library:

“Books” continue to be the recall brand of libraries which is firmly stuck in the minds of the public at large. A 2014 perception study report of  OCLC  says -  75% of respondents thought of the library brand as “books,” up from 69% in 2005. But libraries have a positive social image and reputation. “Overwhelmingly, libraries are loved and revered but also viewed as losing relevance”, says the report.4 

Brands are the deeply etched impressionistic attitudes consumers carry in the form of trust value to identify a product or service of their preference.  “Bands are shaped by the context in which they operate. Shifting needs shift brands—often faster than any change in the brand product itself.  This reality is impacting the relevance of libraries.” – says the report.  Libraries continue to increase their e-Content and their budget allocation for digital infrastructure.  But users’ current brand perception of libraries doesn’t position the library as an add-on option or alternative to Googles and Research Gates.    As the survey reports, The majority of online learners (55%) are not using the library. The most frequently cited reason for not considering or not choosing to use a library to assist with degree classes: “the library just didn’t come to mind.”  79% of Internet users begin their online information search on a public engine, but land in the library provided resources often without knowing that it is their library’s expensively paid subscription that got them what they were looking for.  Library website and expensive discovery services offered by the library, though have significant value and convenience, are not the preferred choice of users.  The reason simply lies in the failure of the library in branding, with the result libraries are losing their mindshare to Google and others.

A more interesting finding of  OCLC report which is a good news for libraries is,  within the academic campuses  library enjoys higher rating  than the classroom and the faculty, in the mind-share of the students and  in the context of following values:

  • Allow students to get work done (individually and in groups)
  • Access to basic technology tools
  • Provide space for the group to meet and work together
  • Top information sources
  • Convenient and reliable
  • A safe place for introspection
  • The heart and soul of campus

Yet, when it comes to priorities for funding support, be it by the Governments or the Institutions, libraries fail to get the required priority.  As the libraries are shifting to the digital space, re-branding the library as a convenient service provider in the digital context, be it online information, online education or e-learning, is a critical need of the hour if libraries have to secure their future.

3. New and Engaging Roles:

Many new opportunities can emerge depending on how innovative and pro-active the libraries become in finding new roles in shaping the future of libraries.  Here is a list of  a few areas  for the panel to focus for its debate.

3.1. From Institutional Repository (IR) to Institutional Content Management:

Libraries have demonstrated their competencies to manage internally generated content for sharing beyond their parent institutions through their IR initiative.  Currently, this is largely limited to maintain a repository of papers published by Institutions faculty/researchers and in some cases extended to Ph.D. theses of the Institution.  Can they go beyond this to track and manage all other types of internal content of educational and research value to their community? This may include data-sets generated by different departments further linking them to corresponding published papers, project reports, lecture notes of faculty, and all institutional publications.

3.2  Open Access (OA) and Institutional Publishing:

Publishing is an area familiar to libraries for long, though more as beneficiaries of this activity than producers.  With open access gaining momentum and scholarly publishing space demanding innovative experiments, libraries can play the role of institutional publisher and coordinator for OA promotion and publishing activity.  While Librarians have been strong and aggressive promoters and advocates of OA, the proliferation of OA will unburden librarians from their traditional role of collection and access management as scholarly journals constitute a major part of library resources. As Richard Poinder puts it in his well-chronicled early history of OA movement, “the tragedy for librarians is that while they have done so much to promote OA, their reward has been only further financial pain. No gain without pain, they say. In this case, researchers gain; libraries feel the pain!”5. The time has come for Librarians to play a leadership role within their institutions and in the scholarly publishing space which can prove to be one of the gainful and engaging roles. Publishing process having gone completely digital, every publisher today can claim his collection of e-journals and e-books to be a digital library.  Libraries being the traditional inheritors of the very concept of digital library have a professional advantage in playing the role of institutional publishers.

3.3  The Data Sphere: 

Archiving, curation, and management of data are gaining traction in recent times in scholarly communication.  As research is extensively getting data-intensive in several areas of science, eScience, a term used for data-intensive research and discovery is becoming popular as the fourth paradigm in Science.  eScience is the equivalent of big data and analytics in the research domain. But data is not traditionally curated by libraries and largely done by the researchers themselves.  There are strong arguments in favor of libraries taking charge of the management aspect of data like libraries are managing published research information. The relevance of this argument can be attributed in part to generic infrastructure for information management that is common to both science and digital library community5.  A good part of data generated by the research community is the analyzed input for research papers in journals and Ph.D. theses.  Curating data along with the research paper is now becoming a standard practice. As the libraries have demonstrated leadership in building and managing IRs for institutional publications, research data management can be a logical extension of this role.  However, this area requires acquiring new skill sets in big data and analytics.  Acceptance of libraries for this role by the institutional leadership and the research community is not easy as this domain is currently managed either by scientists themselves or the IT professionals or as a collaborative activity between the two.   With Data Science emerging as a formal discipline, a cross-disciplinary collaborative approach is an opportunity for libraries to get in as a win-win game.

3.4  From Metadata of Content to the Metadata of Objects: 

Metadata creation and management have been a core-competency domain of libraries for long.  This activity has so far been largely limited to the bibliographic level of the content.  With mining, extraction and analysis of text and data emerging as ways of discovering new knowledge using advanced computational technologies, metadata creation and management activities are getting domain specific and more extensive, with general principles of ontology behind them remaining same.  This area opens up newer opportunities for libraries as they get closely involved in curating large volumes of text and data.  But it will demand a combination of skills – computational science, data science, and subject domain.  This is an area for librarianship, scholarship and computational sciences to collaborate or merge as the projects demand. Another opportunity in this domain is metadata creation and management for objects as the objects of arts & culture (in museums) and nature are getting digitized. 

3.5  E-Learning:

Traditionally, the library is a passive learning space.  In recent times, as this space started going empty with books and journals going digital, innovative librarianship is turning this space into active and collaborative learning spaces.   This can be the beginning of the convergence of libraries and classroom in the digital space.  Libraries can play a leadership role in providing content and technology infrastructure management support in the e-learning domain, leaving the content development responsibilities to teachers.

3.6  LIS Education:

Preparedness for addressing the challenges  of the future requires many new skill-sets and greater confidence for the LIS profession.  A question raised earlier in this note is -- whether the libraries will be able to transform themselves by responding to the challenges of technology by absorbing them and yet maintaining their identity? This is the key challenge to LIS education system of the day.  Future readiness calls for fundamental and radical changes in LIS education. A new LIS education model will have to emerge as a collaborative model between LIS and other closely related disciplines such as Computer Science, Data Science, Linguistics, Management Science.  The need for re-branding of the library may also suggest re-branding LIS education too.  LIS education may have to consciously focus more on science and management of information to counter the  library brand tag that is deeply identified with the brand “books.” A bold question in this context is:  Can the LIS education be remodelled with a plan to gradually divorce from the term library by replacing with something that will be more contemporary and futuristic to support re-branding and re-positioning its institutional and professional identity as providers and managers of universal access to knowledge in support of learning, education and research?

4. Conclusion:

The future is always more dynamic, optimistic, challenging and open to all new ideas and players than the past, which means more competition. The need for information and knowledge is media and technology agnostic. But its creation and management are technology-centric and significantly driven by digital technology.  By staying well within its mission which is learning and scholarship centric, the academic and research libraries have opportunities to re-shape the future by consciously engaging in re-branding the library, re-aligning their roles with their parent institutions’ learning and research process and re-positioning their services. 

References:

  1. Mary Marlino and Tamara Summer. From the library to the laboratory: A New Future for the Science Librarian. E-Science & Future of Libraries. https://www.educause.edu/research-and-publications/books/tower-and-cloud/library-laboratory-new-future-science-librarian
  2. Stephen Pinfield, Andrew Cox and Sophie Rutter. Mapping the Future of Academic Libraries:  A Report for SCONUL. 2017.
  3. Donald A. Barclay. Has the library outlived its usefulness in the age of the Internet? You’d be surprised. April 28, 2016. http://theconversation.com/has-the-library-outlived-its-usefulness-in-the-age-of-internet-youd-be-surprised-58198
  4. OCLC.  At a Tipping Point: Education, Learning, and Libraries.  OCLC Report. 2014.
  5. Richard Poynder.  No gain without pain. Information Today, Vol.21, No.10; Nov. 2004.